Top rookie finalist traded career in insurance for trucking

Mario Cardenas started a successful career at an insurance company right after graduating college with a 3.7 GPA and a dual degree in business. But he was feeling restless and wanted a change, so he made the decision to attend the Roadmaster Drivers School and get his CDL.

Now, at age 25, Cardenas is a 2016 Trucking’s Top Rookie finalist driving for TMC Transportation and living in San Antonio, Texas. He currently drives a 2014 Peterbilt 579 company truck.

“I appreciate people noticing that I’m working hard,” Cardenas said.

Cardenas’ father was once a truck driver, and when Cardenas found himself looking for a career change from his job in insurance, he decided to take a look at trucking. He went to driving classes and before he knew it, he was employed as a trucker.

“I feel like I’m in the place that I should be,” Cardenas said.

He drives flatbed because of how it keeps him active. It was important to him to have exercise as part of his routine, instead of spending the entire day sitting. Flatbedding helps him stay in shape, he says.

“I’m 25, and I was into sports when I was in high school and college, so I didn’t want to be doing nothing,” Cardenas said.

Cardenas loves how trucking lets him travel the country and get to know different places. He’s always had a passion for traveling, so trucking has been a perfect fit for him.

“Now that I’m a truck driver, I’ve been so far in about 46 states in a year. I’ve gotten to see the mountains in Colorado, being in New York traffic, being in the desert in Arizona,” Cardenas said. “Just getting to know different places, getting to know different people is something I really like.”

Cardenas also takes safety very seriously. When he first hit 10,000 miles without an accident, he was incredibly excited.

“Right now I’m at about 150,000 miles, and my next goal is to meet 1 million miles without an accident,” Cardenas said.

Mario Cardenas

Sam Bricker, Cardenas’ fleet manager, said he’s one of the most pleasant drivers he’s ever worked with. Cardenas’ positive outlook and work ethic make him stand out, says Bricker.

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“If I send him a 600-mile load first thing in the morning I know it is going to be there the next morning, likely parked there that same night that I dispatched it. That is a tough feat, especially for someone that is so new to driving,” Bricker said. “He has never hesitated or held back from any load, no matter what the product is, the securement required, the city it goes through, how much or how little it pays.”

The winner of the Trucking’s Top Rookie award will be announced during ceremonies at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas this month, and will receive $10,000 and a package of prizes. 

The eight runners up will receive $1,000 and other prizes as well.

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

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
  • An American Trucking Associations prize 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
  • A dash cam and CB radio from Cobra

The eight 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
  • An American Trucking Associations prize package which includes a polo shirt with logo, baseball cap, model truck and utility knife
  • A GPS unit from Rand McNally
  • A CB radio from Cobra

The award is named for 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.