On the Right Track
Trucker: Jimmy McSwain, 41, of Chiefland, Fla.
Family: Daughter Ashley, 16, and son Brandon, 13
Rig: 1998 Freightliner Classic XL
Awards: Operator of the Year, Sunco 1995; TCA Contractor of the Year finalist, 1995; state and national driving championship finalist, 2000, 2001
Freight: Frozen foods
Leased to: Sunco Carriers, Lakeland, Fla.
If you could see Jimmy McSwain of Chiefland, Fla., in his racecar on a Saturday night at the quarter-mile Auburndale Speedway in Auburndale, Fla., you probably wouldn’t think he has millions of safe miles as a less-than-truckload driver for Sunco Carriers, owned by Watkins Associated Industry.
“We go about 60-65 mph, but there’s a lot of beating and banging,” McSwain says. “We call it Saturday night rubbin’.” McSwain and his friend Bob Baker make up the Think Fast race team and have taken turns cruising around the track for two years. Lately, McSwain and Baker have been getting their sons in the races. “I guess we’ll probably give up driving and help them out more,” McSwain says.
Just as McSwain shares his love of racing with his son, Jimmy McSwain’s father, Marlin, passed a love of trucking to him. Marlin was a company driver for as long as McSwain can remember. One of his best trucking memories is a trip with his father. When McSwain was about 8, he went with his dad to Minneapolis, which at the time had a 10 p.m. curfew. “He left me asleep in the hotel and went down to a diner for coffee,” McSwain says. “I woke up and went to look for him, and the police picked me up as soon as I stepped outside.” They escorted him into the diner and asked around for a Mr. McSwain. “The police asked him if he had left me upstairs. He said, ‘Yeah, but he was supposed to be asleep.’”
Although his father drove over-the-road, McSwain runs mainly the Southeast, usually from Florida to Texas and back, and rarely for more than a few days at a time. “I’m never out more than 10 or 12 days, and if I’m out that long, it’s because I choose to be,” he says. “There’s more money in LTL, but there’s also more aggravation.”
Although McSwain doesn’t let his banging around the racetrack bump into his everyday driving, his weekly routine does have a circular quality about it. He usually starts his week on Sunday and makes eight to 12 stops within two or three days. He then picks up a straight load back to Lakeland and makes it back there on Fridays. “Fridays are our long days because we have to cross-dock everything and make sure it all gets loaded on the right trailer going to the right place,” he says. It’s then ready to go, and he starts the process all over again. “I don’t have a dedicated run,” he says. “But I do go to a lot of the same places to make drops.”
McSwain says he still wants to stay in the industry after he decides he’s had enough driving. “A buddy of mine has a small trucking company, and he keeps trying to talk me into getting out of my truck and working with him,” McSwain says. But he doesn’t see himself doing that anytime soon. “After all these years, I don’t know if I could be stuck in a building,” he says. “I’ve had my ups and downs just like everybody else, but trucking’s been good to me.”
Dean Manley, vice president of safety for Sunco Carriers, thinks McSwain’s attitude has a lot to do with his success. “You don’t run across a lot of people who just accept their job for what it is and do a good job at it, but he does,” Manley says. “He’s the kind of guy who sets the standard for the rest of the industry.”
FIRST TRUCK: 1970 Freightliner cabover with a 250-hp Cummins. I bought it in 1978, two months after I started driving, and I kept it until 1986.
BEST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: The money’s good. If I want to make more money, I can just work harder. You also get to see a lot of things, and you get to meet a lot of people.
FAVORITE STATE TO DRIVE IN: Florida. They have great roads and rest areas.
WORST STATE TO DRIVE IN: Louisiana.
WORST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: Rude customers and the lack of respect from the general public. Some of them think you’re just dirt. I don’t know why people can’t be more courteous. We also need more parking.
AVERAGE MILES A YEAR: 110,000.
FAVORITE MOVIE: Smokey and the Bandit.
FAVORITE TV SHOW: 60 Minutes.
FAVORITE FOOD: Steak (well done) and a baked potato.
LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Spinach.
PET PEEVES: People coming at you with their high beams on and people who don’t use their turn signals.
GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Being Sunco’s Operator of the Year in 1995 and placing seventh in the TCA Contractor of the Year contest in 1995.
CLOSE CALL: Early in my career, I was going down the mountains in Colorado, and I got my brakes too hot, and I didn’t have a Jake Brake. I didn’t know if I was going to make it to the bottom. I was scared to death.
HARDEST PART OF BEING A TRUCKER: Having to build up your own retirement funds. It seems like when you put some money aside, something always comes up. If you don’t plan for the future, it’s going to be hard.
IF I HADN’T BEEN A TRUCKER, I WOULD BE: A NASCAR driver.
HOBBIES: NASCAR and fishing. My favorite driver was Dale Earnhardt, but I guess now it’s Dale Jr.
MOTTO: Treat people the way you want to be treated.
ADVICE TO NEW DRIVERS: Find a good company. Give that company a chance. Too many guys jump around looking for something better. They’re all basically the same. If you pay off a truck, use the money that would go for the payment and save it. You’ll be amazed at how much you save. I get my company to take $700 out every week.
Do you know an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? E-mail Laura Crackel at email@example.com.