By Randy Grider
The top scorer at an NBA game in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, Jan. 17, wasn’t a basketball player.
It was truck driver Juan De La Paz of Chaparral, N.M., who was announced at halftime of the Grizzlies-Philadelphia 76ers contest as the $1 million winner of Swift Transportation’s Thanks A Million II appreciation contest.
“I still can’t believe it,” De La Paz said. “It’s like being on a cloud.”
The 28-year-old was one of 10 drivers chosen in a drawing to make the trip to Memphis. The other nine drivers each received $10,000. This was the second time in four months Swift has held the Thanks A Million contest; the first winner was Robert Goar of Whittier, Calif., who won $1 million at Swift’s corporate office in Phoenix in September.
Each Swift driver across the country is given a chance to be selected for the contest drawings by earning safety and productivity vouchers for each 500 miles they drive without a violation. A violation in the last six months eliminates the driver from the contest. De La Paz earned 103 vouchers during the qualifying period.
Swift Vice President David Berry said a large majority of the approximately 20,000 Swift drivers were eligible for this latest giveaway. “Swift is a very safe company,” Berry said.
De La Paz, who has been with Swift for almost four years and works out of the company’s terminal in El Paso, Texas, said just being among the 10 finalists was an honor. He added he wasn’t nervous before the announcement. “I tried to concentrate on the $10,000. I was more than happy with that. This is just an extra bonus.”
De La Paz, who lives with his mother and two sisters, said the first things he plans to do with the money is building his mother a new house and buying something special for his 2-year-old daughter.
De La Paz, who moved from Juarez, Mexico, when he was 12 years old, said he can’t believe trucking has allowed him to become a millionaire. “I’ve always wanted to drive a big truck,” he said. “I always told my mom I wanted to drive one of those. But I never in my wildest dreams thought something like this could happen.”
De La Paz plans to continue driving for Swift. “For now, this is my career,” he said. “I’m very happy with Swift. I have no problems with them.”
Richard Stocking, executive vice president of Swift’s Midwest Region, said he doesn’t think the company will give away another $1 million in the near future.
“We haven’t ruled it out totally,” he said. “We have a real creative group always thinking up ways to thank drivers. They have a hard job.”
The other finalists are (listed with their home terminal): Paul Mondragon, Albuquerque, N.M.; Aaron Jones, Eden, N.C.; Gustavo Gilman, El Paso; Jamison Lockamy, El Paso; Stephen Hartley, Fontana, Calif.; James Moses, Greer, S.C.; Michael Harmon, Memphis; Jeffery Esperium, Riverside, Calif.; and Roger Holden, Seattle.