With Christmas now behind him, Santa Claus is entering his slow season. But given his experience driving large vehicles, Chip Huffman and Tandy Rice might be able help Kris Kringle, and others like him, find work.

Huffman, a transportation executive who co-founded Nitetrain Coach about 25 years ago, and Rice, president of Top Billing Inc., recently formed Huffman & Rice Inc. Independent of their other business ventures, the men then launched The Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy and Top Billing Driver Placement. The academy will train people with experience in driving big rigs and seated buses in how to drive celebrity coaches. Top Billing Driver Placement will help them find work.

“This is the first initiative like this in Tennessee,” Rice said. “Celebrity bus driving is not for the faint or the weak. The ultimate step in the bus driver hierarchy is to be a celebrity bus driver. They think that’s the cat’s meow.”

Huffman says The Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy will offer instruction on everything from how to fix mechanical problems on the celebrity coaches to how to deal with the personalities of entertainers. And the academy will wedge all that learning into a time span of about three days.

“Basically, we have a home on wheels,” Huffman said. “That’s going to have an electrical system that has to be plugged in at a venue or run off a generator. It’s going to have water systems, and some will have showers. It’s going to have a generator and heating and air-conditioning systems. There’s a lot of systems (the drivers) are not used to, and we’re going to be teaching them the nuts and bolts of how it is done.”

People skills essential

The second part of the training offers advice on how to deal with celebrities socially.

“This is the most difficult part,” Huffman said. “(We’re judging) the personality skills and the attitude required to deal with artists and creative people. It is a different world than what these people have ever been used to.”

But even with the extensive training, the transportation executive is not suggesting that three days of classes could adequately prepare someone to start driving celebrity buses. After students complete the program, he said, they should conduct ride-alongs with experienced drivers to develop problem-solving skills in real life situations.

Top Billing Driver Placement can help get those ride-alongs set up. But like job placement, nothing is guaranteed.

“We will help students gain employment,” Huffman said. “(But) this is the most elite of the drivers in America that get these jobs. (The students) are going to have to be at the top of their game. They’re going to have to be the best, or artists aren’t going to put up with it. We will take the best of the best and help them find work.”

The first class is March 3-6 at the Williamson County Agriculture Center. To apply, drivers must meet a list of qualifications: They’ll need to be at least 25; have a valid Class A or Class B commercial driver’s license; have three years of documented prior experience as a commercial driver of a commercial vehicle weighing in excess of 26,000 pounds; and grant permission for pre-employment and random drug testing. Applicants also must be physically and mentally healthy, provide a current copy of their motor vehicle report and submit to credit and criminal background checks.

For more information or to apply to the academy, call Rice at 297-2771 or visit www.huffman-rice.com.

Reach Cindy Watts at 615-664-2227 or ciwatts@tennessean.com.