Scott Smith started his truck driving career on somewhat of a lark: His brother-in law wanted to get into the business and invited him to come along.
"He didn't want to do it by himself, so he talked me into it," said Smith, 67, of Roseville. "I never thought of it being a full-time career."
That was in 1977. In the nearly 43 years of schlepping freight containers around the country that followed, Smith compiled a sterling driving and safety record while logging more than 4.6 million miles — an accomplishment that earned him the Minnesota Trucking Association's Driver of the Year 2020 title.
"Shocking. Overwhelming. Unexpected," Smith said in an interview Friday, the day after he was presented with the association's highest award for truck drivers. The award, given annually since 1949, comes with a trophy, $500, a Kwik Trip gift card and a personalized leather jacket.
Smith's co-workers at BarOle Trucking in Roseville, who nominated him for the award because of his attention to detail and commitment to safety, were not surprised he won. Smith is often tapped to train new drivers, showing them the importance of following safety protocols during pre- and post-trip safety inspections.
"Safety is our Number 1 focus and Scott is excellent at that," said Luke Kotilinek, BarOle's vice president and CFO. "He checks over and over and makes sure about being safe on the road."
Smith started his career driving tankers, transporting oil, gas and propane. There was a stint with Coca-Cola before he landed at BarOle in 1997. He's hauled containers loaded with kidney beans and sunflower seeds, machinery, furniture, airplane parts and cars being shipped overseas.
Smith has driven through nearly all of the Lower 48, missing only the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. He currently does "short hauls" — day trips of about 150 miles one-way from Roseville to destinations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and occasionally South Dakota and Iowa.
As the odometer rolls, Smith listens to classic rock in the mornings and dials up midday podcasts. At other times, it's radio silence as he soaks in the scenery and watches for the biggest menace on the road: aggressive drivers.
Since COVID-19 hit, Smith said, he has seen an increase in high speeds and dangerous driving.
"You just have to be aware people are going to take chances," he said. "I don't understand why people are in such a hurry all the time. You have to understand they are going to be and you have to be ready for it."
His motto, he said, was aptly captured on a roadside sign he recently saw while rolling through Wisconsin: "Get up earlier. Leave sooner. Live longer."
Smith has never had a crash where he's been at fault, according to the trucking association. There was one several years ago, Smith said, but it was unavoidable: A motorist crossing a highway disobeyed a stop sign and drove into the side of his rig.
As BarOle's second-longest tenured driver, Smith sets an example, said his wife, Karol Smith, who happens to be his boss. When other drivers need a little help, they seek out the man with the recognizable mustache, she said.
"His mustache is very prominent and everybody knows him because of that," she said. "He stands out because of his knowledge. He is the example for everybody. If there is a question, he is the one they go to."
Smith was named the Minnesota Trucking Association's Driver of the Month in September. Each of the 12 monthly award winners are considered for Driver of the Year.
Safe driving is one of the criteria. Recipients must also contribute to highway and industry safety and be involved in the community. Smith has been with the Boy Scouts since 2003, serving as a Scout leader and later as an assistant Scout master. He also volunteers with the association's "Trucks & Toys" campaign during the holidays.
For the man who didn't give trucking much of a thought, Smith said it has been a very good ride.
"You enjoy being in charge of piece of equipment," he said. "It's a lot of fun."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768