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Rig racing grows in the West

CALGARY, Alta. - Cory Riplinger says there's a secret to successful driving. Don't touch the brakes when you go into the corner, and push all you can into the straightaways, at speeds of more than 90 ...

ON TRACK: The Big Rigs racing program is growing.
ON TRACK: The Big Rigs racing program is growing.

CALGARY, Alta. – Cory Riplinger says there’s a secret to successful driving. Don’t touch the brakes when you go into the corner, and push all you can into the straightaways, at speeds of more than 90 mph.

Of course, it’s not the approach he takes when delivering gravel for city construction projects at the wheel of a Ford L9000. But he says it’s the secret to success when you drive oval racetracks on the North American Big Rigs Tour racing circuit that’s emerging in Alberta, B.C. and the northwestern U.S., with a dozen modified trucks vying for honors.

The idea of big rig racing was born a decade ago in Calgary, but the racing schedule and the number of entries has expanded significantly in the past year, from four races to nine.

Racers are spread throughout the region, although the majority are in Calgary and Rocky Mountain House.

“I have racing in my background,” says Ron Singer of Calgary’s Ron Singer Truck Lines, explaining why he invests in the cost of two of the trucks on the circuit. “Racing is a sport that’s honed our skills in business. And it’s something we can do collectively as a team that provides an escape.”

The racing program first began in 1990, explains AJ Watson of Empire Truck Parts, an unofficial spokesman for the North American Big Rigs Tour. But the number of entries dropped after that initial year, primarily because the rules were much looser; modified trucks were given more than a competitive edge.

“Some trucks couldn’t keep up with the pace,” he says.

But today’s races are more structured, with driving skills playing a greater role in the racing. And that’s led to a larger number of trucks on the expanded schedule – and it’s an aggressive schedule in more ways than one.

“There’s rubbing, pushing, shoving, whatever,” Watson says. “We’re running as fast as the stock cars are.”

No gentle racing here, says Riplinger, one of Singer’s two drivers, who takes the wheel of a 1979 R-Model Mack. “We try to do the minimal bumping and grinding, but it’s racing. You’re always dealing with a fairing or something. You put three or four trucks wide on a corner, and anything can happen.”

Two Singer trucks were wrecked last year: one in a race when another truck came off the wall; another during a practice run at 80 mph.

“The trucks are tough,” Riplinger says, “but not that tough.”

Every truck on the circuit has, in a past life, been a working truck, although they’ve all been modified.

“We’ve got some of our competitors approaching over 1,000 hp,” Singer says. “Torque wise, they’re in around 1,200, 1,400 lb-ft. The torque’s not a factor because you’re not pulling any load.”

“It’s extremely challenging,” he adds. “Some of the race tracks we’re at certainly aren’t designed for trucks.”

But Singer says there’s a payoff, with the racing program as a form of incentive program at his fleet. “If they meet commitments and if they exceed in their performance (objectives), then they’re able to come on the racing tours,” he says.

While the 30-year-old Riplinger has also raced stock cars, he says there’s a much greater thrill in racing a heavy truck. And unlike his daily job, he’s given an extra 500 hp to play with in a tractor that weighs in at a mere 11,220 lb.

“You can’t feather the brakes like in the cars,” Riplinger adds. “It’s 100 per cent braking or nothing, so you’re quite careful where you apply and where you release. You can’t use the brakes at all in the corners.”

So too are the trucks more top- heavy than the stock cars for which the tracks were designed.

It all adds to the excitement, he says. “The trucks are getting more popular each year. We’ll be one of the most popular motorsports out here.”

The last race of the season will be held on Sept. 9 at Calgary’s Race City. n

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