When Eric Turner Sr. took the phone call to discuss his capturing Best of Show (and Best Interior) honors at the 36th Annual Shell Rotella SuperRigs, which was held recently at White’s Travel Center in Raphine, VA, he did so from the usual perch—tooling down the interstate piloting his winning rig, a 2015 Peterbilt 389 with a 2018 Wally-Mo 8-car carrier.
Heading to Orlando from Detroit with a full load of eight new luxury cars, he had two hands on the wheel, good to go, with no risk of a distracted driving ticket.
“I got the headset on, a hands-free device,” he explained.
These are great days in many ways for Turner, an African-American who with wife Stacy owns the growing Turner Transport Truck Lines, headquartered in Ellenwood, GA, and specializing in auto transports.
With nine trucks owned and plans to add more, Turner, 41, is an inspiring success story.
But there is also some sorrow in his life, and the reality of having to deal with racism, sometimes blatant, as he encounters people along his north- and southeast corridors.
Friendly and forthright, Turner credits his upbringing with instilling in him a sense of fair play and an acceptance of all, even those who would confront him with ugly words.
His sadness stems from having lost both parents within months of each other during the last year or so. The Shell Rotella honors played into the emotion of it all. That victory came on the heels of winning the 2017 PKY Truck Beauty competition at MATS, but it was the SuperRigs title that truly hit close to home.
“My daddy was a mechanic and had a big old automotive garage, a huge shop, with tow trucks,” said Turner, who’s from Decatur, GA. “I’ve been in trucking since 1999. I graduated high school in 1995 and started driving for my father, then decided to go out on my own and do car hauling.
“When I was growing up, my daddy always had a Shell Rotella truck calendar on his toolbox. He used to tell me, ‘Son, one day you’re gonna be in that calendar.’ I didn’t have that vision. I’d say, ‘Yeah, daddy, whatever.’ Because you know, I thought he was just talking.
“My daddy passed away last year, and when I won SuperRigs [and inclusion in the next Shell Rotella calendar] all I could do was just start crying because it was like, ‘Whoa! My daddy spoke that vision on me. I never seen it. And wow, here I am.’ I was looking upstairs to him. I know he’s not here to see it in person, but I know he’s looking down on me with his own eyes.”
Unfortunately, Turner’s mother would not live to see his SuperRigs achievement either.
“She passed right behind my daddy,” he said. “He passed and less than five months later, she was gone too. She was so heartbroken; she told me and my sisters she was ready to go home and see her husband. We fought all we could to change her mind. She was with my daddy for 49 years.”
Turner’s prosperous career in trucking would likely never have happened without his father’s insistence that the young Eric get accustomed to the mechanical profession.
“My daddy made me come to the garage,” he recalled. “I told him I don’t want to be no grease monkey. He said come on over here and learn some of this. I said I don’t like getting greasy. He made me learn about cars and engines. So I know how to do that. Do I like doing it? No. Would I do it if it meant putting food on the table? Yes.”
From starting with one car carrier, Eric and Stacy have grown Turner Transport Truck Lines into where they now own and have eight trucks on the road. Eric works practically non-stop, driving when he’s not overseeing the other vehicles.
“We do car hauling almost exclusively,” he said. “It’s 99.99% word of mouth. Car dealers want to know who’s hauling their cars. We mostly go up and down from Pennsylvania to Florida and Detroit to Florida.
“I do the dispatching, answer phone calls, and drive every day. Stacy does all the administrative work. We’re growing so much that I’m getting to the point where I need to calm down on driving a little bit. Stacy wants me out of the truck. I love driving, but I need to run the company. And I want to see my kids more, watch them grow up.”
Turner said his trucks haul new cars half the time and used cars half the time. Often he is carrying super-expensive automobiles. With that comes a lot of responsibility.
“Think about it… once they’re on my truck, they’re mine,” he said. “Any dings or scratches I gotta pay for. My loads can be worth $900,000. The biggest thing I have to worry about is people may come and try to steal the cars off the truck. About 10 or 15 years ago, I could leave the keys in the cars when I slept. Now I have to take them out.
“The two worst states are Florida and Georgia. Cargo theft is really bad in those states. I tell my drivers we have insurance. It’s not worth risking your life. If they want to steal it, let them have it. Why risk your life on something that’s not even yours? I’ve been lucky. It’s never happened. But a lot of people don’t want to work hard. They would rather take the easy route and steal from somebody.
“My nickname has always been ‘Dependable Turner.’ People know we will get their cars there. If I’m telling you I’ll get them somewhere, on some date, I will.”
Turner added that the cars are usually checked upon arrival to make sure they are in perfect condition, but he knows how to minimize the time-consuming inspections.
“I tell my drivers, when they see you pull up in a clean truck to deliver cars, nine times out of 10 they won’t check them that carefully. Because if you take good care of the truck, they know you took good care of the cars.”
There were multiple levels of elation for Turner winning Best in Show at Shell Rotella, the first of which was pure delight. He was there on vacation as much as anything, with Stacy, their sons Carter, 7, Braxton, 6, and Stacy’s father, McKinley Hayward.
“We were more shocked than anything, because when I go to the shows I go for enjoyment, not to really win,” he explained. “And even though I’ve won shows before, I go to have fun. I like just meeting other drivers, letting the kids have fun and getting a break from driving the truck. I just take one week off a year, so I want to have fun.
“The competition at SuperRigs was real, real, real. So that’s why I was shocked that I won.”
Turner takes care of his truck, of course, but not to the extreme. Fact is, the blue color, while now the shade for all his trucks, wasn’t even his first choice.
“Do I wash my truck a lot?” said Turner, repeating the question he was asked. “I wash it every week. But the only time I do a lot of polishing is when I go to a show. I get there five days in advance. In everyday life I go to the truck wash.
“Now I love this color blue, but my favorite color is red. How it’s blue is because my momma liked blue. She said everybody got red; try a blue truck. So I ordered a blue truck. And then we made all the trucks in the fleet blue.”
Winning SuperRigs had a deeper meaning as well. Turner, as far as anyone can recall, is the first African-American to take Best of Show honors. It also silenced those who even in this day and age believe a black man and his truck were somehow inferior.
“I can only go by what I heard, which was that we were the first African-Americans to win SuperRigs, and to win at Louisville [MATS]. And the first car hauler to win,” he said. “It means a whole lot to me. When I first started showing two years ago, I had people coming up to me saying, ‘Hey, black people are not allowed out here.’ Now to be winning a lot of shows, I stayed humble to it. Even if we didn’t win, we were breaking a barrier. At SuperRigs I didn’t care if I won. You know what the biggest thing to me was? To be in the calendar. And when I got picked to be in the calendar, we were happy.”
Turner again credits his father for teaching him about life, and how to handle things when stone-cold racists confront him.
“My daddy was also a schoolteacher at Carver High School in Atlanta for 34 years,” said Turner. “I was always taught to turn my cheek to a racist, that the best thing to do was to give a man a smile. A smile will kill a man more than anything because he doesn’t know where you’re coming from.
“When those things were said to me, I’d smile. Because it shows me your ignorance. I’m not like that, and I wasn’t raised like that. If you gotta talk to me like that, I know who you are and where you’re coming from as a person. And I know I need to stay away from you. Because when God put both of us on this earth, he didn’t say I’m putting a white guy or a black guy or a Hispanic guy on. He didn’t put no color out here. He didn’t do none of that. He put for everybody to be equal.
“Racism is just a taught thing. You’re not born racist. Somebody had to teach you not to like a black guy. Somebody had to teach you not to like a Hispanic guy. Somebody taught you that. I don’t feel that way, and I don’t teach my kids to feel that way.”
The Turner boys are growing up around trucks, just like their dad did. Eric noted that plans call for another truck to be added to the fleet soon, so chances are his sons will be more and more involved in the business. Carter has already shown a love for his father’s rig.
“He has Down syndrome, and I’ll put it to you like this,” said Turner. “Nobody’s gonna ride in that front seat but Carter. When I say he loves trucks, he loooves trucks. Nobody gonna get in that front seat, not even Stacy. Only time she can get in that seat is if Carter is in the back seat sleeping. His younger brother knows not even to ask.”
Stacy has been happy to reap other rewards from the success of their business. Asked about the $15,000 in SuperRigs prize money won, Turner laughed.
“I ain’t seen that money yet,” he said. “You know what she told me? She said, ‘This will help pay for all that damn chrome.’ I just said okay honey.”
All the pictures of Eric Turner Sr. at Shell Rotella show him with wife Stacy, father-in-law McKinley Hayward and young sons Braxton and Carter.
If there’s an Eric Turner Sr., doesn’t there have to be an Eric Turner Jr.? There does, and there is.
“I had Eric Jr. [with first wife Shaniqua Turner] in 1999,” Eric Sr. said of the now 18-year-old, who is a freshman at Kansas State University and a wide receiver on the Wildcats football team. “He’s lived with his mother in Georgia.”
The 6’-1”, 179-lb. Turner Jr. was a football, basketball and track star at Georgia’s Cartersville High School. Called ‘EJ’ by family and friends, he was pretty much like his dad growing up, not wanting to get dirty working with cars and trucks.
“But he knew how to load the cars on the truck at age 13,” said his dad. “When football started, he had no more time for trucks.”
Eric Sr. made sure his schedule allowed him to get to his son’s football games every Friday night in Georgia, for good reason. “He was the number one receiver, and his team won three straight championships.”
The elder Turner laughed when asked if EJ had the same aversion to the truck and garage dirt, grime and grease that he did growing up.
“He’s just like I was,” said Pops. “He said he don’t wanna get greasy, that his hands are for catching footballs.” — M.C.