Top Rookie winners reflect on what award has done for them

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Updated Aug 17, 2016
Frederick Weatherspoon accepts his Trucking’s Top Rookie check at the 2015 Great American Trucking Show.

Winning one of the trucking industry’s top awards for drivers can make a difference in that driver’s career and in their life.

Each year, one promising new driver wins the title of Trucking’s Top Rookie Award,  which is presented at the Great American Trucking Show in August. The winner takes home $10,000 cash and a truckload of prizes.

The Trucking’s Top Rookie contest is a partnership between “Truckers News”, the Truckload Carriers Association, Commercial Vehicle Training Association, Rand McNally, Pilot Flying J, Progressive Commercial Insurance, National Association of Publicly Funded Driving Schools, American Trucking Associations and the Red Eye Radio Network.

But there’s more to it than the money, the recognition and the goodies as two previous winners explain.

Last year, Frederick Weatherspoon of Buford, Georgia, took home the title. Weatherspoon drives for Dart Transit Company, and since winning he’s represents the company at trade shows and conferences across the nation.

“I went to some conferences that were really nice and I’ve learned a lot from the people in the industry and the technology and new techniques to use,” he said.

Weatherspoon says he still can’t believe that he was chosen as Trucking’s Top Rookie.

“It meant so much. Financially, it really helped my family out. I was just coming into the industry and we were still trying to get our feet under us,” Weatherspoon said. “I’ve been able to meet all my financial obligations and get everything caught up. It helped me mentally feel secure and assured that yeah, I’m doing the right thing.”

Weatherspoon wants to take the knowledge he’s gained since winning the contest and attending conferences and share it with other drivers.

“Winning the award made me really feel like I need to know all I can about the industry and be the best driver I can be and then pass that information on to everyone else,” Weatherspoon said.

For rookie drivers specifically, he says to make safety a priority at all times.

“Be as safe as possible. Try to look out for what you think may not be possible, and listen to the older drivers because they know,” Weatherspoon said.

Julie Matulle accepts her Trucking’s Top Rookie check at the 2014 Great American Trucking Show.

Julie Matulle, of Amherst, Wisconsin, was 2014’s Trucking’s Top Rookie. Since her win she’s had the opportunity to do some recruiting for her company, H.O. Wolding Inc. One week a month she visits truck driving schools.

“I like that I can still keep driving, because I’m not really wanting to give up the road. I love the free spirit gypsy life, but it’s also giving back to the company,” Matulle said.

For Matulle, the most valuable part of her Trucking’s Top Rookie experience has been the people she’s had the opportunity to meet. She’s networked at conferences, trucking schools and industry events, and keeps in touch with the judges of the contest.

“I found great power in the award just from all of the people and the opportunities,” Matulle said.

Matulle’s advice for rookie truckers is to focus on getting as much experience as they can in their first year or driving. She advises drivers to seek companies with training programs that keep the trainer in the seat next to them, as opposed to companies that train drivers in a team driving format.

“Your first year is most important, so money and miles (are) not always the top priority,” Matulle said. “I would say that the first year training is of the utmost important, because you’re still learning. I’m still learning.”

Nominations are being accepted now for the 2016 Mike O’Connell Memorial Trucking’s Top Rookie contest. Nominations close at 5 p.m. on June 24. Submit a nomination online at http://truckload.org/rookie.

A panel of seven judges will review each nominee and select 10 finalists. The winner will be announced Friday, Aug. 26 at the Great American Trucking Show.

The winner receives:

  • $10,000 cash
  • $1,000 cash and 100,000 Pilot Flying J MyReward points
  • A custom plaque from Award Company of America
  • Interview on Red Eye Radio Network with Eric Harley
  • A feature in Truckers News
  • $1,000 worth of DAS Products merchandise featuring the RoadPro Getting Started Living On-The-Go Package
  • American Trucking Associations “Good Stuff Trucks Bring It” package, which includes a polo shirt with logo, baseball cap, model truck and utility knife
  • A GPS unit and a Motor Carrier Road Atlas from Rand McNally

The nine other finalists receive:

  • $1,000 cash
  • 50,000 MyRewards points from Pilot Flying J
  • A custom plaque from Award Company of America
  • $100 worth of DAS Products Merchandise, featuring the RoadPro MobileSpec Portable Life Package
  • American Trucking Associations ‘ “Good Stuff Trucks Bring It” package which includes a polo shirt with logo, baseball cap, model truck and utility knife
  • A GPS unit from Rand McNally

The late Mike O’Connell was formerly the executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, and originated the idea of honoring a top rookie driver to help show new drivers they are important to and appreciated by the trucking industry.