Driver competition winner ‘goes above and beyond’

LOUISBURG, N.C. — Stephen Davis was confident he would at least place in the first UMA International Driver Competition held at Motorcoach Expo 2017 in St. Louis.

But first place?

“I was shocked,” said Davis, 58, a driver for AT&T Coach in Louisburg.

He was named grand champion of the competition and received a $2,500 check and plaque as an award. (See April 1 Bus & Motorcoach News.)

Denny House, owner of AT&T Coach, said he would clone Davis if he could.

“Everybody loves him,” said House, whose mother, Ann, (the “A” in AT&T) started the company in the 1980s. “No complaints. He goes above and beyond.”

That includes doing more than driving, helping at the bus yard wherever it’s needed, House said. Davis’ wife, Linda, also works at the company, cleaning and maintaining motorcoach interiors.

Davis has been driving for AT&T since 2012 – his first trip included driving CNN and White House staff for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte – and has been driving motorcoaches for about 10 years. Before that, he drove a semi-truck pulling a 53-foot flatbed trailer.

So when it came time to back up a 45-foot motorcoach in a serpentine course in the driver competition, it was no problem.

“That was easy for me,” Davis said.

Other skills tested during the competition included alley backing, 90-degree turn, offset alley, parallel parking, stop line and onboard evaluation. The competition began with a 50-question written examination testing the drivers’ knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

Twenty-six drivers representing 16 companies in 21 states and two Canadian provinces competed in the inaugural event, which was held Feb. 28.

The biggest difference, Davis said, between driving a tractor-trailer and a motorcoach: people.

“In a tractor-trailer, you’re just dealing with your cargo, but when you’re driving a motorcoach, you have lives in your hands,” Davis said.

Davis said he’s been accident and ticket free for 10 years driving a motorcoach, which he attributes to training, learning and knowing what’s going on around his coach.

“You have to look as far as your eye can see,” Davis said. “And you’ve got to know your surroundings, that’s what (is) going through my head when I’m out there driving every day.”

When possible, he said he also tries to avoid traffic by traveling roads less traveled, “because it doesn’t have to be you to cause a problem, it can be somebody around you.”

Davis estimates he’s driven about 500,000 miles as a motorcoach driver and said he drove more than 1 million miles in tractor-trailers.

He had just a few days to prepare for the competition. House said his mother wanted Davis to go for all he does for AT&T. House then scrambled to get Davis entered into the competition and gave him a regulatory book to study.

It all paid off.

Davis was assigned to drive an Irizar coach, which he’s never driven before. AT&T’s 21-coach fleet includes MCIs, Setras and Van Hools.

Again, no problem.

House said Davis has taken some good-natured ribbing from colleagues about his title, and has dished it out, too.

“He’s asking them to call him Grand Champion,” House said with a laugh.

And on a recent five-coach trip to Chicago, with Davis as lead driver, the other drivers arrived that morning and stood in line at attention for inspection, House said chuckling.

On a former trip to the Medieval Times jousting show in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where guests get paper crowns as part of the experience, Davis had been photographed wearing his crown. A colleague recently modified the photo to have the crown read “Grand Champion,” House said.

All fun aside, House is thrilled to have Davis behind the wheel, both for his driving aptitude and people skills.

“He just gets what we’re doing,” House said. “He understands what it is that we’re trying to do, in customer service, in buying new equipment. He buys into the whole deal and not everybody does that.”

Plenty of drivers can hold a steering wheel, “but about one out of every 20 comes along that can get along with 56 people day in and day out and do what you need them to do,” House said.

Davis said he treats people the way he would want to be treated.

“You can’t let anything upset you,” he said.

House said Davis should be proud of his accompishment. While the prize money was nice, House underscored the recognition for his driver.

“I told him no amount of money would replace the people you were standing in front of. You were standing in front of some pretty heavy hitters in the bus industry up on that stage,” House said of the honor of being recognized during the UMA Leadership Awards Celebration at Expo.

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