Two years ago the American Trucking Associations invited me to visit Volvo Truck’s New River Valley truck production plant in southern Virginia for the dedication of a new VN tractor to ATA’s America’s Road Team. It was my first exposure to the drivers, or “captains”, that make up the best — and safest — group the trucking industry has to offer. The professionalism and passion of the men and women that serve as America’s Road Team captains quickly made a lasting impression on me.
When ATA asked me to be a judge in the selection process for the 2013-2014 America’s Road Team captains, I accepted without hesitation. Myself, along with the other judges, spent the better part of two days interviewing 32 new candidates selected from more than 2,000 applicants. Although any of the 32 finalists would have made fine representatives, we finally had to settle on 19 new captains after several hours of deliberation.
While I was keenly aware of the importance of the America’s Road Team as the industry’s best public outreach program, I didn’t realize until this week what the honor of being a captain meant to the men and women that serve as captains. As the new captains were announced at a dinner in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night, one after one they stood up in pride with tears welling up in their eyes — as well as the eyes of their company executives in attendance — as the realization set in that they had reached the pinnacle of their profession.
Phil Byrd, ATA first vice chairman and president and CEO of Charleston, S.C.-based Bulldog Hiway Express, hammered home the distinction of the honor in his opening remarks at the dinner. Rick Whittle, a company driver for Bulldog and a 2007-2008 America’s Road Team captain, recently lost his battle with lung cancer. In his final days, said Byrd, Whittle asked his wife that he be buried in his America’s Road Team blazer. While the captains serve only for two years, the honor and pride of being a part of the program lasts a lifetime.