Like many professional drivers, Tracy Gaudette came to trucking via a circuitous route.
“I’ve never wanted to stay in one place too long,” she told The Trucker. “I was a military brat and then went into the Air Force myself, so I’m used to traveling.”
While Gaudette worked locally and stayed home to raise her young daughter, her mom and stepdad worked as an over-the-road team. Because Tracy worked clerical positions, mostly at medical facilities, she could only listen to the stories of their exploits on the road and dream of being there herself someday.
She is living and working that dream today as part of a driving team at U.S. Xpress. Her efforts have earned her Team Driver of the Month and Team Driver of the Year awards at the company, and she was Women In Trucking’s pick for October 2020 Member of the Month.
Gaudette said she struggled through single-parenthood, followed by years in an unhealthy marriage. Eventually, she found herself at a crossroads, contemplating what to do with the rest of her life.
“I found myself thinking about the future. It was a fresh start, and I wanted to think through my next steps,” she explained. She thought about her dream of traveling and how well it had suited her mom. Then she chose Truck Driver Institute in Forsyth, Georgia, to earn her commercial driver’s license (CDL).
“It was a three-week course, but I was wishing it could be longer so I could learn more about the industry instead of just passing the CDL test,” she said. (Due to changes in student loan rules, many CDL schools shortened their programs to utilize reduced funding.)
After training, she received offers from multiple carriers who presented at the school, but a long-term friend at U.S. Xpress who had earned her trust offered to train her — so that was her top choice. When her training was completed, she went solo with the carrier. It didn’t last long.
“I made a couple of rookie mistakes and then I got sick and was hospitalized,” she explained. “We didn’t know how long I’d be in the hospital, so they recovered the truck and stored my belongings.”
Once released, Gaudette was bused to the nearest terminal, but the only available trucks had manual transmissions.
“I learned to drive manuals in school, but all my training and experience since then was in automatics,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable — or safe — taking a truck with a manual transmission, and I almost quit because of it.”
While U.S. Xpress searched for a suitable truck, Gaudette said she thought about what could have happened during her illness.
“It really made me wonder who would even know if something happened to me out on the road. I wanted the security of another person knowing where I was,” she said. She was offered the option of teaming up with her former trainer, and they’ve been working together ever since. The team drives the “U.S. Navy” truck, one of five military-themed units in the fleet.
“We’re both former military,” she said. “He was in the Marines and served aboard Navy ships, while I was in the Air Force.”
They have displayed the truck in parades in Chicago, Washington and other cites and participated in the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Truck Show and multiple recruiting events at military bases.
“We’d get the truck shiny and prettied up and talk to people about trucking and U.S. Xpress,” she said. “It’s such a great experience when kids climb up in the cab and want to blow the air horn.”
Another event Gaudette participated in was Wreaths Across America. With a wreath attached to the truck’s grille, they made two drops in New York to complete their part of the program.
“We picked up in Maine,” she said. “All these trucks staged with drivers waiting to get loaded — it’s like one huge family there.”
While in CDL school, someone told Tracy and the other female students about the Women In Trucking Facebook page.
“It was a great tool to help us get started,” she said. “I found the page helpful, but I didn’t associate it with membership in WIT.”
Two years later, the group asked for volunteer administrators of the page. She quickly joined and became an administrator.
“Now I also do the weekly new-member welcomes, and I make sure to remind them to join WIT,” she said.
When she’s not driving, Gaudette likes to visit her two daughters back home. The oldest is 27 and works in retail management, and the younger daughter is still in school.
“She thinks what I do is cool, but she says she wants to be a culinary chef,” she said, adding that the family frequents a nearby adventure park. “They have zip-lining, rides and other things to do. We try to experience something new each time we go.”
If there’s time, Gaudette will have her nails done or her hair styled, two services that are difficult to find on the road. Then, there’s Pokemon.
“Believe it or not, I enjoy playing Pokemon Go. It gets me walking and meeting other players,” she said. Walking is also a way she supports two causes she is passionate about.
“I support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org) both financially and by participating in their ‘Out of the Darkness’ walks when I can,” she explained. “I have experienced circumstances where I felt hopeless, and I want others to find the help they need.”
She said has also known people who took their own lives. “The people they leave behind are changed forever.”
In addition, Gaudette said she supports the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (ww5.komen.org).
“I lost an aunt to breast cancer a few years ago,” she said. “I participate in their ‘More than Pink’ walks and contribute financially.”
While Gaudette is finally living the dream she was denied for so many years, she has a message for her fellow drivers:
“Trucking is supposed to be a brotherhood, or sisterhood. We should be helping and encouraging one another,” she stated. “There’s enough negativity directed at the trucking industry from the outside. We don’t need to be negative to each other.”
She is proud of her role as a trucking professional and encourages other women to let their professionalism shine through, regardless of circumstances. She also reminds everyone to keep learning.
“I’m always trying to learn new things, to be a better person,” she said.
After some rough miles, the road is smooth, and the view ahead is clear.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.