Trucking Community Rallies Around Ex-Yellow Drivers at NTDC
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dan Istre, the seven-time Idaho state champion from Caldwell, Idaho, confidently climbed into the cab to compete in the twins division at the National Truck Driving Championships and National Step Van Driving Championships.
But while most of the 400-plus drivers had been practicing right up until the competition, Istre hadn’t been in a truck for three weeks. He was one of 22,000 LTL drivers with Yellow Corp. who were abruptly laid off July 30 when the company closed its doors after nearly 100 years and filed for bankruptcy. (AUG. 19 UPDATE:Old Dominion tops Estes bid for Yellow terminals)
Istre drove a triple-trailer truck for Yellow and its predecessor for 29½ years, and the time off in August is the longest period he’s ever gone without being in a truck in his nearly 40-year career behind the wheel.
“It’s been hard. It’s been rough,” said Istre, 59, his voice cracking with emotion and his eyes watering with tears as he described the last month at Yellow and the uncertainty that he and 17 other Yellow drivers who qualified for NTDC faced. “You have your ups and your downs.”
Ultimately, 15 of the 18 Yellow drivers who qualified for the 86th annual event competed at NTDC.
Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level who have advanced to the national competition, where a Grand Champion will be crowned
What: Contestants are judged on a written exam, pre-trip inspection and driving skills
When: Aug. 16-19
Where: Columbus, Ohio
Two drivers who didn’t participate declined because they’d already found new jobs in the trucking industry. The third driver needed to get a medical procedure done and chose to do it now before he starts a new position.
Those who did make it and competed were here thanks to the work of several people. But two in particular spearheaded an effort to raise more than $30,000 for the drivers’ travel and hotel expenses. And throughout the week many have gone out of their way to make those drivers feel welcome.
Immediately after the Yellow shutdown, 29-year veteran Yellow driver and trainer Herschel Evans of Atlanta started a fundraiser web page to bring attention to the now-unemployed Yellow drivers, hoping to raise funds for their hotel rooms. Before the shutdown, the company had already purchased the drivers’ airline tickets, but there were other expenses to be covered and drivers like Istre said they were reluctant to spend $2,000 to $3,000 on travel after becoming recently unemployed.
Evans, still wearing a Holland shirt, spearheaded a fundraising effort. (Dan Ronan/Transport Topics)
Evans said Yellow’s former CEO James Welch contacted him, and Welch and his wife initially donated $10,000 to the effort before deciding a couple of days later to dramatically up their contribution to cover nearly 100% of the drivers’ expenses.
“I told him we had come up with a budget of about $27,000 for the drivers to come here, and about 20 minutes later, I got another message from him that he and his wife prayed about it, and they decided to cover the entire $27,000,” Evans said. “A day or two later, after a couple of phone calls, he wired $27,000 to my personal checking account and he told me to go to Columbus and take care of his drivers. He still considers these guys as his drivers and he still cares a lot about the NTDC and the drivers that compete here, he thinks the world of the drivers and he showed it with the serious stepping up to make it happen.”
“I was happy to make a $27,000 contribution for the Yellow drivers who made it to the NTDC. I always believed in and supported the event,” Welch said in an email. “These drivers deserved the chance to go and be with and compete with the best of the best."
Welch was CEO at Yellow from 2011 to 2018, but Evans says even the current leaders at Yellow, who at the time were navigating the shutdown of the carrier and the bankruptcy petition in federal court, also chipped in with gift cards and other items for the drivers to show their appreciation for their determination to get to the event.
“We put everything together and got the drivers their goodie bags and made sure they got all their expenses covered, and on the night before the competition, we all got together for dinner as a team and had a nice evening together,” Evans said. “The trucking family, led by Mr. Welch, has really stepped up for these drivers so that all of the practice, work, and studying was not in vain because they got to come to the nationals.”
Istre and the others were listed in the NTDC program as independent drivers, but he says even though the company closed abruptly he is proud of his time with the carrier, and the drivers he competed against made him feel exceptionally welcome.
“This is my seventh time at NTDC, and I’m always proud of the company and what I do; the competition, the friendships, it’s a great thing,” he said. “There were a lot of handshakes and pats on the back. It’s amazing. It was just nice to get here and see your friends. We are very grateful to Mr. Welch for his contribution. He really made this all possible.”
What a journey it's been at #NTDC23 🏁 Day 3 brought us competitions in the straight truck, sleeper, twins, and 5-axle groups. Stay tuned for the last round of competitions tomorrow and the announcement of this year’s champions.
Thank you to our recap video sponsor @Netradyne. pic.twitter.com/cOE1qa7JbI — American Trucking (@TRUCKINGdotORG) August 19, 2023
Istre has already gotten some good news about staying in the trucking industry after NTDC. The day before he left for Ohio, he received a job offer, and while it’s not driving the big, triple trucks he’s navigated along the Rocky Mountain routes, he feels fortunate and plans to accept the position delivering food products on a daily shuttle between warehouses in Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City.
“It’s driving, and this will be a bit of a transition. I’ve been driving doubles and triples for 30 years, but I can do this,” he said, adding he feels grateful to be able to compete at this level and that he’s found a good position. “Talking to the 15 of us that got here, I don’t know that it’s sunk in yet for us. But we want to stay in touch with each other, and all make sure we’re OK.”
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