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Alberta crowns driving champs at annual Roadeo

RED DEER, Alta. - With more than one million safe kilometres under his belt, Robert Wells is anything but a rookie driver. For one day in June however, the driver of 32 years adorned that rookie title...


RED DEER, Alta. – With more than one million safe kilometres under his belt, Robert Wells is anything but a rookie driver. For one day in June however, the driver of 32 years adorned that rookie title as he competed in his first ever truck driving championship.

Wells was among a number of Alberta truckers participating in the Alberta Motor Transport Association’s annual Truck Driving Championships held in Red Deer on June 24. Although Wells has had prior thoughts about entering the driving championships, for one reason or another it never materialized.

This year’s installment of the competition was different. A little prodding from his employers at Bison Transport and Wells was behind the wheel of a rig on that sunny Saturday morning without the pressure of getting a load delivered on time.

“I’d thought about it years ago and Real (Durand, Calgary terminal manager) came up to me and said June 24th you’re in Red Deer,” said Wells. “It’s an experience now.”

Wells is a Calgary-based long-haul driver and has spent the past seven and a half years plying his trade with Bison. Despite his long tenure behind the wheel of a truck, the whole experience was a little more intense than Wells expected.

“It’s a dry-mouth experience,” he told Truck West, while sipping on a bottle of water following his run. “You’re under pressure even though you know you shouldn’t be. It’s just having people watch all the moves you make.”

After just finishing his inaugural run, Wells is looking forward to coming back to the competition in a year’s time to improve on his effort and noted that the AMTA and the sponsors did well for continuing to put on the event.

“It’s a great way for drivers to show off their skills and represent their companies,” he added.

The drivers competed in six different categories as an exercise in timed precision driving. The competition was open to all professional truck drivers who hold an Alberta driver’s licence and have been accident free for one year.

In further promotion of the safety theme, the province’s Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspectors held their 13th annual Alberta Provincial Inspectors Championship at the same venue.

“We’ve been doing this in conjunction with the driving championships since 1994. It’s a perfect opportunity to show what we do and talk to the industry; because we’re all in it for the same purpose,” explained Jacquie Daumont, enforcement programs manager with Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation commercial vehicle enforcement branch.

The top 10 commercial vehicle inspectors in the province gather for the event. The participants compete in timed inspections of a CVSA Level One Inspection, Dangerous Goods Packaging, a Motor Coach Inspection and a Cargo Tank Inspection. The contestants are also subject to a personal interview as part of the competition.

“They’re basically here doing what they do every day,” noted Daumont. “We plant violations that they would see every day based on North American standards. It causes them to hone their skills and learn from each other. They take a lot from this competition and talk to each other to find what they missed.”

As part of the Alberta Provincial Inspectors Championship, a number of awards are handed out for high achievement in each category. The overall grand champion of the event then takes a turn representing Alberta at the North American Inspectors Championships, which is held in conjunction with the US National Truck Driving Championships.

On the driver’s side of the event the top placed competitor in each of the six categories will represent Alberta’s team at the 2006 National Driving Championships.

As a man who has represented Alberta at the nationals in the past, Dale Ostrom noted that there’s a little more pressure at that stage.

“It’s a little more nerve-wracking; they already won in their province so you know they’re good,” he explained. Ostrom is employed by the City of Calgary and has been working for the municipality for 26 years, driving everything from a one-tonne to a tractor. He’s a second generation truck roadeo contestant and has been competing for almost as long as he’s had his Class 1 licence.

“It was my father, I never had a choice,” Ostrom said with a chuckle. “My father has been very much in favour of the truck roadeos. I entered my first one in 1977.”

The veteran was competing this year in the straight truck event. In the past he has competed in the single-tandem event, but not finding himself pulling a trailer too often, he finds the straight truck a little more familiar. It’s more than the thrill of competition that brings Ostrom back every year, but also the social aspect of the annual gathering.

“It’s a good event to see the other drivers,” explained Ostrom. “You only see some of these guys once a year because they live in different parts of the province.”

In his nearly three decades of competing at the provincial event, Ostrom has moved onto the national championships on four occasions. Aside from the added pressure there’s a little more time to enjoy the event.

“You’re there for several days and they take you around to show you some of the local flavour – once I even got to travel all the way to Calgary,” he explained with a laugh.

This year however, Alberta’s six representatives will have the opportunity to show off their chops in Quebec City as the 2006 National Driving Championships are slated to be held from Sept. 8 to 10.

Representing Team Alberta will be: Randy Smith, Canadian Freightways, Step Van; Keith Franklin, Canadian Freightways, Straight Truck; Terry Francis, SLH Transport, Single-Single; Keith Day, SLH Transport, Single-Tandem; Gary Phillipo, Ab Transport Training, Tandem-Tandem; and Bill Mihalcheon, Canadian Freightways, B-Train.


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