BRAMPTON, Ont. – A couple of familiar faces took home the top trophies at the Ontario Truck Driving Championships (OTDC) held at Brampton’s PowerAde Centre on July 8.
Grand Champion Clary Ward and Highest Points of the Day winner, Preetpal Nijjar, are no strangers to the competition, and in fact, some would even call them the contest’s darlings. Both have been participating in the competition for close to a decade and both took home first place in their categories, single-single and tandem-tandem, respectively.
“It really feels fantastic,” Ward, who drives for XPO Logistics said upon winning the Grand Champion award. “It’s the first time for me winning this award and since I’ve been competing for so long, it feels extra nice to finally win it.”
Other category winners include: Gerry Morgan, Morgan Firewood, straight truck; Sebastian Tatar, XPO Logistics, single-tandem; and Stephen Hughes, Canada Cartage, B-train. Rookie of the Year went to Waste Management’s Norman Doyon.
All 44 drivers participating on July 8 had a long day of testing. First they had to take a written exam, then they had to find planted defects on a truck while being watched on by a Ministry of Transportation (MTO) officer. Finally contestants had to weave their way through a tight obstacle course consisting of a serpentine, an alley dock, and diminishing cones, among other things.
Competing at the event so often, repeat competitors like Ward and Nijjar know if they had a winning run or not.
“I was pretty confident after my run, that I would place first in tandem-tandem,” Nijjar said. “But winning highest points of the day was a surprise. It really was the gravy on top.”
Clary Ward (left) named Grand Champion at OTDC 2017.
Same went for Ward who was shocked he won grand champion.
“I felt I had a really good, clean run without many errors so I thought I would be up in there,” he said. “I was surprised to get grand champion because today I did struggle on the alley dock. It was harder this year, but I’m happy I won.”
This year, the provincials were a little different since all drivers went into the competition knowing that this was the furthest they could go this year. Earlier in the year, it was announced that the National Driving Championships, which were to be held in Manitoba this year, had been cancelled.
Rob Jackson, the president and chairman of the OTDC committee, said that the cancelation is only “for this year” and that he would work tirelessly to get these drivers competing further.
“I’ll have meetings with the national committee for next year to see if they’re going to hold it,” he said. “If they’re not, I’m going to talk to the United States and see about joining down there. My idea is… I’d like to make it an North American competition, but we’ll see what happens with the national committee. Obviously, I’d like Nationals to happen next year, it’s my first priority. But if they’re not going forward with it, then, I’ll be going to the U.S. committee and see if we can get our drivers in there.
“This isn’t going to stop. I’ve been with the committee for 25 years….so the only thing that will change is where the drivers will go from provincials, if they go to Nationals or if they go to a North American competition.”
Preetpal Nijjar (right) wins Highest Points of the Day award.
For Ward, knowing this was the highest honor he could get this year, was a little bittersweet.
“I feel it puts a damper on things, because I always liked making it to the Nationals,” Ward said. “Sometimes, it can be your year too, so that’s discouraging. Hopefully next year they’ll be back.”
Nijjar, who drives for JD Transportation, also stated his disappointment in the news, saying that the championships are good for the industry as a whole.
“These championships should be happening in every part of the country,” he said. “It encourages drivers to polish their skills and compete with other professionals. I also find it helps spread the word and overall, it helps road safety too.”
Despite the cancelation, Jackson said that participating has gone up and sponsors are still holding strong.
“The cancelation hasn’t affected turnout or numbers this year at all,” he said. “We still have a great turnout in terms of entrants. We have lots of sponsorships and companies involved and the drivers are still really excited to participate this weekend. Because other provinces do what they do, it doesn’t mean Ontario isn’t going to keep going strong.”
And that’s good news for competitors who look forward to the weekend each and every year.
“My favorite part about competing every year, is coming out and meeting new people and seeing the guys who are out here year after year,” grand champion Ward said. “They become your friends and I always look forward to seeing them and competing.”