What a year!

by Jim Bray

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – A new Home Hardware driver beat all other comers at the 2013 National Professional Truck Driving Championships.

Ontario’s Rob Marshall was a dual winner at the event, which was held on British Columbia’s Lower Mainland on the weekend of Sept. 20-21. Marshall not only copped the Grand Champion trophy, he also scored the Rookie of the Year award. Yet he isn’t really a rookie, as rookies are identified traditionally.

According to Shaun Garvey, chairman of the event’s organizing committee, “as far as Rob is concerned, he had in fact won the right to come to the nationals in 2009, but (the event) was cancelled. And unfortunately that soured him a little bit and so he didn’t compete for a couple years.”

So since he hadn’t actually competed in the Nationals before, he got to be a rookie again this year.

“With the event being in British Columbia again,” Garvey said, “he was looking forward to coming back and doing what he didn’t have an opportunity to do in 2009, which was to compete.”

And so he did. The rest, as they say, is history.

Garvey said the competition couldn’t have come at a better time for Marshall.

“Just as he was about to compete in the event in Ontario,” he said, “the company he was working for went out of business. So he ultimately entered the competition as a driver without a company and without representation.”

As it turned out, his performance in the Ontario championships was not only a winning one, it was a heckuva resume enhancer as well.

“As soon as he won, at the awards banquet in Ontario, a couple of potential employers were there seeking his services,” Garvey said. “Home Hardware won out and as a result they sponsored him coming to the national event.”

Which of course was great publicity for both driver and company. Marshall’s achievement even earned some high praise from the company’s CEO.

“Home Hardware has always been a leader in the trucking industry, including the development of road safety policies for the hiring and training of drivers,” said Paul Straus, president and CEO, Home Hardware Stores. “On behalf of dealer-owners of close to 1,100 stores across Canada, I would like to congratulate Rob on his incredible achievement. We are proud to have him driving for Home Hardware.”

Marshall wasn’t the only top driver who showed up in Abbotsford, of course. Garvey reported that a total of 33 contestants threw their hats into the ring, a tally that included full, five-driver teams from all regions except Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan, whose teams consisted of four drivers.

An enthusiastic audience – consisting mostly of drivers, spouses, friends, family and assorted hangers-on – basked in what was described as ideal end of summer weather at Abbotsford’s Tradex Centre.

“It was absolutely perfect for our needs,” Garvey said of the venue, which also hosts the biennial Truxpo exposition. “To have that kind of real estate out there as well as all of the amenities, the classrooms inside, and being able to perform the vehicle inspection inside on Friday, it was just ideal for us.”

After the last lap was run, attendees kicked back with a banquet at the Ramada Plaza Abbotsford Hotel and Convention Centre. The awards were presented by Garvey, Gary Ryder (chief judge, Chevron Canada) and Tammy Clifford of Zurich Canada.

The banquet bash capped an event Garvey said took a little over a year to plan.

“A ton of work was done on behalf of the organizing committee and a couple of staff from the trucking association and lots of volunteers from all across the industry,” he said.

As mentioned above, the last time the Nationals were scheduled for B.C., they succumbed to a kind of perfect storm made up of unfortunate conditions spurred by a sagging economy. Garvey noted that a couple of provinces weren’t able to field teams back then and the slowdown also meant the event’s organizers had a tough time getting sponsorships. In the end, he said, “We sat down and looked at (the situation) and said ‘How can we really legitimately call it a national event if all of our jurisdictions aren’t represented?’ And as a result, it kind of culminated in it having to be canceled, which was unfortunate.”

B.C.’s organizing committee relished their shot at redemption this year and the event went off splendidly.

To qualify for the competition, drivers must have no “preventable accidents” in the 12 months prior to the championships. The contest consists of a written test challenging drivers’ general knowledge of the industry and its equipment, a pre-trip inspection approximating a driver’s regular vehicle inspection, and of course the driving competition, which tests drivers’ skill at maneuvering, cornering and judging distances.

The trophies this year were sponsored by Zurich Canada; the Grand Champion also received a cash award from FedEx Freight. A Safety Award was given out as well, an honour Garvey said is “not typically passed out at the national event.”

Sponsored by the Canadian Association of Fleet Supervisors, the Safety Award also consisted of a trophy and some lucre.

“Here in British Columbia, the Canadian Association of Fleet Supervisors has always been very active in our provincial event,” Garvey said, “and as a result of that – and their mandate being safety- they saw it as an opportunity to ensure there was an award given to the competitor with the best off-road scores associated with the inspection and the written test.”

Garvey isn’t sure if the Safety Award will be a one-time event or an annual honour.

With the event now in the history books, Garvey looked back on the National Professional Truck Driving Championship with satisfaction, calling it “An opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of some of the best out there on the roads. And it really is an honour for us to do so, because of the work they do on a day-to-day basis.”

Garvey also thanked the sponsors who he said “enabled us to put on this event and to celebrate the drivers that we certainly want to recognize them for everything they’ve done for us.”

So it’s on to next year – and if you plan to be there, better brush up on your français: the 2014 Nationals will be hosted by Quebec.

 Here’s a complete list of the winners:

 2013 National Professional Truck Driving Championships Winners:

Grand Champion & Rookie of the Year: Rob Marshall, Ontario, Home Hardware

Safety Award: Jason Novak, Manitoba, Canadian Freightways

Team Trophy: Manitoba: Brian Hrabarchuk (Con-way Freight), Ken Wiebe (EDB Enterprises), Ronald Poirier (TST Overland Express), Jason Novak (Canadian Freightways) and Howard McAfee (H & T Trucking);

Straight Truck: Rob Marshall, Ontario, Home Hardware

Single-Single: Clary Ward, Ontario, Con-Way Freight

Single-Tandem: Ronald Poirier, Manitoba, TST Overland Express

Tandem-Tandem: John Broker, B.C., Martin Brower

Super B-Train: Ken Wiebe, Manitoba, EBD Enterprises

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