Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy opens doors this month

Aspiring drivers are trained in the many facets of handling celebrity coaches.

Prevost hosts the Class of 2012 in Nashville

By Alan Dvoskin

The Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy, a program Prevost, Sainte-Claire, QC, Canada, supports, again takes place May 16 in Nashville, TN, the epicenter of entertainment transportation.

Steve Zeigler, director of Prevost conversion coach business development, sees the academy as a valuable initiative that professionalizes this industry niche and offers aspiring drivers an opportunity to get on the inside track in this specialized industry.

According to co-founders and industry veterans Chip Huffman and Tandy Rice, the academy has graduated approximately 40 students in its first two years of operation.

“Our support of this academy helps educate drivers at a critical time in their careers,” he says. “Becoming more familiar with our brand will better prepare them to work in the entertainment and VIP transportation industry in which Prevost coaches are widely used.”

Prevost conducts the academy in its 58,000-square-foot Goodlettsville parts and service center.
Chip Huffman says class sizes will again be intentionally small, accepting between 10 and 20 students. Instructors and presenters will include Prevost technician trainers, coach conversion industry technicians, veteran drivers, leasing agents, bus company owners, safety directors, insurance professionals and security experts, all sharing their collected wisdom about how to break into the industry and best secure a coveted position.

Using a Prevost converted entertainer coach and a pre-conversion coach, students gain hands-on familiarity with the types of vehicles they may eventually drive.

As the former owner and founder of Nitetrain Coach, Huffman knows firsthand the need for competent professional drivers and dreamed of putting together a training school.

“I was constantly fielding calls at Nitetrain from people who hoped to drive for the stars,” says Huffman. “The interest in this market is overwhelming and the need for training is huge, considering the many veteran drivers retiring and leaving the business.”

The Celebrity Drivers Academy operates in conjunction with the Top Billing Driver Placement Agency to qualify participants for elite, highly sought after positions.

“Our students have secured full or part time placements with almost every major company in the business,” says Huffman. “Several of our drivers are driving full time on major tours.”

Chip Huffman, left, and Tandy Rice are co-founders of the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy.

One is Mike Riley, who has driven full time for All Access Coach Leasing of Nashville since March 2011. Despite his 20 years of trucking experience, Riley says he spent over 10 years trying to break into the entertainment field.

“Attending the Academy was the critical step,” he says. “The program helped me gain a foothold in the industry and into one of its top companies.”

He credits the in-depth information presented in the academy, which includes how drivers must deal with the daily logistics and complexities of entertainment touring.

Neville Shende, lead operations manager for Pioneer Coach, Madison, TN, is another veteran driver who participated in the school and has written about how to break into the business.

“This occupation is all about service,” he says. “It is about being a hotel on wheels for the people I am transporting. Professionalism, driving skills and a safety orientation are paramount, and not every driver can do this kind of work day in and day out.”

Praised by industry veterans
Company owners are as enthusiastic about the program as the students, says Mike Slarve, president and owner of Four Seasons Coach Leasing, Lebanon, TN. He has served as a guest lecturer at the academy and employed several Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy graduates.

“This is an excellent school that teaches people who aren’t familiar with the realities with this area of the industry,” he says. “Owners like myself have the in-depth knowledge to speak to what it’s like to drive for these special customers.”

Eric Blankenship, co-owner of All Access Leasing, has served on various Academy panels to provide the bus owner’s perspective and also hired two graduates.

“This is a great program and something the industry has needed for a long time,” he says. “CDL drivers will come away with considerable insight into a completely different type of driving experience from what they’re used to. Attendees really get an insider’s look, as well as the tools they need to break in and succeed.”

Al Schiltz is an industry veteran with 15 years of road manager experience who is now a partner in The Consortium, a full-service artist management, entertainment and marketing company in Nashville.

“There’s a lot more to working in this capacity than just getting on the bus and sitting in the seat,” he says.  “Entertainment drivers really have an awesome responsibility. They are basically driving the homes of entertainers for long stretches at a time, as a tour can last anywhere from 30 days to a full year. With today’s vehicles and complex electronics, drivers need to be very well-rounded individuals.”

For details on the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy, visit www.huffman-rice.com. BR

Alan Dvoskin is the marketing and communications director for Prevost.