December 14, 1998 12:00 PM

In 1982, New Jersey trucking executive Walter Riley was searching for a catchy name to call his new shipping company. He and his partners settled on Guaranteed Overnight Delivery Inc., only to discover that another company had already registered a similar name. “I said, ‘Well, what about just the initials G.O.D.—can we use those?’ ” recalls Riley, a third-generation trucker who races Monte Carlos on the NASCAR circuit as a hobby. Riley’s next-door neighbor and business partner, Alan Vega, was appalled. “I told him, ‘Oh, don’t do this. Stop right there,’ ” says Vega.

But Riley could not be dissuaded. Call it divine inspiration: The name was approved by the state, and soon thereafter trucks from Riley’s Newark, N.J.-based company—boldly emblazoned with the firm’s heavenly moniker in huge, red-outlined black capital letters—took to the highways east of the Mississippi (and in Texas), where they have been grabbing attention—and customers—ever since. Riley, 42, a Catholic who lives in Chester, N.J., with his wife, Diane, 40, a home-maker, and their children Michael, 16, Kristen, 12, and Katelyn, 8, is the first to admit that his trucks, which last year grossed $65 million, draw some complaints.

But many religious folk, including Father Giles Hayes, headmaster of Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J., where Riley’s oldest son is a student, find the sight of the trucks uplifting. “God is a loving God, and even a humorous God,” says Hayes. “I’m sure He has a smile on his face when he sees one passing by.”

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