The voting has concluded for the 6th annual Queen of the Road awards, the 1st dignified recognition for women who work as truck drivers. This year we created two new categories, Trainer of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
Since 2017, the REAL Women in Trucking organization has put the spotlight on 93 incredible women through the presentation of this event. Winners for 2023 are as follows:
Queen of the Road ~ Candace Marley
A driver for 14 years who got started in trucking to help support her family after her Husband who was also a truck driver diagnosed with melanoma. Sadly, he passed away 7 months after his diagnosis.
Candace almost walked away from trucking after one of the trainers assaulted her. Instead, she says the incident inspired her to become a trainer, become active on the company driver advisory panel and she was also recognized with a couple of safety awards.
Today, Candace is an Owner-Operator, with her own authority. She participates in many charity functions such as the Mother's Day Make-A-Wish Convoy, Special Olympics Convoy and in 2022 attended her 1st Wreaths Across America event.
Candace continues to provide encouragement to women looking to join the trucking industry. She believes that a common misconception about female drivers is that they are not well-qualified due to their gender. Candace urges that it is up to us as women to show the world that we are great and safe drivers. Her advice for new drivers is to "...have a thick skin but remain courteous to other drivers..." and “Set a goal and don’t let anything stand in your way.”
Trainer of the Year ~ Vontyna Durham
With over 15 years of experience as a truck driver and 2 years' experience in training truck drivers. Vontyna operates her own trucking business and is currently training students to gain their CDL. and eventually begin their own trucking businesses.
Vontyna is a CDL instructor at Southwest Community College and was previously a CDL instructor at Class A Driving Academy, both in the State of Tennessee.
Vontyna received the Leaders and Legends Award on December 1, 2022, from the City of Memphis for her work in the community, to help low-income mothers learn skilled trades. She also was a recipient of the Kindle Humanitarian Award. She was previously recognized by the Midsouth Atlantic Region of the U.S. Department of Transportation as a Leading Lady in the Trucking Industry. She believes in teaching, recruiting and sharing her passion for trucking with others. Vontyna was recently approved for her CDL Apprenticeship Program in the State of Tennessee.
Rookie of the Year ~ Emely Reynoso Ceballos
“I can handle more than what I thought. I have a better future for my kids.”
Emely became from the Dominican Republic. She has been driving since May 2022 at NFI. Her husband is a truck driver too! She has two boys.
Most of her previous jobs were in customer service and tech. but she loves being a part of the trucking industry. She understands that though truck driving may seem simple, but it is not for the faint hearted. Emely wants people to understand that truck drivers must be responsible, as the role requires for them to be highly cognizant and attentive while on the road. She is thankful for the support that she has received from her husband, the CDL school that prepared her to take on this journey, and the team at NFI who encouraged her.
Trucking Industry Trailblazer ~ Dianne McNair-Smith
Over 30 years ago Dianne was a victim of domestic violence and became a truck driver as a way to get out of that situation. Trucking helped Dianne reach her goals and this led her to become a trainer so she could be able to come back home and save her community by giving back to others who are trying to find a way to change their lives.
Dianne is the owner of 3 Girls Trucking Academy in Magee, Mississippi registered under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) provider program. She also teaches various ways to be successful in the industry through brokering, dispatching and truck ownership.
Safety is Dianne’s main goal. Her advice for a new driver, take your time to learn all you can learn about the trucking industry. But most of all safety and respect come after prayer. She puts herself in her students’ shoes, every one of them. Her training style is like no other school. Dianne says, “I make them stay as long as it takes to get what they need from the training.” She engages with her students by talking to them, eating with them, and listening to them. Her greatest joy in training is finding a student's weaknesses and making it their greatest strength. Dianne loves meeting new people and to make them laugh and smile.
In 2022, Dianne was appointed as one of the inaugural members of the Women of Trucking Advisory Board (WOTAB). Dianne also appears in the 2022 motion picture “Paradise Highway” starring Academy Award winning actors Juliette Binoche and Morgan Freeman, she plays the character "Dolly".
Honorable Mention Awards (pictured below L to R) go to Jessica Anne Glover Lydecker, Pauletta Wood and Justine Baldwin.
Queen of the Road Honorable Mention Jessica Anne Glover Lydecker who has been a truck driver for 17 years. Jessica does her best to help women build up their confidence and empower them to continue soaring through the trucking industry. She has been recognized as Driver of the Month in the past and is a member of Treat A Trucker program where she gifts truck drivers all over the USA with gift cards.
Jessica struggled over the years with anxiety and learning how to get herself in the proper mindset. There was a period of time she was doing team driving with her former husband, but verbal abuse made her reevaluate certain life choices. Jessica went back to what she knew best, being a highly responsible solo driver while on the road. She built herself back up and began dealing with her internal wounds and eventually got healthy and happy. She also lost around fifty pounds.
while gaining back her self-confidence. Jessica has now become an owner-operator and has her own truck. She would like to remind others about the G.O.A.L. ~ Get Out And Look while on the road! If you need a spotter, ask for help, pull ups are free, pull up as many times as you need and do not let anyone rush you. Jessica’s CB handle is Hurricane Bunny.
Honorable Mention ~ Trainer of the Year Pauletta Wood has 30 years' experience driving and 28 years training drivers within the trucking industry. She started out training only women in the “Over the Road” experience. She worked for Schneider National as a Senior Driver Trainer assisting in the creation of their Intermodal Driver Training Academy.
She joined J.J. Keller & Associates in March of 2020 and has trained over 1,000 new drivers in Last Mile Delivery, and she is part of their Safe & Smart Driver Training team. Pauletta also delivers Direct-to-Driver training for Yard Driver, CMV Defensive Driver Training, CDLA Experienced Safe Driving, and Road Testing. She has received high praise for her patience, adaptability, attention to detail, and knowledge of safe driving practices from the clients she has served.
She holds certifications in: Haz-Mat, Forklift, Accident Investigations, and Driver Training & Coaching. She advises new female truck drivers to give themselves at least two years to understand and educate themselves about the trucking industry. She encourages new drivers to observe the best practices, safety and legal laws in all professions while being hyper aware of their surroundings. Pauletta also has been a volunteer since she was 14 years old for the Humane Society. She helps kids during their OJT programs to learn job skills and she was a firearms instructor in a State Prison.
Honorable Mention ~ Rookie of the Year Justine Baldwin
“If you aren't learning something new every day, you aren't doing enough.”
Justine became a solo qualified driver in December 2021. She found a local flatbed job and currently drives oversized loads of lumber. She has always enjoyed driving. Growing up, she wanted to be a NASCAR driver. Justine decided to become a truck driver because she wanted to create a steady foundation for her future. When she was younger, she taught dance, then traveled as a wildlife educator. She then pursued a career in horticulture and floriculture because of her love for physical labor and the outdoors. Justine was diagnosed with a genetic disease (HNPP) that put limitations on her ability to landscape. She decided that trucking would allow her the satisfaction of skilled labor as well as a positive financial future.
Justine’s biggest challenge during training was throwing straps to secure the load. When the height was 13+ ft, she couldn't get the straps over. When people in her workspace criticized her abilities, she took it as a challenge to learn various tricks and techniques.
Justine encourages new female drivers to learn as much as they can from as many people as you can. Don't be afraid to ask for advice.
She is interested in exploring niche markets for trucking. Her dream is to deliver oversized items such as windmill parts, homes, and military equipment. Justine is active on social media where she posts videos of her daily driving adventures. She enjoys the interaction between lady truckers and her hope is to see women succeeding in trucking inspiring.
Notable nominees (pictured above L to R) Heather Barr, Whitney Walker, Keishanna Longmire, Francis Chandler, Janelle Grapes and Kathy Knepp.
The REAL Women in Trucking will present awards during an informal presentation at their booth #40577 in the North Lobby Hall during the Mid-America Truck Show in Louisville, Kentucky Friday March 31, 2023, at 2:30 PM. Thank you to all those who participated in this year event. If you would like to learn more about the Queen of the Road Awards and past award recipients, please visit our events page.