“I guess I won’t retire until it stops being fun,” Thomas Sholar, 69, says after more than 30 years behind the wheel of a big rig.
Because of his accomplishments both on and off the road, Sholar has been recognized as one of five 2023 Drivers of the Year by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA).
His journey began back in 1992, when Sholar was working in iron construction in the Houston area.
“I got kind of tired of working until a project was finished, then being laid off,” he said. “My girlfriend told me that her ex-husband was a truck driver. She said, ‘You don’t get dirty driving a truck,’ so I went for it.”
After earning his CDL, Sholar hit the road, working for carriers in Alabama and Oklahoma before finding his niche at Maverick Transportation, a flatbed hauler based in North Little Rock, Arkansas, 26 years ago. He’s been there ever since, and now resides in Doddridge, Arkansas, just a few miles north of the Louisiana border.
Sholar chuckled as he told Truckload Authority that the promise of not getting dirty doesn’t apply when hauling flatbed cargo.
In three decades as a driver, Sholar has seen a lot behind the wheel. Today, he says the biggest recognizable change from his early years as a driver is the amount of traffic on the roads.
“(There’s) a lot more,” he said. “Trucks are also a lot more sophisticated, and they are easier to drive. Of course, DOT always adds more rules, but I’m not complaining.”
Unlike many drivers, who see electronic logging devices, or ELDs, as an unnecessary intrusion into their work, Sholar has a different mindset: “I get the same mileage, it improves my work ethic, and I get a lot more rest,” he explained.
Like many drivers, early in his career, Sholar’s favorite part of being a truck driver was traveling and seeing the country. Now, after all his years on the road, he says he has a different view of the job.
“(Now,) one of my favorite things about driving is that I get to go to shippers and receivers and see what they do with the product I’m hauling. I’ve always found that fascinating,” he said.
When discussing the challenges he’s seen and overcome on the road, Sholar is quick to point to traffic.
“There are so many trucks and cars and other vehicles on the road these days, it makes it harder to get where you are going,” he said. “And most of the businesses work regular hours. I may get there at an odd hour and have to wait for the business to open to unload my truck. It makes for a lot of wasted time.”
Being honored as a TCA Driver of the Year is not the only accolade Sholar has received during his driving career. In 2016, he was recognized as Maverick’s Driver of the Month, and most recently, he was a finalist for Maverick’s Trainer of the Year Award. Lou Shoults, a fleet manager for Maverick, praised Sholar’s skills as a driver trainer.
“Tom is an excellent trainer,” Shoults said of Sholar’s accomplishments when he was nominated for the honor. “Tom has trained 74 total students since he started training and has had great retention with the 19 who are still at Maverick. He shows the trainees how to work hard and do things the Maverick Way.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sholar says, he stepped away from his work as a trainer.
“But I love teaching. I love showing people how to do things easier and right,” he said.
Sholar has served on Maverick’s Drivers Advisory Council as an advocate for road trainers. In doing so, he has been influential and essential in shaping the training program and helping drivers have a good experience with Maverick.
“Tom is a true driving professional,” said Callie Heathscott, an advertising manager for Maverick.
“I’ve had drivers I trained who are trainers now themselves,” Sholar said. “I don’t think I had so much to do with turning them into good drivers. I just had a lot of good guys training under me.”
Five of Sholar’s trainees have gone on to be honored as Maverick Drivers of the Month.
As far as the advice he has given to his trainees — the same advice he offers to all young drivers — Sholar says the best path to success and safety is to focus on dedication to the job, do the best you can do, and — most of all — avoid shortcuts.
“(Driving is) a lifestyle, not a 9-5 job. It won’t make you a millionaire, but you’ll make a good living,” he said. “Driving is a job you can start and work until you don’t want to work anymore.”
These days, Sholar generally drives a dedicated route; however, when he visited with Truckload Authority for this story, he was traveling to New York to make a special delivery.
When asked about his experience as a 2023 TCA Driver of the Year, Sholar remains modest, recalling that the Maverick team created a video about his career with the company and nominated him for the honor.
“Sometime later, they called and said I had won. I thought they were playing with me!” he said. “I don’t really know why I won. I’m nothing special. I do my job the best I can. I’ve always said, if you’re going to do something, do it well.”
Since being named a TCA Driver of the Year, Sholar has had an opportunity to attend numerous association events, where people at all levels of the industry have thanked him for his service. His response?
“I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do,” he said, adding that he’s enjoyed being a part of TCA.
“They are some of the nicest people I’ve come into contact with,” he said. “It’s been a great experience.”
Sholar is very appreciative of the team at Maverick Transportation. As an example, he shared this experience: A few years ago, he underwent treatment for cancer; once the treatment was complete, he underwent surgery to repair the damage caused by the treatment.
All the while, Maverick was “unbelievably patient,” he said. “I don’t consider Maverick to be people I work for or with. They’re my friends.”
As far as his future is concerned, Sholar says he’ll keep driving until he doesn’t enjoy it anymore. He points to the old adage, “If you find a job you’ll enjoy, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“I don’t feel like I’m working,” he said. “I’m having a great time. I can’t imagine not doing what I’m doing.”
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.