“We are the backbone of this nation. Without us, nothing would move. Nothing would move.” –Truck driver Steven “Stingray” Donaldson, from the movie “Drive and Deliver”
Fortune smiled on me at the Mid America Trucking Show in a lot of ways – sunny weather being one of its graces – but by far best came from a chance encounter with Steven “Stingray” Donaldson and Chris “Discount” LeCount, two of the truck drivers portrayed in a 48-minute film financed by Navistar Corp. called “Drive and Deliver” that I wrote about last year.
Ostensibly, “Drive and Deliver” is nothing but a long commercial for Navistar’s LoneStar Class 8 truck. Yet instead, the OEM decided to do something very unusual – and hugely commendable – with this film. It “cast” three truck drivers in this film – owner-operators Donaldson and LeCount, along with company driver Tim “Shoestring” Young – hired acclaimed filmmaker Brett Morgan, and turned what could have been just another glitzy marketing project into one hell of a documentary about the lives of truck drivers.
Whatever you think of Navistar and its LoneStar product, the insight you gain from watching these three drivers talk about the highs and lows of their chosen careers, the challenges they face, and ultimately why they love what they do is just powerful stuff. The most interesting thing is, when you meet these drivers in person, they are the exact same people you see up on the big screen – personable and exceedingly passionate about trucking.
[Donaldson, a driver for nearly 40 years, wants to use whatever fame might come from being in this movie to help forge better connections between both the older and younger generations of truck drivers.]
Donaldson told me that, at the beginning, he didn’t even know what Navistar was really up to. He’d sat down for a casting interview almost by chance at Mid America last year, got several follow up calls, and all of the sudden got offered a chance to drive a new truck for 10 days.
“I thought they were looking for a stunt driver,” he explained to me. “Even after filming started, I wasn’t sure what was going on. Then I overheard a waitress at a truck stop saying, ‘they are making a movie about a truck driver’s life.’ That’s when I knew what the real story was.”
During filming, each driver thought – and were told nothing different – that the movie was just about them. When they came to find the lives of other truckers were being filmed as well, they reacted in typical driver fashion – they got in touch with each other, told stories, and became friends.
That was really evident when I talked with Steve and Chris. They laughed, joked, and shared their thoughts on trucking with me equally – more than glad to share the big stage they find themselves on these days. That Tim Young couldn’t be there with them that day proved to be their only regret.
“We try to keep in touch frequently, though we’re all working hard out there,” LeCount told me. “The wives do a lot better job.”
One of the interesting things I discovered is that neither Steve nor Chris views their growing fame from being in this movie as a way for themselves, as individuals, to profit. They are far more interested in using whatever stature this film gives them to help their fellow drivers, while trying to turn the public’s view of who they are and what they do around.
[LeCount in particular believes the truck driver’s image in the minds of the general public really needs a serious makeover.]
After the screenings of “Drive and Deliver” at Mid America this year, they took the time to sign autographs but, more importantly, talked to their fellow drivers and especially any kids that were present.
Steve, who’s been coming to Mid America for over 30 years, believes that is the mission they are really on. They’ve become larger than life ambassadors, in a way, to make trucking a better place to live and work.
“For a while there, I almost quit – we had all these people jammed in the cab filming; it was really tight,” Steve told me. “But then I thought to myself, ‘This is a chance to make a difference.’ And I have to give Navistar credit – they never gave us a script, never told us what to say. Everything up there is us.”
“We would love to do another movie,” added LeCount. “It’s great making our fellow drivers proud of what we do out here, to make them proud of our profession.”
[Here’s a little snapshot of what the movie captures in terms of rolling vistas and perspectives on the industry from all three drivers.]