Oversized freight hauler Kevin Kocmich a finalist for Owner-Operator of the Year

Kevin Kocmich is one of three finalists for the 2016 Owner-Operator of the Year award.

Kevin Kocmich, 55, of Litchfield, Minnesota, has hauled agricultural products and steel, but he finally settled into really big freight. He averages 115,000 miles a year — pretty good, he says, considering he’s hauling mostly oversized loads with curfew restrictions.

Kocmich grew up on a farm in South Dakota. After graduating high school in 1979, he got a harvest truck run between Oklahoma and the Canadian border before getting into regional trucking. For a short time, he hauled steel out of Chicago and Detroit to Nebraska, then began moving into long-haul.

He bought his first truck in 2000 and is leased to Diamond Transportation System, where he has worked for three years. With his 2015 Peterbilt 379 and a removable gooseneck trailer that he bought in 2015, Kocmich runs the lower 48 states and all Canadian provinces, hauling a lot of farm, military and construction equipment.

Kocmich is one of three finalists for the 2016 Owner-Operator of the Year, produced by the Truckload Carriers Association and Overdrive. The winner, who will receive a $25,000 cash prize, will be announced March 28 at TCA’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. The other two finalists are Gary Buchs and Philip Keith. The contests is sponsored by Cummins and Love’s Travel Stops. Three drivers are finalists for the 2016 Company Driver of the Year award, also to be named March 28. Runners-up in both contests will receive $2,500 each.

The awards recognize the winners’ safety record, efforts to enhance the industry’s image and contributions to the community. For the owner-operator award, business acumen is an additional consideration. To be eligible for the contest, applicants had to have one million consecutive accident-free miles and meet other standards.

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Kocmich’s wife, Joy, travels with him about 10 months out of the year, and he tends to stay on the road two to three months at a time. “We want to make our money in the summertime, so we’re gone a lot longer that time of year,” he says.

Kocmich believes it’s becoming more difficult to keep his clean record of 2.9 million accident-free miles over his 27-year trucking career. “There’s a lot more traffic than there ever has been, and people are driving as fast or faster than ever,” he says. “The stress level is getting higher all the time.”

The motoring public makes it even more difficult when he’s hauling wide loads, often not giving him enough space to operate or trying to speed around him to beat him to a construction zone. Something as ordinary as a vehicle parked on the shoulder can pose a challenge because it’s hard to navigate around it with a wide load.

Kocmich’s key to staying safe amid those challenges is concentration. “You’re defensive driving all the time,” he says. “Used to, everybody looked out for each other, but now that traffic is getting heavier, everybody is in a hurry.” He recommends avoiding the habit of taking shortcuts when doing so compromises safety.

Business success is all about knowing what freight you need to haul to be profitable while staying on top of maintenance, Kocmich says. “It adds up quickly,” he says. “If you start letting things go on your truck, the DOT will be more likely to take a second look at you.”

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The native of Long Beach, Miss., has been driving trucks for 33 years, amassing more than 4 million accident-free miles. He’s leased to WEL Companies ...

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