A race for the ages

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – Every year at the Southern Alberta Truck Expo and Job Fair an intriguing story reveals itself, and this year was no different.

A couple of years back it was the historical tale of the 1967, 351 Peterbilt owned by Charles Nickol. This year, it was learning that legendary hot rod semi racer Gord Cooper will finally face some stiff competition – which he himself admitted – when he and the Smokin’ Gun race ‘Diesel Freak’ Mario Monette on Aug. 11 at Castrol Raceway.

It will be the first time the two heavyweights have been on the same track together, and it will truly be a race for the ages, with a pioneer like Cooper going against the new-age technology Monette brings to the table.

“Everybody is looking forward to the fact that Gordon finally has someone around who can race,” said Monette, who, along with Cooper, had his race truck on display during the Southern Alberta Truck Expo. “It’s a new generation racing truck…it’s electronics. Most (trucks) are mechanical, so when people see that we can do it electronically, they’re like, ‘wow!’”

Cooper admitted that Monette is going to give him a run for his money when they face off Aug. 11, and that the new way the Quebec native has constructed his hot rod semi-truck will appeal to a lot of younger fans.

“I think he’s going to bring a lot of new people to the sport,” said Cooper, lamenting on the fact that diesel truck racing could use the publicity boost. “It’s something good to hype for the sport of diesel truck racing.”

Cooper said most of the sponsorship money coming from the National Hot Rod Diesel Association (NHRDA) goes to cars and pickup trucks, leaving little for the hot rod semi class.

When Cooper and Monette race at Castrol Raceway, the History Channel will be on hand to film the event – another great way to gain more exposure for the sport, said Cooper and Monette.

Gord Cooper, left, and Mario Monette by the ‘Diesel Freak’s’ truck.

As it stands now, Cooper and Monette make up the brunt of the competition in diesel truck racing, according to Cooper.

“When I did the Texas run, I scared them so bad they all sold their trucks right after that,” said Cooper, referring to the first NHRDA Hot Rod Semi World Championship at Texas Motorplex in 2016. “It’s hard to run under 12 seconds. The average truck, single-axle, hopped up is hard to get under 13 seconds, but to get under 12, there’s only been myself and Wayne Talkington from California.”

Cooper’s fastest time in the quarter mile is 11.40 seconds. He also set the world record in the hot rod category at the NHRDA 2017 Championship Series Big Sky Truck Fest hitting 119.34 mph.

South of the border, Cooper said the Tyrone Malone Bandag Diesel Race Team, which has been on the circuit for many years and quite well known, don’t have a truck that has gone under 13 seconds.

“They can’t compare to 12 seconds,” Cooper said of the competition. “Those crazy Canadians come down to the U.S. and one is on nitrous the other is on electronics and they both kick ass.”

Based out of Edmonton, Monette has run under 12 seconds in exhibition, but his upcoming race against Cooper will be his first official head-to-head with the king of the quarter mile.

Monette’s truck is slightly longer and heavier than Cooper’s Smokin’ Gun. A 1988 Peterbilt, it has an engine from 2000 and is a 15-liter, 18-speed manual transmission with an inline six twin compound turbo setup. The truck is run on electronics and unlike the Smokin’ Gun, does not use any nitrous.

Cooper’s truck is 50 years old – a 1968 Kenworth. It has an 8V92 two-stroke Detroit engine, an Allison automatic transmission, which Cooper shifts manually, and twin turbo with nitrous.

Both men say their trucks and success racing are great marketing tools for their respective businesses. Cooper is the owner and president of O.C.E.A.N. Hauling and Hotshot out of Calgary, and Monette is president of Mario High Performance Diesel.

“People are interested in what we’re doing,” said Cooper.

Given the stark differences between Cooper and Monette’s trucks, as well as their approach to mechanics, the showdown on Aug. 11 is shaping up to be a race for the ages.

Handing out awards

The Southern Alberta Truck Exposition Association handed out its awards at its fourth annual event this past weekend.
The association’s Choice Award went to Al Gabel for displaying the first tow truck in the fleet of Ken Hauck Towing.

Association Choice Award winner Al Gabel.

Taking home top honors in the People’s Choice bobtails category was Charles Nickol for his 1967 Peterbilt (the Lopez truck), which was featured in Truck West in 2016.

People’s Choice Award winner Charles Nickol and the Lopez truck.

The full list of awards included Mayor’s Choice (bobtails): Chris Hickenson (first), Van der Kooi Inc. (second), and Boot Trucking (third); Mayor’s Choice (tractor-trailers): Degenstein Trucking (first); Candor Trucking (second); and Paul Adams (third). People’s Choice (bobtails): Charles Nickol (first); Chris Hickenson (second); and Mike Lloyd (third); People’s Choice (tractor-trailer): Paul Adams (first); Al Gabel (second); and Degenstein Trucking (third). Association’s Choice Award: Al Gabel.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and TruckNews.com. I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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