SPECIAL REPORT: World’s largest truck convoy under way

| 9/12/2003

What's billed as the world's largest truck convoy is under way Saturday to raise money for the Special Olympics.

On Sept. 13, between 400 and 500 trucks will roll in a convoy estimated at 10 miles long along state Highway 408 in Orlando, FL, according to event organizer Corp. Norm Schneiderhan, special project coordinator in the Homeland Security Section of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Those rigs will be among an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 trucks that are expected to take part in convoys in at least 23 states and in Canadian provinces on Sept. 13, according to Schneiderhan. The project’s Web site atwww.worldslargesttruckconvoy.com offers event registration packets for the convoys in Florida, Delaware, Iowa, Missouri and Tennessee.

"Each year we’ve done this, the amount of money we raise for Special Olympics Florida has tripled," Schneiderhan said. "We raised $17,000 in trucker donations the first year, $51,500 last year and we expect to hit at least $150,000 this year. The number of rigs has gone from 97 the first year to 248 last year, with each of those setting a Guinness World Record."

The Florida convoy’s growth and strong interest by trucking companies and drivers around the country led to Schneiderhan’s teaming with the Special Olympics International Committee to expand the event to other states on the same day.

"This will be the first year that trucks in other states will be participating at the same time," Schneiderhan said. "Special Olympics never before had a single event in several locations on the same day."

Jim Steiner, vice president marketing for the Special Olympics Florida, said, "The convoy has brought enormous recognition to the Special Olympics nationally and internationally. It was exciting for the Special Olympics to be part of a Guinness World Record. Plus, 80 percent of the funds raised go toward competitions for the athletes at the country, area and state level."

Trucking companies and truckers who want to participate in this year’s event can visit the convoy’s Web site atwww.worldslargesttruckconvoy.com. Registration packets for individual states are available by clicking on a license plate icon at the Web site.

The minimum donation to participate in the Special Olympics convoy is $100 per truck. Many owner-operators gain a sponsorship from their lease carrier. Trucking companies compete to raise the most money to win the coveted spot of leading the convoy, according to Schneiderhan.

Truckers participating in the Florida convoy will begin gathering the night before at an area shopping mall, according to Schneiderhan. Organizers will serve beverages and muffins the next morning before the convoy pulls out. After a highway trip of about 16 miles, the convoy will end up in the Orange County Fairgrounds, where the drivers will feast on barbecue served by organizers.

Among the truckers planning to take part in this year's convoy are OOIDA members Bob and Nancy Drummond of Cocoa, Fla. After the Drummonds drove their 1989 Kenworth W900 in last year’s convoy, Schneiderhan asked them to feature their raspberry red show truck on the cover of a music CD by Jack Kapanka called "America Moves by Truck" commemorating this year’s convoy.

"Their truck is the unofficial vehicle for the convoy," Schneiderhan said.

"We are thrilled about volunteering our truck and our time for such a worthy cause as the Special Olympics," Drummond said. "We’ve had a great time making appearances at the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville and the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville."

Schneiderhan, who drove a truck for about three years in his dad’s trucking company before he went into law enforcement, launched the Convoy for Special Olympics as a way to call attention to the organization and truckers.

"I know many drivers who had children who were Special Olympics athletes. When the drivers get involved, there’s a real emotional link to these kids. The convoy’s also a way to achieve better bonding between law enforcement and truckers," he said.

"I call them ‘America’s compassionate army,’" Schneiderhan said. "These truckers are making a significant difference in the lives of these children by raising funds for Special Olympics events."

--by René Tankersley, feature editor

René Tankersley can be reached at renet@landlinemag.com.