Every day, when Raquel Sanchez climbs into the cab of her UPS truck, she knows she’s got big shoes to fill. Her driving partner, Lawrence “Jim” Sanchez is not just her father and mentor. He’s also recognized throughout the company for setting the bar high for all other UPS drivers because of his consistency behind the wheel.
“He’s about to get that 40-year patch next year, and he didn’t get that from being lazy on the job,” Raquel said. “I want to make sure that I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to do. In that moment where I want to be a little lazy and maybe not do everything I was trained to do, I just tell myself, ‘No, I have eyes on me. Even if I can’t see them looking over at me, I know that I’m always being watched.’
“I do feel that pressure a little bit, but I just think to myself, ‘What would Dad do?’” she continued.
Raquel is likely not the only person who invokes Jim’s name as the ideal driver at UPS. Jim, now 61, has achieved milestones during his career that nearly defy belief. He was awarded the National Safety Council’s prestigious Joseph M. Kaplan Safe Driver of the Year Award in recognition of 38 years of safe professional driving, 28 of them driving a tractor-trailer. He’s also chalked up 38 injury-free years on the job, including the 12 years he served in the labor-intensive role of delivery driver.
“I attribute a lot of this to UPS because of the way they structure their safety programs. It flows over to my own personal lifestyle,” he said. “All throughout my career I had to keep myself safe; I had to keep myself healthy, because I was the only breadwinner at home.
“I listened to the safety program UPS set in place to be injury-free and to drive safely because I couldn’t take time off for an injury or an accident because my family depended on me,” he continued. “That has pretty much stayed with me ever since I started.”
Jim’s career with UPS began when he showed up for a job interview at age 19. UPS hired him on the spot. After working part time until he was 21, he got behind the wheel and has never looked back.
“UPS put me through their own tractor-trailer training program,” he said. “I was in class for about two weeks. I (had) my permit already and they were able to test me. Then they passed me to get my Class A driver’s license.”
During his remarkable tenure at UPS, Jim has enjoyed other notable accomplishments.
When UPS launched its first four long-haul routes in 1992, he was on the first sleeper team to drive one out of Ontario, California. In 2013, he solidified his status as a “superman” by rescuing a woman from a burning vehicle, an act of heroism for which he received the Commissioner’s Award from the California Highway Patrol.
He still vividly recalls the incident.
“There was debris all over the freeway, and cars were starting to maneuver around the debris, but I was paying attention to the little truck that got hit and it started in flames,” he said. “Then I saw somebody get out of the car and I thought, ‘That gentleman got out safely, good.’ Then he went back, and it looked like he was pulling on something. I thought he was trying to pull something like luggage or his belongings. No, it was a girl.”
The girl was surrounded by flames.
“I got out of the truck and I started dodging the cars,” he continued. “I ran across the entire four-lane highway. By the time I got there, the heat was intense. I can still remember it. I had the fire extinguisher to put the flames out that were engulfing her. It was an emotional day for me after it happened. I still remember to this day how everything was very super-hot. And when I put her out all the flames went away. The guys went in there and they were able to pull her out and they had a medivac doctor fly in and take her away.”
Yet for all the honors he’s received and that heroic rescue, Jim says the biggest thrill of his career was the chance to drive with his daughter, Raquel, who joined UPS in 2019.
“I always knew UPS as a good company for what it did for our family,” she said. “So, I was like, let’s just go ahead and check this out for myself.”
Raquel first got behind the wheel as a member of the Army National Guard, and she started with UPS as an unloader. When COVID-19 hit, the company had an increased need for drivers, so she started driving one of the delivery trucks before deciding to move over to the big rigs.
When she joined forces with her dad, they were the first UPS father-daughter sleeper team on the West Coast. More than that, the milestone has been a rewarding personal and professional experience for both Jim and Raquel.
“I think it actually just made our connection stronger,” she said. “He gives me all this information and tries to get me started on a successful career. He says I’m like a sponge, learning all of this knowledge. We do not have the kind of father-daughter relationship where we bicker at each other or anything. We have a really strong relationship. I feel lucky to have him there.”
As he nears the home stretch of his time behind the wheel, Jim says that having the chance to drive the last few years into retirement with his daughter has been the highlight of his career.
“I’ve got a lot of years of safety behind the wheel,” he said. “It doesn’t do me any good to not transfer some of this information to my daughter, who I love most, other than my wife. I want to make sure I hand the baton over to her and she’s very confident and knowing that she’ll be doing this job correctly because OF the experiences she had with her dad were very good.
“I was very proud when she decided to go [into truck driving] in her career and I’m very proud to have her as my partner,” he said.
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.