Monday, June 15, 2020

ATA’s Driver of the Year Rosko Craig has the “juice”

By Ford Boswell

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Rosko Craig glances back at a load of metal beams strapped and chained to a flatbed trailer and smiles. It’s not his load. It’s just a random one on the yard, but he is sizing it up because a manager has questioned if the chains are properly spaced according to regulations for load securement.

Craig flashes his signature smile, and calmly says, “Oh, it’s right.”

That leads to a quick discussion, and a call for a third opinion, but after a while, everyone agrees that they are in fact both correct: The manager is quoting company policy, but Craig is referring to FMCSA requirements.

“Man, as long as I’ve been hauling flat­bed,” he says, “I better know what I am do­ing. At least, I better know what require­ments the state troopers are going to go by so I don’t get a ticket. Hauling a flat­bed is harder than other (kinds of hau­ling) because of all the different regulations and re­quire­ments.”

It’s a passion for detail that separates a great driver from the good one. When it comes to detail, Craig doesn’t miss much.

With 22 total years on the road (16 of that hauling flatbed), and accumulating more than 3 million safe miles, Craig, 50, was recently selected over dozens of other top drivers from the state as the Alabama Trucking Association’s 2019 Driver of the Year sponsored by Nextran Truck Centers.

ATA’s Fleet Safety Awards are gauged on safety performance metrics for the previous calendar year. Fleet managers submit reports and nomination letters to an independent panel of judges composed of troopers from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), who determine the winners in­de­pendently. Names and the companies they drive for are also kept from the panel so that judging is impartial.

“I think having agents from ALEA’s motor carrier safety unit makes these awards so much more special,” says ATA Vice Presi­dent of Safety and Compliance Tim Frazier. “These troopers are out in the field inspect­ing drivers and vehicles every day, so they know a good driver or opera­tion when they come across one. The win­ners of these recog­nitions truly are the safest and best opera­tors in Alabama. We’re extremely proud to honor their efforts.”

As the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., ATA was forced to cancel its annual Fleet Safety Awards Banquet back in March. Faced with ongoing social dis­tancing orders from the state with further restrictions on large gatherings amid the pandemic, ATA took to the Internet to host its 2019 “Vir­tual” Fleet Safety Awards live on Face­book to announce its winners.

It wasn’t the way ATA leaders wanted to announce its award winners, but Craig said finding out from his company supervisors was still pretty special. “They brought me into the office one day and had Mr. Frazier on the phone who told me I’d won Driver of the Year. Everyone was so happy for me, and they made a big deal out of it. When the trucking association did its video awards, we had a watch party here at the office — socially distancing, of course. We were all spread out in small groups in different rooms. They had steaks catered in and some of my family was here. It is a great honor.” 

ATA’s Driver of the Year Award represents the best of the best in Alabama Trucking says ATA President and CEO Mark Colson.

“Truck drivers are the safest drivers on the road,” he explains, “so to get to be Driver of the Year is a mantle that you’re holding up. (These winners) are setting an example for how to be a safe driver, how to be a leader for the company, and other people want to live up to that standard.”

Company Man

Craig, who has been with MT for more than seven years, is a model driver who exem­plifies professionalism in the shop, on the road and working with customers at terminals and delivery sites. He’s earned many company awards, including Driver of the Month honors and Driver of the Year in 2018.

According to his supervisors, Craig is an “old school” trucker respected by his peers, customers and coworkers, who is always willing to help others. Tapping his driving experience and skill, MT managers picked him to serve on its Driver Advisory Board, which researches, writes and implements company policy. He was recently selected by the company to test a new camera system that replaces a truck’s outside mirrors.

Another outstanding attribute, MT supervisors really appreciate is his leadership. They say he readily shares wisdom with new drivers, takes accountability for his actions, and performs his job at the highest level no matter the circumstance. And he’s also a great spokesperson for the industry, and he regu­larly touts the role the in­dus­try plays in the economy and its daily im­pact on our lives. 

“What makes Rosko special for me is his (positive) attitude,” says R.J. Severtsgaard an MT field operations manager who was in­strumental in nominating Craig for ATA’s top individual award. “Attitude is con­tagious in this industry, and he passes that along to others in our fleet. He always has a smile and is always doing what he needs to do to make our company and this industry successful.”

Because of that, Craig also works behind the scenes with company management to showcase the industry as a great oppor­tunity for those seeking a good-paying job with stability, benefits and autonomy. 

He says passing along his knowledge and passion for trucking is a very rewarding part of his life, and he hopes to create a spark for someone to consider trucking as a career.

Dream Job

A married father of three grown children,  including a son, Javon (29), a daughter, Dia­mond (28), the youngest son, Jamarre (23), and one grandson, Jasiah (6). Craig, or “Turk”, as he’s known to family and friends, is a dedicated family man who loves nothing more than hanging out with Jasiah. “That’s my man — my number one star,” he says. “He means everything to me. When we’re together, I do whatever he wants to do. Right now, fishing is his biggest thing. We go as often as we can.”

His wife, Hope, is a retail manager with the state ABC Board. They have been married for 32 years, after meeting as teenagers. “I was playing basketball with a friend, and she and her friend came walking down the sidewalk, and I stopped them to talk to her. We met up at the park later, and we’ve been going around ever since.”

A supportive spouse is essential in this line of work, and Craig says Hope always has his back.

“I love trucking because it was a child­hood dream of mine,” he says. “For all these years, it has allowed me to provide for my family…my wife, my daughter, my sons, and my grandson. They are my rock and my backbone in all this. Without their support, I couldn’t do any of this.”

Craig started driving in the mid-1990s hauling for a company based near his home­town of Harvey, Ill., but he didn’t stick with it. After only a few years, he took a job work­ing as a machine operator making rivets in a manufacturing mill. Meanwhile, the couple started a family, and one thing led to another, and he stayed there for about 15 years working his way to the top of that operation.

But as their sons approached their teens, the couple wanted to relocate to a place where the lifestyle was a bit slower than the suburbs of South Chicago. Harvey is known for its high crime rate and gang activity, and Craig didn’t want his sons exposed or fall victim to things that were going on there.

He had some extended family who lived in South Alabama, near Mobile, and he had visited often as a child and later when he and his own family were passing through on their way to Florida. “I just loved the slower pace, the farmland, the weather,” he says. “I remember as a child when I’d visit that I just loved the smell of the dirt there. I wanted my sons to experience another way of living than what they were used to up in Illinois.”

Since there wasn’t much work down south in Silas, he decided he’d give truck driving another try. He earned his commercial driver’s license and went to work with a cousin in Mobile who was an owner-operator. Eventually, he signed on with a flatbed operator based in Ohio with runs close to home. He stayed with them for a while and finally ended up with his current employer.

“I was actually up here in Birmingham applying for a driving job with another carrier, but they rejected my application on a minor medical issue that had never been diagnosed by my doctor or even a problem for me,” he recalls. “Another driver there going through the process told me about Montgomery Transport. I called them and went by for an interview, and they hired me that day. That was seven years ago, and just look at what all I have done since then. Look at what the other company missed out on!”

Craig is grateful for his job with Mont­gomery Transport. “I love working here,” he says. “They are great people to work with. They want you to succeed, and they give you the tools to do it.”

‘Got the Juice’

Craig believes that success in trucking is so much more than just showing up and do­ing what is expected.

“For me, the keys to success in the truck­ing industry are safety, number one, hard work and determination,” he says. “When I get up in the morning, I start my pre-trip, get out, walk around the truck, check lights, tires, brakes and the load. I make sure everything is in proper working order and the load is tight. Then I get up in the cab, check all my gauges, make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be and that all the lights on the dash are working. After that, I start my pre-trip on my Omni­tracs log. I push my brake in, and my day has started.”

But that’s only part of it. 

As ATA’s Colson sees it, success in truck­ing is also about commitment to being the best at what you do, and a little vibe doesn’t hurt either.

“Rosko is clearly a professional driver who has lots of accomplishments,” he says. “Three million safe miles — that’s tremen­dous — but he’s also one of those guys who’s got the juice! He’s got the personality, but he’s also got the commit­ment to the small details. It’s not just driving a truck; there’s a lot more (to it). You have to know the laws and the regulations, but you also have to have the personality to fit with whatever client … or team you’re working for. Rosko has proven that over his long career.”