Driver of the Month

Two deep

Lifetime friends are also a top-notch Interstate Distributor team

“Closer than brothers,” says Interstate Distributor Log Compliance Director Dolores Fitzgerald of drivers Don Zunino and Ron Hillman, who’ve been driving team for more than a decade.

Don Zunino, left, and Ron Hillman

Their relationship has not only helped lead them to 2.5 million accident-free miles apiece, but it’s built upon a lifetime of friendship and support. The two live just a few miles apart in northwest Montana, “back in the woods,” Zunino says.

“We’ve known each other since we were in diapers,” Hillman says, and when his wife died in 2010 after a four-year battle with cancer, “Don was the biggest help to me, by far. He helped me get through the hardest period of time in my life.”

Zunino also helped him take care of paperwork and bills his wife handled, things Hillman confesses “I didn’t know a thing about.” Admittedly, though, Zunino says, the two operate best in the truck, running a dedicated load from Lewiston, Idaho, to Las Vegas three times a week.

Zunino picked up the trade from his father (who picked it up from Zunino’s grandfather), starting an eight-year owner-operator career in the early 1980s. Hillman says he learned to drive riding in his dad’s lap as a child. He and Zunino began driving team full-time in 2000 after making a few runs together.

The secret to their safety record, both say, is maintaining composure. “Don’t drive mad,” Zunino says. “The best thing, maybe, after something has happened is to stop for a bit, take a breather and then get back at it.”

“When you get mad, you don’t think,” Hillman says. “And you can’t drive that way.”

And though sharing tight quarters can be frustrating at times, the team relationship is one that works for the two of them, Zunino says. “We’re a team, and that’s how we handle our business. A lot of times there are situations where we can ask advice from the other, and we both benefit from having the other around.”

Q & A

TN: What’s one thing you always bring with you on the road?

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Don: Books, mostly history. Whenever I’m sitting in the bunk when it’s my turn to go back there, I read. I read until my eyes get heavy, then go to sleep. My grandfather on my mother’s side had a bookstore, and I guess it’s just in my blood.

Ron: Books. I love to read. When I run out of books I start reading box labels or whatever’s around me.

TN: What advice would you give younger drivers?

Don: You’ve got to be sure this is what you want to do — it’s a tough life, being away so much. Also, you want to come home to your family, so you have to be safe and be on top of it. You have to be on your game all of the time, which is difficult because we’re human beings, but you have to be able to make it work.

Ron: Take the bad with the good. Not every load is a good load, but don’t get mad and stomp off — every now and then you’ve got to take a bad load.

Editor’s note: Don Zunino and Ron Hillman are finalists in the 2011 Company Driver of the Year contest, sponsored by Cummins Engines and Ram, and produced by Truckers News and the ­Truckload Carriers Association. The winner, to be announced at TCA’s annual convention March 4-7, 2012, in Orlando, Fla., will win a Cummins-powered Ram pickup.