For ABF Freight’s Tim McElwaney, this year’s Georgia truck driving championships were bittersweet.
McElwaney, from Carrollton, Ga., finished first in the 5-axle class and won the grand champion title May 10-12, earning his sixth trip to nationals.
But Georgia’s state championship fell on the birthday of McElwaney’s late father, R.B., who passed away five years ago. McElwaney, 57, used the competition to honor his father by competing in the 5-axle, the truck that his father used to drive.
Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level advance to the national competition, with a grand champion crowned
What: Contestants are judged on a written examination and their driving skills
When: Aug. 15-18
Where: Columbus, Ohio
“He drove a 5-axle all his career, and so it was just like it was meant to be,” McElwaney said. “This year was very special to me.”
It was his father who inspired him to become a truck driver.
“I’m a third-generation driver,” McElwaney said. “My dad drove officially for over 35 years and just like every other kid that looks up to their daddy, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I can remember as early as the seventh grade that I told everybody that I was going to be a truck driver,” McElwaney said. “I’ve been blessed. My dream came true in ’82 and I still love what I do. I really do.”
McElwaney fondly remembers one trip that he took with his father.
“I got to make a trip with my dad before he retired. They used to let us run on the weekends and him and I got to make a trip to Jackson, Miss. We went out there together and came back together,” McElwaney said. “That sticks in my mind as a father-son moment.”
McElwaney also fondly recalls his days as an America’s Road Team Captain from 2011-12.
Georgia in Pictures
“It’s been the highlight of my professional career. It goes back to the people that I’ve met and getting to go around and talk to people about what we love and what my everyday job is. It don’t get no better than that. This industry has been good to me. My granddaddy drove, my daddy, I had two uncles that drove and now I’m a driver. The trucking industry has been very good to my family,” McElwaney said. “It’s a way for me to give back.”
As an America’s Road Team Captain, McElwaney loved parrticipating in the Share the Road event.
“We do the Share the Road with the schools and community events and that’s when we actually put people in the trucks and let them see what we can see and can’t see. I talk to them about distracted driving and how to safely drive around a truck when you’re on the highway,” McElwaney said. “The time I got to take trucks to schools and talk to kids about highway safety. That’s special to me. I enjoy that. I really enjoy that.”
Going into nationals, McElwaney hopes to continue honoring his father.
“I’d like to be able to get on the stage Saturday night, but there’s probably 425 other drivers that would too,” McElwaney said. “Hopefully, I’ll get to be one of the ones that gets up there.”
To make it to the stage, McElwaney is doing what he can to prepare.
“I say a little prayer every day and ask the Lord to keep me safe, and I practice about every weekend. I go up there to ABF. I live about 53 miles away from work, so I drive 106 miles every week just to practice. I’ve been doing that and that’s just about the best way I know how to just go up there on my off-day and spend 2-3 hours on the asphalt practicing,” McElwaney said. “I set up different problems that I’ve seen throughout the years and practice maneuvering the truck through them and I’ll practice my pre-trip routine and then I study a lot of the ‘Facts for Drivers.’ ”
While McElwaney would love to win at nationals, he is more than happy being able to go to nationals to make new friends and promote safety.
McElwaney's 2011 Road Team "class photo"
“I’ve made a lot of good friends and met a lot of awesome people with other companies, with the ATA. It kind of springboarded me to the Road Team. The competition is nice and we all want to win, but at the end of the day, there’s only one winner. I love the people and the atmosphere that I meet and that I’m around, that’s because we all have one thing in common and that’s highway safety,” McElwaney said. “No matter who you work for or who you drive for or how many years you’ve been driving, it’s all about highway safety.”
For drivers going to nationals for the first time, McElwaney offers this advice.
“Have fun, enjoy it, be yourself and try to make as many friends as possible because it’ll be done, tug and gone before you realize it. I still remember the first time that I went in ’08 in the straight truck class. I ain’t never been more nervous in all my life. I got to meet a lot of great people and have fun,” McElwaney said. “Like I said, there’s only gonna be one winner per class, so enjoy your time there and again, make as many friends as you can because they’ll last a lifetime.”
Other Georgia winners headed to nationals are:
- Herschel Evans of Holland in Sleeper Berth
- Roger Nicholson of UPS Freight in 3-axle
- Pete Steerman of AAA Cooper Transportation in 4-axle
- Glenn Morris of FedEx Freight in Tank Truck
- Doug Austin of Martin Brower in Straight Truck
- Ben Moore Jr. of Walmart Transportation in Flatbed
- Carlos Rodriquez of Old Dominion Freight Line in Twins