Dec. 28, 2011
Danny Jones hears a few more cars honking and sees more folks waving at him these days on the interstates, and it isn't because of subpar driving. Jones, a human GPS, has spent the last 24 years on the country's interstates and highways driving for Old Dominion Freight Line. The last two of those years, Jones has spent many of his weekends in the fall working for Old Dominion to move the Commodores in their 18-wheeler. Vanderbilt and Old Dominion reached a multi-year sponsorship agreement at the start of the 2010 season.
This season, with the team's success, Jones has noticed a few more folks giving him a thumbs up on the roadways between Nashville and wherever the Commodores' road game is in a given week.
"Last year was great and this year was even better," Jones said. "You get a lot of people that honk, wave and give you a thumbs up on the interstates. I even saw a lot Tennessee fans giving signs of approval this year as they passed."
Jones, who lives in Smyrna, Tenn., still drives for Old Dominion Monday-Friday each week, hauling freight from Nashville to Indianapolis and back. His trips on the road with the Commodores are welcome breaks to his daily routine.
"The times with the team are kind of like a vacation," Jones said.
Typically for a road game, Jones takes the big rig to Vanderbilt's McGugin Center on Thursday evenings after practice. Vanderbilt's equipment staff then loads the truck and Jones drives through the night to the location of Vanderbilt's football game, while the equipment staff follows in a van. On exceptionally long drives to places such as Florida or Arkansas, Jones splits the time behind the wheel with another driver.
On Friday mornings before a road game, the truck is driven to the stadium, unloaded and sits until it is time to return to Nashville after the game. For a regular road game, Jones hauls 11,000 lbs. of equipment, ranging from jerseys, pads, cleats, footballs, telecommunications equipment and medical supplies to each road game. But for Vanderbilt's bowl game in Memphis, the truck carried 22,000 lbs. of equipment due to the length of the stay and added personnel on the trip.
The total weight that Jones pulls for Vanderbilt's football games is 1/4 what he typically carries on his route between Nashville and Indianapolis. And no matter how light the load, the 18-wheeler won't be receiving any praise for being fuel efficient anytime soon. The truck can reach 72 miles per hour and gets 6.8 miles per gallon out of its 220 gallon fuel tank.
"It runs faster than a normal Old Dominion truck which runs 66 miles per hour," said Jones, who also noted that the company saves on fuel costs by purchasing fuel five years in advance.
Before having a tractor trailer, Vanderbilt used a Ryder truck to haul equipment from game to game. The change has upgraded the program's image and given it visibility on the roadways throughout the Southeast. Just by looking at the truck, which is stored at the Ole Dominion terminal in Nashville when it is not moving the Commodores, you wouldn't expect it to have 800,000 miles on it. The total mileage may be a lot on your personal car parked in the driveway, but not a big rig. Typically engines are overhauled multiple times throughout a tractor trailer's lifetime. In fact, the one Vanderbilt uses was reconstructed just 60,000 miles ago.
On the road, Jones is considered another member of Vanderbilt's travel party. He stays at the team hotel and stands on the sidelines at games. He was unsure what he was getting into when he signed up to drive the Commodores, but he is sure he made the right decision now.
"The entire team has been great to work with," Jones said. "I've made a lot of friends and really enjoy my time with them. They really make me feel a part of the team and it means a lot."
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