Trucking’s Top Rookie finalist got into trucking by chance

Dave Honbarger, of West Jefferson, North Carolina, got into trucking largely by chance.

He’d worked for AT&T for almost 29 years when his career there came to an end and he found himself looking for his next career move. He held various odd jobs, including flipping houses. Through that he learned his local Lowe’s needed a delivery driver, and the store manager reached out to Honbarger.

He started doing local deliveries of appliances and other merchandise, then Lowe’s wanted him to get his CDL so he could drive flatbed and do lumber deliveries. Honbarger was interested, but decided he wanted to get his CDL on his own because he didn’t want to be beholden to one company.

When he went to trucking school, he was impressed to see the demand for truckers. He said he never realized how much opportunity there is in trucking for drivers.

“Someone with a clean CDL record, driving record and clean criminal record must be hard to find these days,” Honbarger jokes.  

Honbarger was recently selected as a 2016 Trucking’s Top Rookie finalist.

While Honbarger may have gotten into trucking largely by chance, but he was hardly a stranger to the industry. His late father was a truck driver his entire life. Often, when Honbarger is driving, he thinks of his father.

“Most every day I get behind the wheel and start driving, and say my little prayer before I take off. Sometimes I get a little choked up because I know my dad’s up there in heaven laughing his head off. He never thought a day in his life that his own boy would now be driving a truck like he did his entire life,” Honbarger said.

Today he drives flatbed for Maverick Transportation, where he specializes in hauling glass. He said this presents more of a challenge than standard flatbed work.

“It’s more challenging because hauling the big, flat glass panels, you have to be way more cautious and more alert of what you’re doing than just hauling flatbed lumber, metal, that kind of stuff,” he said. “You have to slow down 10-15 more miles per hour for curves, because you’re hauling glass and when you’re making those curves it puts stress on the load so you have to slow down more and be more aware of the conditions of the road so you don’t have breakage.”

Dave Honbarger

While he says trucking isn’t the best fit for everyone, Honbarger feels trucking is ideal for him. With his family’s support, he drives over the road and gets to travel, which is something he’s always loved to do. His wife is a critical care nurse who does hospice work, so she can’t ride along with him, but she really encouraged Honbarger to pursue trucking, he says.

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“Being out in the solitude, it’s not for everyone, but for me it’s a perfect fit,” Honbarger said. “I love being out here. I miss my wife, and I miss my dog, and sometimes I say it the other way around and get in trouble. But being on the road, I just enjoy it. Driving all over the country and seeing all the beautiful land I’ve never seen before.”

Kenneth Moore, an operations analyst for Maverick Transportation, nominated Honbarger for the award. Moore said last quarter Honbarger ranked third in the entire company in miles driven per day.

“Part of the reason for his ridiculous numbers and great success is his availability to take loads,” Moore said. “Simply put, he’s always ready to go.”

Moore said Honbarger’s success is also due in part to his emphasis on safety.

“I think what we like best about Dave here at Maverick, however, is the fact that he wants to do the job the right way and to do it that way all the time,” said Moore. “Dave fits in naturally with our safety-focused culture. His MVR is cleaner than his truck, which is saying a lot because he takes pride in keeping it spotless, and his ELD logs are all perfectly legal.”

Moore thinks Honbarger is the epitome of what companies are looking for in their new recruits.

“His work ethic, intelligence and drive to succeed are close to superhuman, and he’s a really nice guy to boot. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact he has put together such a list of accomplishments and has such poise on the road and he’s only a rookie driver,” Moore said.

The winner of the Trucking’s Top Rookie award will be announced during ceremonies at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas next week, 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.