When Brian Henegar arrived at work at Pilot Flying J in Knoxville, Tennessee, on April 5, the office erupted in applause.
Henegar’s call center colleagues had watched the previous evening as the guest services agent fulfilled a lifelong dream of appearing on — and winning — “Jeopardy!”
“I walk in, and they're applauding for me,” the 40-year-old said, still in disbelief a week later. “I'm like, ‘This is nuts. It’s insane.’”
The pre-recorded episode was the first of a three-day run during which Henegar won a combined $70,202. The workplace festivities continued Friday, with Pilot throwing its employee a surprise celebration.
Beyond the look of astonishment that endeared Henegar to viewers following his first win, his stint on the show offered another memorable moment, especially for his coworkers and others in the industry: his tribute to truckers.
After all, Henegar spends most of his working hours directing them to parking, equipment maintenance and other truck stop services.
In an interview with Transport Dive, the “Jeopardy!” champion shared more about his job at Pilot, his motivation for thanking drivers in front of the show’s 20 million viewers, and his plans for his winnings.
Making drivers’ lives easier
Henegar, who commutes from his hometown of LaFollette, Tennessee, has spent most of his nearly six years at Pilot on the phone with truck drivers.
He estimates he takes between 80 and 100 calls a day.
“I probably couldn't tell you how many calls I've taken,” he said. “It's well into the tens of thousands.”
Henegar said he most frequently handles requests to reserve parking and verify payments or fuel rewards.
Between a parking shortage, which is estimated to have grown to one spot for every 11 trucks on the road, and inflated fuel prices and other operating costs, the requests reflect the concerns of the trucking industry.
“Basically, anything a trucker or a professional driver needs to make their life a little easier to do their job, that's our job to provide for them,” he said. “I'm very gratified to help them.”
Pilot has been delighted to cheer on its resident TV trivia champion, company spokesperson Stephanie Myers said in an email.
“We are thrilled for Brian’s win on ‘Jeopardy!’ and are proud to have him on the Pilot team,” Myers wrote.
A tribute to ‘America’s unsung heroes’
Trucking’s moment in the spotlight came during Henegar’s final victorious game, when host Ken Jennings asked him to tell viewers more about his job.
Henegar did so, without missing the chance to praise “the people that keep this country moving.”
Henegar told Transport Dive he wanted share his appreciation for truckers, particularly once Jennings referred to drivers as “kings of the road” during their mid-show banter.
“To every professional driver and trucker out there, as someone who works with you every day, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you for everything that you do. You are America's unsung heroes.”
Pilot Flying J guest services agent and "Jeopardy!" champion
“When you work at Pilot, you realize how important truck drivers are to this country,” Henegar said. “I wanted to make sure that they got a shoutout. Because without them, I wouldn't have a job, and we wouldn't have a country.”
Drivers appreciate the high-profile recognition, said Lewie Pugh, EVP of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. The group’s membership consists of more than 150,000 owner-operators and small business trucking companies across the country.
“It's fantastic that Brian from Pilot Flying J took time for a shoutout on national TV,” Pugh said. “Anytime someone has a chance to mention trucking in the national spotlight, it's great when they remember the men and women who drive a truck — especially a place like Pilot Flying J that depends solely on truckers for their business model.”
Henegar said his job has given him a firsthand view of how hard drivers work and how unappreciated they are.
“I know how difficult of a job it can be, and they don't get the kind of love they deserve, so I've always had a lot of respect for what they do,” Henegar said.
“To every professional driver and trucker out there, as someone who works with you every day, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you for everything that you do. You are America’s unsung heroes.”
Planning for an Alaskan cruise, but not to quit his job
When his “Jeopardy!” check arrives, Henegar won’t be headed for a tropical getaway.
Just the opposite: He’ll spend some of the money on an Alaskan cruise.
Henegar has other plans, too. He said he will buy gifts for friends who helped him prepare for the show, and has pledged to donate to the Anti-Defamation League in response to trolling on social media and “Saturday Night Live” about his appearance.
“Other than that, boring stuff — pay my car off and my credit card off,” Henegar said. “And just enjoy the fact that I have a nice cushion in the bank account and I can live my best life.”
While $70,000 is hardly enough to retire on these days, the “Jeopardy!” champion doesn’t plan to leave Pilot anytime soon.
“I like what I do, and I love who I work for,” he said. “That thought never entered my mind.”