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ATLANTA — The appointment of Stacy Earnhardt as next chairman of American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council is a natural step in a lifetime spent around trucks and trucking. And like many others in the industry, it was family that brought him into the fold.
“My family was always in trucking,” Earnhardt told Transport Topics in advance of his Feb. 26 appointment to the one-year post, which took place at TMC’s annual meeting in Atlanta.
“My father was in safety, and my mother still works in trucking today. Now she is doing brokerage. It’s been my whole life,” Earnhardt said.
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Today, he is director of asset management and specialized operations for Best Logistics Group in Kernersville, N.C., supervising nearly 40 employees who keep the company’s 300 power units and 1,500 trailers on the road. He also runs Best’s flatbed and heavy-haul operation and the company’s warehouse facilities and mobile storage facilities. Earnhardt has been with the company since 1995.
He knew he wanted to get into trucking when he was 8 years old and his dad, Gene Earnhardt, took him to the tanker truck company where he worked as the safety director.
“As a boy, he took me to truck facilities in West Virginia, North Carolina — all over,” Earnhardt said.
He has been interested in figuring out how things work as long as he can remember and considers himself a problem solver who derives satisfaction from discovering why something isn’t working and what it will take to fix it.
Stacy Earnhardt's father was the safety director of a tanker truck company, and his mother still works in the industry as a broker. (Courtesy of Stacy Earnhardt)
But he didn’t start out fixing trucks.
“I started on the third shift, washing trucks,” he said. “I went straight from high school into a wash bay. My dad came home and said, ‘Stacy, I’ve got you an interview with a trucking firm.’ Once I started the job, I tell the joke that I realized they just wanted me out of the house,” he said with a laugh.
He didn’t stay in the wash bay for long.
“I went up through the mechanical side,” he said, noting he learned from his more experienced peers in the industry. "I’m the type of person that when I get involved in something, I want to see how it works, and the only way you can do that is to get your hands in there.”
He’s certainly gotten his hands involved during his 13 years with TMC, specifically with initiatives relating to the driver’s experience and ways to improve the cab layout.
“We need to have the drivers focus on the driving,” he said. “There is so much that we can put in the cab, we have to make sure it gets positioned right and not overwhelm the control center with what we are trying to accomplish. We don’t want to overwhelm the drivers with too much stuff. We want them to focus on driving.”
My dad came home and said, ‘Stacy, I’ve got you an interview with a trucking firm.’ Once I started the job, I tell the joke that I realized they just wanted me out of the house.
Stacy Earnhardt, on getting his start in trucking
Earnhardt believes his role as TMC chairman is to keep up the positive momentum that has been building for the past several years, especially as the industry looks at electric trucks, other alternative fuels and how they will impact trucking.
He said TMC is playing a leadership role in that effort.
“I don’t know that diesel will ever go away,” Earnhardt said. “I think hydrogen will be pretty big, and then there are electric trucks. I think there are opportunities for everybody, long term.”
Earnhardt noted that the industry will have to adapt and says organizations like TMC can help. “I think it’s important to use your resources like this, understand what fits your world and learn what you can about the product and make it application-based,” he said.
Earnhardt said convincing talented young men and women to consider entering the industry as technicians is a challenge, but he believes TMC can make a strong case for the profession. It will be one of his priorities during his year as chairman.
“We have to do a better job showcasing this industry,” he said. “We have to find ways to promote it.” And it starts — as with his case and others — with getting them in the door.
Stacy Earnhardt chats with past TMC Chairman Jeff Harris at 2020 TMC in Atlanta. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
“The president of our company started as a dispatcher,” he said. “We need to show employees that there is a path for growth. A lot of people like doing different things, and that is one thing this industry will bring to you is a different opportunity every day, where you strive and grow.”
Earnhardt said another way for the transportation industry to attract and retain top talent is to spotlight its technological growth.
“There’s so much information and data coming in; it’s not just mechanical,” he said. “IT is going to keep growing. Transportation has a large opening. I think there’s a big focus on technicians, as it should be for the skilled labor, but what about the rest of it? I mean there are so many opportunities, I don’t know that we have looked at all of them,” Earnhardt said.
As he begins his tenure as TMC’s chairman, Earnhardt offered praise for outgoing chairman Kenneth Calhoun, the TMC board and staff and his employer for preparing him for what promises to be a very busy year.
“I don’t think I can ask for any more support,” he said. “I’ve never paid attention to the time it takes because it doesn’t seem like it interferes when you start on this path. I want to spend this year coming together and being together as an industry.”
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