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Ontario Truck Driving Championships–a day of trucking excellence

I got home from the Ontario Truck Driving Championships in time to watch the end of the Honda Indy in Toronto on TV, but I’m not sure that the driving skills at the CNE racecourse were any better than what I saw on the tarmac at the Brantford Municipal Airport over the weekend. The city of Brantford was the host to this year’s provincial championships and these were arguably the most skilled truck drivers anywhere.

56 entrants from across the province—correction, 56 drivers and their families on a glorious hot day. These drivers had to qualify at regional competitions, and some of those had already won in-house competitions during “family days” held at individual companies. One fellow paid his own way to qualify in the Ottawa regional as his company backed out of this year’s competition due to austerity measures—and this is a big private fleet that should be involved. I won’t embarrass the fleet my naming it but it’s a quintessential Canadian grocery chain that takes pride in their drivers. One of their drivers was second runner up in the tandem-tandem class at the provincial championships last year.

But the companies who get behind this event really get behind it. Tim Horton’s, Home Hardware, Maple Leaf Foods FedEx, Canada Cartage, Con-way Canada supplying team shirts and setting up their own awnings and tents, rows of lawn chairs, kids and barbeques. The FedEx area had some activities for kids and made their own cookout that included samosas. It was also nice to see the waste management drivers joining the fray as well as the vocational drivers from city fleets like Brampton.

Categories include straight truck, single-single, tandem-tandem and trains. As you can imagine the course has to be set up somewhat differently for 53 foot trailers as compared to pups. 55 volunteer marshals are needed to pull this off. It’s nice to see the spirit of voluneerism so robust at the OTDC. No one gets paid, but they return by the dozens year after year

The Ontario Truck Driving Championships have been running consecutively since 1947, and our drivers have been going to National Championships almost as long, although most of the trucking community probably might not even know this activity exists.

The “rodeo” monicker has been gone for some time now, because it’s really more than that. Focus is put on the skills aspects of the competition and that touches a lot of bases. A written multiple choice exam is the first thing on the agenda at 7:00am. Followed by a mass exodus of vehicles from the Brant Best Western down the 403 to the Brantford Airport, where the trucks and trailers are already staged. Participants are then subjected to a comprehensive pre-trip inspection, overseen by MTO officers. The driver is required to finish the inspection in 8 minutes and find the five “planted” defects (or is that 8 defects in five minutes?).

Through some cajoling I managed to try the course. The committee fit me into the single-single class and I was at the controls of a single axle Freightliner coupled to a pup (I was hoping to drive my usual tandem tractor with a 53. But time was running out the marshals had been at their stations for six hours.

I really enjoyed the competition The very, very tight dock entrance was doable, but I cut too close in the serpentine portion and rubbed a barrel, and was whistled down in the offset alley section for contacting the plastic tubing which served as alley walls.

But it’s extraordinary fun taking your skills to a higher level, nervousness aside. As Bert Weykamp, a city P and D driver for Con-Way told me: “I can back into any pickup, first time, just about every time. But when I come here it seems a little more difficult.” Obviously Bert didn’t have any problem on Saturday, taking first place in the singe tandem category.

Some of the drivers are repeat champs. Bryon Winfield of Home Hardware ha been coming to the provincial championships for nine years. In 2011 took first place in the tandem-tandem category and finished second at the nationals. “I love it,” he told me, a sentiment expressed by every driver I talked to (he finished second this year).

Gaurav Wadhwa, a driver for Erb Transport has been coming to the provincials for four years but brought his wife and kids this year. “I love it,” he says. “It’s a way to celebrate the professionalism of our job. I’m also very proud to be representing my company.” His son was wearing a t-shirt that said “My daddy drives an Erb truck.”

All of them remarkably skilled drivers but humble at that. Not a hint of braggadocio from any of them, and some of the guys I talked to were repeat provincial and national champs. Kevin Bradshaw, a Canada Cartage driver entered in the straight truck class passed on some wisdom he had learned along the way from other drivers and trainers, as we were leaning against a tailgate, watching the single tandems go ’round.

“Safe driving is about luck and skill. A good driver is lucky. But the when luck runs out he or she has the skill to take care of what happens next.” Thanks Kevin, I like that very much, so he told me another one. “You’re the driver of the truck, when the truck drives you, it’s time to stop.” Good advice for those sleepy drivers out there!

At the same time as the OTDC was holding their trials, the MTO had its own thing going on. This is the National Safety Code Challenge. Inspectors are challenged to find a certain number of planted defects and log book violations in 50 minutes. And just like the winners of the OTDC are going on to the National Championships in Vancouver in September, the winners of the MTO competition advance to the North American Inspectors Championship in Salt Lake City, in mid-August. MTO representatives do very well in this, even having one a back to back championship.

The Ontario Truck Driving Championships were a hoot. When I left one of the organizers was about to hook up “the most awesome Aussie Road Train you’ve ever seen,” threatening to couple 7 or more LCVs, B trains and A trains together and run them in a circle. See what I mean about fun?

Ontario Truck Driving Championships
Winners – July 13, 2013
Brantford, Ontario Grand Champion
Rob Marshall Maple Leaf Foods

Straight Truck
1 Rob Marshall Maple Leaf Foods
2 Mike Hamilton City of Brampton
3 Steward Jutzi Erb Transport Ltd

Single Single
1 Clary Ward Con-Way Freight Canada
2 Shawn Pietracupa Con-Way Freight Canada
3 Ricardo Santos FedEx Freight Canada

Single Tandem
1 Bert Weykamp Con-Way Freight Canada
2 Bryon Winfield Home Hardware Stores Ltd
3 Jason Wingle Con-Way Freight Canada

Tandem Tandem
1 Rennie Barran Speedy Transport Group
2 Tom Griffiths Maple Leaf Foods
3 Shawn Matheson Home Hardware Stores

B – Train
1 Jim Schaefer Tim Hortons
2 Aaron Keershaw Tim Hortons
3 Edward Connors Molson Coors

Kerri Wirachowsky of the MTO

Results of the MTO’s National Safety Code Challenge
2013 Grand Champion – Charles Cadieux
1st Runner-Up – Jennifer Grabar
2nd Runner-Up – Karen Repko
Dangerous Goods Inspection – Mike Wozniak
Motor Coach Inspection – Karen Repko
Level 1 Inspection – Bud Kneller
Level 3 Inspection – Kevin Kirkham
Deputy Minister’s Award – Karen Repkoken helliwell

Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio. With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.
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1 Comment » for Ontario Truck Driving Championships–a day of trucking excellence
  1. Kevin Bradshaw says:

    Harry;….. you’re very welcome!! Love the story.

    I must say, I was asked if I would be interested in the Regional Truck Driving Championship in June at the Woodbine Center by Steve Duffy, our Safety and Compliance at Canada Cartage. I said of course I would be! Not for a moment did I think I would not take this opportunity to upgrade more of my skills, but also meet some awesome drivers and their stories along the way. Now in saying that, I did not expect to win my class and rookie at the Regionals, let alone go to the provincials!

    Over the past month I have been in cloud nine. To say the least; ” This has been the Pinnacle of my carrier” !!

    Thank You all for a great weekend and I do wish the winners good luck in B.C. in September !

    Kevin Bradshaw

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