Highway Transport driver claims Usher Trophy

April 26, 2022
Knoxville, Tenn.-based chemical hauler Thomas Frain emerges from field of eight champion finalists as NTTC's 2021-22 Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year

SAN DIEGO, Calif.—Highway Transport produced its first National Tank Truck Carriers Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year finalist in 2020.

Two years later, it’s celebrating its first grand champion.

Driver trainer Thomas Frain, a 30-year trucking veteran who’s spent the last seven years with Highway Transport, emerged from a field of eight finalists with more than a combined 20 million accident-free miles as the 2021-22 winner of NTTC’s William A. Usher, Sr. Trophy on Monday during the 2022 Annual Conference at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

“When they called his name, I felt shocked, and just had a rush of emotions,” said Marshall Franklin, president and CFO of the Knoxville, Tenn.-based chemical hauler. “It’s fantastic. We’re grateful. He’s a great guy, he has a great family, and he’s probably trained as many drivers as anyone else in the company since he’s been at Highway.

“He mentors them, and he does it because he genuinely wants them to do well.”

They feel the same about him.

Highway Transport’s Alen Smailovic, who spent more than a year as a finalist after the 2019-20 program was cancelled due to the pandemic, was one of Frain’s most emphatic supporters, Franklin said, writing in a recommendation letter that if he was a finalist, then Frain—who trained him—was the real champion.

“He’s as excited as anybody else,” Franklin said.

Except, that is, for Frain’s wife, Carol—one of the first people he thanked as NTTC’s eighth Tank Truck Driver of the Year. Then he thanked all the finalists’ wives for supporting their “motley crew” of husbands, who he pointed out have as many years of marriage between them as they do tank truck experience—more than 200.

Throw in 2020-21 winner Ron Baird, who helped Frain don his champion jacket, and the number jumps to nearly 300 years.

“April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the key factors in that are visual, physical, and cognitive,” Frain said. “The fact that we know our ladies are home taking care of business allows us to perform as well as we do.”

Frain, a Smith System certified trainer who previously pulled refrigerated trailers, boasts 2.3 million accident-free miles, including 483,000 with Highway Transport. And still he has found time to volunteer with numerous organizations, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, USA Softball, and the American Youth Soccer Organization.

Now he’s eager to serve NTTC as the association’s industry ambassador.

“A few months ago, this was an application,” Frain, 52,  said. “It was just a piece of paper. But after the interview process in January, it really sank in how real—and how important—this is to the industry, and our community.”

The other 2021-22 finalists were Florida Rock & Tank Lines’ Robert Anderson (16 years, 1.56 million accident-free miles), Grammer Logistics’ James Ellis (10, 1.1 million)—now a three-time finalistTrimac Transportation’s Dean Hansen (45, 3 million), Kenan Advantage Group’s Richard “Jerry” Locke (28, 3 million) and Daniel Smith (30, 2.4), Eagle Transport’s Demetrius Stewart (32, 3.2 million), and Quality Carriers’ Michael White (32, 3.8 million).

Previous winners of the Usher Trophy include:

  • 2013-14: James Starr, Groendyke Transport
  • 2014-15: Bobby Weller, Hahn Transportation
  • 2015-16: Darryl Nowell, Eagle Transport
  • 2016-17: Todd Stine, Carbon Express
  • 2017-18: Paul Emerson, Foodliner
  • 2018-19: Barbara Herman, K-Limited Carrier
  • 2019-20: Program suspended due to pandemic
  • 2020-21: Ron Baird, G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation

Frain’s name was added to the prestigious trophy named after an NTTC legend on stage.

“Words can’t express how grateful I am to have the opportunity to represent an organization that has given my family and I so much,” said Frain, who’s also one of the Tennessee Trucking Association’s 2022-23 Road Team Captains.

The Great West Casualty Company sponsored the Tank Truck Driver of the Year program, which annually recognizes one driver who is knowledgeable about the trucking industry, dedicated to safe driving, and capable of communicating the industry’s messages.

The judges, who also considered the finalists’ overall safety records, were American Trucking Association’s Elisabeth Barna, the American Transportation Research Institute’s Rebecca Brewster, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Will Shaffer, and America’s Road Team Captains Byron Bramwell and Herschel Evans. 

About the Author

Jason McDaniel

Jason McDaniel, based in the Houston TX area, has more than 20 years of experience as an award-winning journalist. He spent 15 writing and editing for daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, and began covering the commercial vehicle industry in 2018. He was named editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter magazines in July 2020.


Jason McDaniel/BT
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At long last: Baird crowned 2020-21 NTTC Tank Truck Driver of the Year

June 14, 2021
G&D/Hoffman driver—a 57-year veteran with 7.1 million safe miles—secures Usher Trophy after 18-month wait due to pandemic