Bus driver Tom Walters was a bit surprised when CBS Sports put him in the spotlight during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
He and his company, King’s Highway Charter and Tours in Lubbock, Texas, have been the official ground transportation for the Texas Tech men’s and women’s basketball teams for five years, and for the university’s athletic program for 11 years.
The cowboy boot-wearing driver was featured in a segment about his special connection to the men’s basketball team that made this year’s Sweet 16 playoffs. He is the main driver responsible for taking the team to its away games.
“I thought it’d be like a 20-second thing, but they came in and put cameras all over the bus inside and outside and had a cameraman following me around,” said Walters. “They stayed with me for about two hours. They even had a drone following the bus around.
“It was pretty amazing. I had friends who live in other parts of the country that called to say they saw me on television.”
The team bus
The attention highlighted the essential yet behind-the-scenes role that motorcoach drivers play in transporting college athletes to their games.
“I can’t tell you how many times the players would say as the plane is starting their descent into wherever they’re flying to and they look over and see the black Texas Tech Red Raider bus sitting there, they say it just gives them chills to see that their own bus and a friendly face is waiting for them,” Walters said.
Walters goes above and beyond for the players. He has candy at the front of the bus and personally greets players as they climb aboard.
“It’s such a cool feeling to bond with the players,” Walters said. “They make me feel like I’m part of the team. These guys will come up and give you a fist bump. I just developed a really nice relationship with all of them. I’ve met their parents who tell me they appreciate knowing I’m driving the bus. I call them kids, but they are like twice my size. But they’re still 19, 20, 21 years old.”
Motorcoach driving is a second career for Walters, who worked for a food manufacturer for nearly 20 years before being pink-slipped. He used his severance package to buy a 21-year-old bus he drove for Lubbock Christian University as a side gig. Because he previously had mentioned he would like the opportunity to buy the bus if the university sold it, he got the first call. The timing couldn’t have been better. The call came two days after he learned he was being downsized from his job.
“I ended up realizing that God basically dropped that in my lap, and so that’s why I named my business King’s Highway,” Walters said.
He said he has felt God’s hand during the pandemic as well. He credits Prevost for serving as his guardian angel in two ways.
First, Prevost’s financial arm, Volvo Financial Services, worked with him when he didn’t have any revenue coming in, along with Wells Fargo, Signature Finance and Huntington Finance.
“We didn’t make bus payments for about eight months, but I would email them every month, explaining what I was doing to get the money,” Walters said. And then for several months, he sent in partial payments. “It was probably a year and a half before I actually could make full bus payments.”
After he was able to resume making regular payments, Prevost offered him a deal on some buses that had been repossessed.
“They let me lease a bus for six months. They were helping me get my feet on the ground,” said Walters.
Two of his coaches were repossessed by TIAA Finance Services when the company closed out all outstanding loans as it exited the motorcoach industry.
A grateful Walters also says a Prevost coach saved his life as he was driving to Des Moines, Iowa, to pick up the Texas Tech men’s basketball team on Jan. 6, 2021. The bus hit a snowbank and then an emergency vehicle crossover as he avoided a truck that swerved into his lane.
Fortunately, Walters was the only person onboard, but the bus was totaled. It also was one of his two black buses decorated for Texas Tech.
He fell out of the bus because the stairs were smashed. He immediately called his office, asking two drivers to bring the other bus. They took turns driving, so the bus arrived by morning. They drove to Des Moines, and he sent them back in a rented car.
“I picked up the team at 11, and the team never even knew we had a wreck,” Walters said.
He credits the bus with protecting him, and wrote a letter to Prevost with pictures showing the crumpled bus.
“I said there’s no real reason why I’m here, but thank goodness for the safety features of the Prevost bus. Everything around me was basically destroyed except my driver’s area,” he said. “It was a miracle. I shouldn’t be here. God looked after me.”