Truck racing champion Nagarjuna A, who swears by Tata trucks, tells Cynthia Rodrigues how racing transformed his life
Nagarjuna A was just another nondescript driver, plying his trade for Tata Steel on the highways of south India when he found his life transformed by the very truck he swears by. He won the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Tata Prima race.
“The race changed my life,” he says. “I won fame and fortune, Rs10 lakh and 12 lakh, thanks to the race. Tata Motors helped me buy the cabin of the Prima 4018 at a discounted rate. I got married because of the race. Otherwise who wants to give their daughter in marriage to a truck driver?”
Only 30 years old, Nagarjuna has been a one-truck man all his life. “I first got behind the wheel of a Tata truck at the age of 19,” he says.
“For years, I drove the 1210. In 2011, when Tata Motors launched the Prima 4928, I switched to this model. I have been driving it ever since.” “For years, I drove the 1210. In 2011, when Tata Motors launched the Prima 4928, I switched to this model. I have been driving it ever since.”
Over the years, he did check out trucks from other manufacturers. But none had interiors that indicated concern for the driver and the ‘khalasi’ (assistant) as much as the Tata trucks did. He says, “A driver drives all through the day, so the comfort of a night’s rest can help him drive better the following day.”
Nagarjuna has full faith in Tata trucks, their ability to climb inclines, and offer the best mileage. “No Tata truck has failed me so far. When it comes to technology, no one can match Tata Motors,” he says.
Nagarjuna’s tryst with fame began in 2015. While in Chennai, he saw a report in a Tamil newspaper, stating that the Tatas were organising a truck race and that foreigners would be coming over to participate. The race was not open to Indian drivers then, and he wondered why they had to bring in racers from abroad when there was talent aplenty in India.
Perhaps fate smiled on him then; the next year, the race was opened to Indian drivers, and Tata Steel called him to ask if they should nominate him for the race.
Nagarjuna found himself competing against 900 applicants who went through multiple knockout rounds till the roster of drivers was pared down to 12.
He was amazed at the treatment they received during the training period. The arrangements were comfortable, and the food was nutritious and filling. He says, “Our health care needs were taken care of. We were served food even before we had a chance to say we were hungry. All our needs were managed very well, leaving us free to focus on the training. It was overwhelming to be treated like VIPs. After all, we are ordinary drivers, used to eating and sleeping by the wayside.”
The finals took place in Buddh international circuit, Noida. Nagarjuna still remembers the thrill of that moment.
He says, “When the 12 trucks set off, I found myself in second position. My heart was hammering; I was very nervous for the first two laps. But then, I thought to myself, Tata Motors has given me a fantastic opportunity, one that might never come my way again. My parents are dead, I have no responsibilities. No matter what happens I must win.”
That year, the drivers had to do eight laps over a distance of 3.5km.
The following year, word spread and Tata Motors received 2,000 applications. So, they held two races: The Super Class for beginners and the Champions Class for the experienced cadre. Nagarjuna participated in the latter, racing 10 laps to reach the finish line first.
The races, changed Nagarjuna’s life. From being a nobody to making history as the first winner of the Indian track of the Tata Prima race. From knowing drivers from the South alone, to having trucker friends across the country. From being snubbed by rich relatives to having them reingratiate themselves into his life.
“I owe it all to the race,” he says. “My fervent wish is that Tata trucks may grow ever popular.”
He rues that there was no race in 2018 and hopes there will be one next year. “The race brings discipline into the lives of the drivers; the exposure changes their lives. There are so many talented drivers in India who could benefit from it.”
Nagarjuna is also thankful to Tata Motors for drawing attention to truck drivers as a community and acknowledging their contributions to the country. He spends an average of three to four days on the road, returning home only to freshen up and sleep for a while before hitting the road again. It is a hard and lonely life, and truck drivers are often maligned as immoral.
Nagarjuna points out, “Drivers fulfill a very important role. If there are no drivers, nothing would move. Yet, nobody trusts truck drivers too much. Now, thanks to the race, we have been humanised.”