Driving School For The Stars

The Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy isn’t the name of the latest reality show on VH1, but a venture by industry vets Chip Huffman and Tandy Rice to train people with experience in driving big rigs and seated buses to work with entertainment clients.

Let’s face it – driving a tour bus requires a different skill set than, say, transporting chickens, or even “civilian” human passengers. Heading into its third year, the Nashville-based Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy isn’t your ordinary driving school.

Huffman is the former owner and founder of Nitetrain Coaches and Rice is a former booking agent at Top Billing Inc. Rice is also a onetime manager, agent and Country Music Association president and dean of George Jones University in Nashville. They formed Huffman & Rice, the parent company of the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy, to fill a need for drivers with specific hands-on training.

“For 23 years, I ran Nitetrain, and I must have fielded 20 calls a month asking, ‘How do I run one of those star buses?’” Huffman said. “The answer is you have to have three years of experience. You know what the next question was. They couldn’t get the experience.”

The next class is scheduled April 20-22 at Prevost Service Center in Nashville, and instruction will be provided by Prevost training and coach conversion technicians, and professionals from the entertainer coach-leasing business including veteran drivers, leasing agents and owners.

Prevost, a leading manufacturer of touring coaches and bus shells for high-end motor home and specialty conversions, provides vehicles to the Academy for the course.

Once the class is successfully completed, students can enlist in the Top Billing Driver Placement Service, which already has 15 graduates ready for work during the summer touring season.

There are two key areas of study. The first is how to operate all the extras – the tracking systems, Internet, electric and sound equipment that are part of the celebrity road experience.

“They’re the captain of that bus,” Huffman told The Tennessean. “If they’re on the road with Carrie Underwood for six months, they don’t necessarily have to know how to fix everything, but they have to know how to take charge of that bus.”

The second key component: “We try to teach them how to deal with the music business personality,” Huffman said.
“They need to know what to say, what not to say, how to act. Your star doesn’t want a star-struck driver who wants her autograph for his niece.”

Huffman said drivers also have to understand they’re most likely to experience the less-glamorous side of celebrity life.

“We tell them all the good parts and all the bad parts. By the time we finish talking about the lead singer who had too much to drink and threw up in the bathroom, and it’s your job to clean it up, I’ve lost some of them.”