DALLAS – Between the ever-growing demand for drivers and the ever-advancing average age of drivers already behind the wheel, it’s enough to have the entire industry wondering, “Where’s the next generation of quality drivers coming from?”
It also might explain why the announcement of Trucking’s Top Rookie has become one of the most anticipated events at the Great American Trucking Show (GATS). It was that way again on Friday, the second morning of this year’s show as an overflow crowd packed the Truckers News Stage to applaud 10 drivers who distinguished themselves in their first year on the road.
“We’re recognizing – it’s not an overstatement to say – some incredible drivers,” said Dave Hollis, who served as master of ceremonies.
“We all know the industry has a problem of finding and keeping qualified drivers,” Hollis said.
Several years ago, Hollis told the crowd, Mike O’Connell, the former executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), suggested an event to celebrate the industry’s top newcomers as a way of demonstrating how much this industry values talent and effort.
“That’s what the Top Rookie presentation is all about, recognizing and appreciating quality,” Hollis said.
The contest is open every year to any CDL holder who has graduated from a Professional Truck Driver Institute (PDTI)- certified training school or a CVTA- or National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools-member training school within the previous year and has been employed by a trucking company for less than one year.
Entrants are evaluated on criteria that includes availability for loads, on-time delivery, highway safety performance, customer relations, work record and non-job-related activities.
The scoring this year was “incredibly close,” Hollis said. Any of the 10 would have been worthy of the title “top rookie.” On the opening day of GATS, there had been a medical emergency on the convention floor, Hollis said. One of the finalists, William Root, who in addition to being a driver is also a volunteer firefighter, jumped in and helped attend to the fallen guest.
“I think that tells you everything you need to know about the quality of the people in the program,” Hollis said.
But, as the saying goes, there can only be one winner. And Trucking’s Top Rookie for 2017 is Daniel Shonebarger, a flatbed driver for Melton Truck Lines.
Shonebarger, who hails from Columbus, Georgia, is a Navy veteran and a graduate of the Georgia Driving Academy. He actually got a CDL eight years ago, but, being a family man, put his driving career on hold because he didn’t want to be away from home until his kids were a bit older.
“What a day,” Shonebarger said as he came on stage to accept the award. Earlier that morning, it was announced that he had been chosen as one of three finalists for the 2017 Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence award, presented by the FASTPORT Trucking Track Mentoring Program, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring our Heroes Program and Kenworth to America’s top rookie military veteran who has made the successful transition from active duty to driving for a commercial fleet.
When that award is announced in December, the winner will drive off with a fully-loaded Kenworth T680 Advantage with a 76-inch sleeper and PACCAR MX-13 engine.
Meanwhile, as Trucking’s Top Rookie, Shonebarger went home from GATS with a prize package that includes $10,000 cash; a fully-paid trip to the awards presentation at GATS; a custom plaque from Award Company of America; $1,000 worth of DAS Products merchandise, including the RoadPro “Getting Started Living On-The-Go” package; an American Trucking Association “Good Stuff Trucks Bring It” package, which includes an ATA-branded polo shirt, baseball cap, model truck and utility knife; an IntelliRoute TNDTM 730 LM GPS Unit and a Deluxe Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas from Rand McNally; and a dash cam and CB radio from Cobra.
He also got an on-air interview on Red Eye Radio.
The other nine finalists were:
John Casey, TMC Transportation
Carl Humphrey, Jim Palmer Trucking
Tanner Johnson, Wil-Trans
Quavis Jones, Trans-Am Trucking
Wayne Nottingham Jr., Swift Transportation
Everett Gamble, Averitt Express Inc.
William Root, HO Wolding
Sean Harding, Stevens Transport
Chris Oliver, Werner Enterprises
They each received a $1,000 cash prize, as a well as a custom plaque from Award Company of America; $100 worth of DAS Products merchandise, featuring the Road Pro MobileSpec Portable Life Package; an American Trucking Association’s “Good Stuff Trucks Bring It” package, an IntelliRoute TNDTM 730 LM GPS Unit; and a CB radio from Cobra.