Big rig racing shifts into overdrive

by James Menzies

CALGARY, Alta. – It’s big, it’s fast and it’s loud. And for those who take part in it, it’s also highly addictive. Big rig racing may not be a mainstream sport in Canada, but the North American Big Rig Racing (NABRR) series hopes to change that.

Since A.J. Watson founded the Calgary-based series in 1989, the sport has established a devout following of diehard race fans – many of them truckers themselves. However, despite this cult following the sport has wallowed in relative obscurity while other forms of racing such as NASCAR have thrived.

In an effort to change that, organizers have revamped the series and as it emerges from a transitional off-season, fans can expect to see a more exciting and better-organized big rig racing series.

“We all came to a realization that we had to make some changes to move big rig racing to a higher level,” says NABRR chairman, Ron Singer. “We want to provide the best possible entertainment value to our motorsports fans, sponsors and promoters.”

During the off-season, competitors agreed the series needed an overhaul, with the emphasis being on safety, professionalism and teamwork. Now, Singer says they’re poised to further the sport of big rig racing with the ultimate goal being to help the sport achieve the same success here that it’s enjoyed overseas.

“We’re just almost overwhelmed with the future potential of big rig racing,” says Singer. In Europe, the sport is hugely popular among race fans, with Class 8 trucks attracting enormous crowds and competing on world-class circuits.

As the only oval-based big rig racing series in North America, Singer says the stage is set for similar success on this side of the pond.

“I take my hat off to the European people for their development,” says Singer. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

Although each of the competitors fights hard for position on the track, the series has recognized they all must work as teammates off the track to further the sport.

“Anyone who has followed our series will realize just how significant of a change we have made,” says Singer. Series organizers are also calling on the trucking industry to help champion their cause.

“We want to get the trucking industry more involved… and make this an industry event,” says Singer. “This is a vehicle to promote the trucking industry, promote safety and promote professionalism.”

Indeed a large percentage of the 15-20 big rig racers competing in the series are either truckers, or work in the trucking industry in one way or another. But Singer says there are huge opportunities for manufacturers and suppliers to get involved as well. As the old adage goes, Singer wants companies to “Race on Sunday…sell on Monday.”

“We want to get the manufacturers to test and experiment with their new technology at the race track,” says Singer. He’s particularly interested in helping develop products that will make the sport, and the trucking industry in general, more environmentally-friendly. For those who have never been to a big rig race, Singer says it’s a must-see.

“There just isn’t any better entertainment value,” says Singer. “You’ve got to be there and feel it to believe it.”

Race events consist of single-truck qualifying, followed by a fast and slow trophy dash. The main event is a 30 to 35-lap feature race. The feature race involves an interesting twist, however – the fastest qualifiers start at the back.

“It’s a lot tougher for our guys (than in other forms of racing) because our fast guys have to start at the back and go through the whole field,” says Singer.

One of those fast guys is usually Cory Riplinger – the defending champion who pilots the #71 Heavymetal Motorsports rig owned by Singer.

“I’m really looking forward to this season,” says Riplinger. “It’s growing more and more every year and everybody’s involvement is getting greater so it’s really coming together.”

While he hopes to defend his championship this year, Riplinger admits it won’t be easy as the level of competition rises each year. He also has to face well-known veterans such as Merv Pidherney and son Troy who are always tough to beat.

The series kicks off June 11 at Race City Speedway in Calgary and it also wraps up its season there. In between, it races at venues across Western Canada and in the Northwestern U.S.

In addition to Singer, the series is also headed by co-chairman and 2001 champion Peter Van Dyck, U.S. director, Mike Gibbons and Canadian chairman, Darrell Domes. Last year’s title sponsor was Calgary Public Auction but the 2003 title sponsor has yet to be announced.

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