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RED DEER, Alta. - Alberta's best drivers came together at Westerner Park in Red Deer on June 19 to go cab to cab with their peers at the annual Alberta Provincial Truck Driving Championships, better k...

RED DEER, Alta. –Alberta’s best drivers came together at Westerner Park in Red Deer on June 19 to go cab to cab with their peers at the annual Alberta Provincial Truck Driving Championships, better known as the Truck Roadeo.

Held under the auspices of the Alberta Motor Transport Association, when all the twists and turns -and “back-up plans” were done, Canada Safeway’s Paul Mills came away with the Grand Champion award, an honour with which he’s become quite familiar.

“This is my eighth provincial championship,” he said afterward, “and three times I’ve won Grand Champion.” Mills, who’s in his 36th year driving for Safeway, has also won a national championship and participated in a team championship as well.

Mills’ normal route these days is pulling turnpikes between Calgary and Edmonton. “I did Cranbrook for 13 years,” he said, “but then I got on this run and it was days rather than nights so I grabbed it.” He’s been doing this particular gig for about four years.

As you might figure from his track record, he’s been competing in the Roadeo for a long time -since 1985, in fact.

“I’ve always been interested in trucks,” he said. “I drove school bus while I was in school and being a farm kid, you drive everything.” Almost out of the blue came the suggestion that he should enter the competition, “And I thought why not?”

He missed two Roadeos over the years, “because of little mishaps – nothing too big but it was enough to take you out of the Roadeo for that year.” But he took it in stride and instead of driving, he volunteered as a judge “to put back what I got out of it.”

This year’s Roadeo saw about 55 drivers and their supporters turn out on a hot central Alberta Saturday, the fans broiling under the sun while their drivers toiled in the cabs, performing a variety of exercises in timed precision driving on a road course that simulated the challenges drivers meet every day -maneuvering, cornering and judging distances on an obstacle course. Competitors also had to complete a written exam designed to test their general knowledge of the industry and its equipment and perform a pre-trip inspection, during which they have to ferret out a series of defects planted by the organizers.

“Roadeos are always fun and are always successful,” AMTA president Dean Paisley said of the event. “The disappointing part for all of us is that the numbers are down.” He noted they’ve had over 100 entrants in the past, and he’d like to get the number back up again -but it isn’t under his organization’s control.

“We can attribute it to a couple of things,” he said. “Obviously, the economy is not as robust as we all would like it to be, so companies don’t want to part with the dollars to send drivers to the Roadeo.” Paisley also blamed the turnout on the fact that many drivers just don’t want to come out, drivers who he said aren’t pushing their companies to put them in. “The driver, being who he is, is not normally too much of an outward-type person,” Paisley noted. “He just wants to do his job with no great amount of fanfare. The companies almost have to force guys to get in it.”

And that’s a shame, because those who did take the time and effort to show up seemed to have had a good time at the Roadeo, as evidenced by the obvious camaraderie and fellowship at the event itself, and the many hoots, hollers and rounds of applause at the awards banquet afterward.

Safeway’s Mills, for one, thinks the Roadeo is a worthy endeavour. “I like it,” he said a few days after walking, er, driving away with his trophy. “I’d like to see more guys get in it and more guys win it, and have a feel for what it’s like to go on to the nationals.” He said it’s something every driver should have a chance to do, “because it’s something you’ll cherish, that you’ll never forget.”

Mills definitely takes the competition seriously. “I practice,” he said of his preparation for the big day. “I know a lot of people say I don’t need to, but I always say practice makes perfect, so I start maybe a month before and practice every Saturday in our yard.” He sets up obstacles he figures will be pretty close to what he’ll face in the competition, and “away I go and I practice, study -be prepared.”

The next stop for Mills is the National Professional Truck Driving Championships, Sept. 16-18 in Winnipeg. He hopes for the best, but is philosophical about it. “If it’s your day it’s your day. If not, well, try again next year.”

As for why he bothers, “It’s like anything else,” he said. “People ask me why I get into competition and I ask them why they go golfing, or why they like drag racing?” he said. “It’s something you like to do and so I keep doing it.” Mills said he cut his competitive teeth showing horses with his mother “and I liked doing that too. You get doing it and it just sticks with you and you like doing it.”

Mills also relishes the opportunity to meet different people. “We have a lot of fun and that’s what I like.”

Meeting new people is also one of the motivating factors for transport officer John Jackson, who scored top honours in the CVSA competition held in conjunction with the AMTA Professional Truck Driving Championships.

“We had a lot of fun,” he said afterward. “You actually get to work with some guys you don’t normally get to work with. It’s a good time, and you see what your strengths and weaknesses are coming out of there.”

This year marked Jackson’s second time competing. A Peace Officer based out of Whitecourt, Alta., his gig is conducting CVSA inspections on commercial vehicles, a job he’s been doing for three-and-a-half years, since college.

The CVSA competition is open to any CVSA inspector in the province. Jackson said that the first step in the process is to write a knowledge exam, with the top 10 finishers making it to the practical part of the competition. Once there, they endure a personal interview, then do the Level 1 tractor-trailer inspection. There’s also a motor coach inspection facet.

Unlike Mills, Jackson didn’t put a lot of stock into preparing in advance. “You either know it or you don’t,” he said. “The way we’re trained, we’re prepared fairly well for it, so you just psyche yourself up and go at her.”

The next step for Jackson is to represent Alberta in the North American competition in Columbus, Ohio, which begins Aug. 2.

“It’s great for the CVSA guys,” said AMTA prez Paisley. “They are really hesitant of mingling with drivers, because they’re an enforcement branch and they think they’re going to get a negative reaction. But it’s a great thing to have those young people that are working with enforcement.”

The CVSA winners were as follows: Award of Excellence, Dan English, CVEB Drayton Valley; High Point Driver Inspection, High Point Dangerous Goods and Grand Champion, Jackson, CVEB Whitecourt; High Point Motorcoach Inspection, Greg Arlett, CVEB Coutts; and High Point Vehicle Inspection, Joey Scott, CVEB Whitecourt.

For a list of Truck Roadeo winners, see related story on this page.

The Red Deer venue was ideal, except that the central Alberta location may have contributed to keeping the overall number of participants down as well.

“One of the issues we have is to put the Roadeo in Calgary or Edmonton, where we’d like to be,” the AMTA’s Paisley said, “because when you’re in the larger population centres, the expense is not as great for carriers to put their people in.”

He noted that in Red Deer, companies from both the major centres are faced with paying for hotel rooms plus the expenses for the wives and families, “so it gets more expensive to have it in Red Deer. But either there aren’t areas in the big cities with large paved areas where you can set up or, if there are, they’re very expensive,” Paisley said. “If we could be in Calgary or Edmonton we would, because the majority of our people come from those two major centres.”

That might change next year, however, at least as far as the 2011 Nationals are concerned. They’re slated for Alberta and Pa
isley says the AMTA is already trying to find a facility in Calgary to hold the event.

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