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Big rig racing champ gears up for another season

CALGARY, Alta. - Many drivers will not actively seek out situations which require taking left turns at 90 km/h, but Kevin McMeckan not only puts in a great effort to find himself in those situations,...

CALGARY, Alta. – Many drivers will not actively seek out situations which require taking left turns at 90 km/h, but Kevin McMeckan not only puts in a great effort to find himself in those situations, he thrives in them.

The summer of 2006 will mark the sixth year McMeckan has been behind the wheel in the North American Big Rig Racing (NABRR) series, and right now there is nobody better.

Coming off a championship season in 2005, it was the first time McMeckan drove away with the NABRR title. It was a slight improvement from his third place finish in 2004 and his assent to the top of the racing circuit has been a gradual climb.

McMeckan holds a day job as a sheet metal worker for Ronaco Industries in Calgary. He got his start in the racing circuit by using his trade to help repair trucks. He had no previous racing experience, but it was not long before the 36-year-old found himself wrapping his fingers around a steering wheel and it has been a high-speed journey ever since.

“Once you see them on a racetrack it changes your whole perspective,” explains McMeckan.

As a member of the Heavy Metal Motorsports team, McMeckan began splitting time driving the team’s #70 truck. After turning in high-level performances, McMeckan was given the opportunity to be the driver of the team’s #71 truck and in just two seasons turned his opportunity into a championship.

“Guys like Kevin, you couldn’t have enough races for him,” says Ron Singer, owner of Heavy Metal Motorsports and Ron Singer Truck Lines. “They’re always racing, they’ll race you to the coffee machine. It’s in the blood. It’s like trucking, it’s something that’s in you and it’s a part of you. The successful guys just have it in them.”

Sitting behind 1,000 hp of a 6V92 Detroit engine, McMeckan says the most important thing is to stay calm.

“It gets intense when everyone’s crowded together and cutting in front of you,” he explains. “I just try to stay focused and keep calm. Anything can happen when they’re banging in front of you.”

Mild-mannered and soft-spoken, McMeckan’s demeanour transfers to his driving style behind the wheel, and on the circuit he is known as the gentleman driver proving nice guys don’t always finish last.

Taking home the championship trophy was no easy task as only 128 points separated first and third place. A lot of commitment comes from the teams competing – the drivers are not paid so it requires a strong desire to be at the starting line each weekend.

After putting in a solid week of work, it becomes a race to get to an event, a race all weekend long at the track and then a race to get home for work on Monday. Each driver on the circuit lives a similar experience and it builds a bond and camaraderie that only is put on hold during the time around the oval.

“We do a lot of travelling together and everyone stays in the same hotel usually. We’ll all meet up on the Friday and it’s a pretty good time,” says McMeckan. “But it’s very competitive, the American teams are getting really competitive.”

Each event features a few different races. Events usually begin with a four-lap trophy dash. After time trials, the top four fastest trucks compete in the fast dash and the top four of the slow trucks compete in the slow dash.

Next are the heat races, where the trucks are separated into two groups based on their times in the time trials. The slow heat races first and then the fast heat follows suit for another 10 to 15 lap race.

Results from the heat races determine the starting positions for the final event, the feature race. A unique aspect of the NABRR series is the inverted starting positions, where the fast trucks always line up at the back.

“The idea of it is to be as entertaining as possible for the fans,” explains Singer. “There’s more competition and the fast guys work a little harder, but it’s more entertaining for the fans.”

The series is dedicated to putting on a quality show for the fans and as well as performing burnouts on the track, some of the drivers get up close and personal with the fans.

“What makes it awesome is some of the guys offer their trophies to the fans, usually from the dash races,” says Singer. “Some of our guys will hand their trophy to a kid in the stands and when you see the expression on their faces it’s just…”

At one time the Mack R700s featured in the series were pulling duty as working rigs. But after a few modifications, the five-speed Allison Automatic equipped trucks are meant only for one thing, racing. There are specific sets of rules teams follow when modifying their trucks, including a minimum weight of 10,000 lbs. The 6V is the most popular engine on the circuit because of the RPM capability and the ability to modify the horsepower as well, which makes it very well-suited for racing.

“The #71 has a custom front-end and the front axle is custom built,” notes McMeckan. “Everything is lowered and everything is moved back, and roll-cages and other safety mechanisms have been installed.”

As for exactly what has been changed, well that’s like asking a magician how to do a trick.

“A lot of that stuff is guarded because it can be a definite advantage,” says Singer. “Over time it has evolved and some of these trucks are awful fast. When we first started out, guys dropped their trailers in the parking lot and hit the track.”

The NABRR was established at Race City Speedway in Calgary, 17 years ago. It soon expanded out to Vancouver Island and then down into the U.S. In 2000, the series was restructured and is now run by a number of shareholders, which consists mainly of the team owners of the series.

“Critical for our series is sponsorship,” says Singer. “It gives us the capital we need to run a good professional, safe series with safety being the most important component.”

As past chairman of the NABRR, Singer knows first-hand the challenge of running a racing series. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, planning and organizing. It is a lot of volunteering and a lot of commitment, says Singer.

But in the end, there is no feeling like being at the racetrack.

“When they come off they’re just pumped,” explains Singer. “It’s an adrenaline rush, I don’t race, but I get pumped watching these guys. They have a lot of experience and put on a great show for the fans. There’s lots of close finishes where you have to check photos. Never mind two abreast; you have three or four abreast around the whole track.”

As for McMeckan, it has been a long winter and he is looking forward to getting back in his racing rig to defend his title and continue the rivalries on the circuit.

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