Trucker of the Month
A strong finish
Owner-operator Mike Davis, 69, has clocked 5.5 million accident-free miles, a level of safety very few owner-operators achieve. Many of these miles were logged with his 2003 Kenworth T600, which he maintains largely by himself with skills he once used to pursue another passion: building and racing stock cars.
The Coshocton, Ohio, native and resident’s eight-year association with the racetrack didn’t sideline a long career in trucking that began in 1961, when he did some vocational driving, and developed to include winning industry driving awards.
Davis’ longtime love of racing found new expression when he and brother-in-law Jack Babenberg, a mechanic, visited a local raceway pit. “We said, ‘We could do this,’ ” Davis recalls. “At that time you could pretty much go to the junkyard and build your own car.”
They began with the frame and assembled a car, first building a ’70 Chevalier, then a ’72 or ’73 Cameron before buying a ’76 Cameron. He raced at regional dirt track races between 1970 and 1978. His first race was intimidating. “I was a fish out of water,” he recalls.
Davis was Track Champion of the Year a few times, given to the driver with the most racing points, and was voted Most Popular Driver several times. He once raced against the late Butch Hartman, a USAC champion, though Davis didn’t win.
Racing’s reward was “when you finish, and especially if you win,” he says. “Our crew would celebrate at the garage. Or when a kid asks for your autograph.”
Davis used to “eat, drink and sleep” racing, but quit in 1978. It took too much money and time, especially with daughters Jami and Jodi growing up.
He first drove trucks while doing regional oilfield work in 1961. In 1963, Davis began working full-time as a company driver, hauling coal and steel, before deciding he wanted to be his own boss in 1967. He bought a Ford F1000 and hauled steel mill products.
Davis, who netted $60,000 last year, attributes much of his financial success to planning, avoiding debt and holding down costs. He buys in bulk when he finds a good deal.
He attributes his 7.3 miles per gallon to using low rolling resistance tires, running an auxiliary power unit, cruising at 58-60 mph and avoiding quick acceleration. “I pretend there is an egg between my foot and the accelerator,” he says.
His business savvy has helped in other ways. In 1969, Davis bought a garage to work on his truck, and began buying rental property. Now he rents out two additional garages, a mobile home and parking for other truckers.
Gaines Motor Lines has agreed to pay $262,500 to four former drivers who the ...