REGINA, Sask. – It appears that it wasn’t just the mid-September sun that shone down on the 2015 National Professional Truck Driving Championships. According to the man who drove away with a fistful of marble, a higher power was also looking down on the event.
“With God you have no enemies,” Sebastian Tatar told Trucknews.com scant minutes after being named Rookie of the Year at the event-closing gala banquet at the Delta Regina Hotel. “No one can stand against you.”
Ken Wiebe (right) was named Grand Champion.
As it turned out, one man could: Team Manitoba’s Ken Wiebe beat Tatar (and everyone else) out for the overall Grand Champion award, which brings with it serious bragging rights. Wiebe won the B-Train event that kicked off the day’s driving competition, carrying the event by enough points that he ended up winning the overall championship as well.
Wiebe is a bit of a renaissance man who is not only a long-time truck driver but also a Harley Davidson aficionado – as well as guitar player for two bands. A professional driver for 35 years, all of which have been collision-free, Wiebe has spent the last seven years of his storied career driving for the Winnipeg-based EBD Enterprises, hauling out of the Gerdan Steel Mill. He also won the B-Train category at the 2013, 2012, 2010 and 2008 National Professional Truck Driving Championships, so he brought an already-winning record to this year’s extravaganza.
The Nationals, as the event is called colloquially, is the culmination of various provincial championships – and sometimes regional events that cull the field of entrants in advance of a provincial competition – and this year saw seven teams competing, representing the six provinces from Quebec to British Columbia as well as a “Team Atlantic” composite group made up of the best drivers from Canada’s easternmost provinces. Entrants have won their categories at their respective provincial event and must also qualify for the Nationals by not having had a preventable motor vehicle collision in the previous 12 months, having performed the regular duties of a full-time professional truck driver for at least 11 months, worked for no more than two employers during the preceding 12 months and had no licence suspensions during that period. They also can’t have had any driving-related criminal offence convictions registered against them over the past five years.
In short, the contest pits head to head the best and safest drivers from coast to coast. None of this seemed to pose problems for the 34 drivers on hand, many of whom have been driving with excellent records for decades.
The competition kicked off on Thursday, Sept. 10 with a welcome reception presented by the event host, the Saskatchewan Trucking Association. Friday saw the crowd treated to a well-received tour of the RCMP’s famed Heritage Centre, followed by an evening dinner event. The competition itself was held on Saturday at the site of Regina’s annual “Queen City Ex” in the shadow of both the current and the still under construction new Mosaic Stadium. The activity got hot and heavy right off the bat on Saturday morning – especially hot later in the day when the quality of contestants was coupled with the virtually cloudless, 29 degree sunshine beating down from on high.
But before the drivers could take to the field of hostilities at Evraz Place, they had to complete a 50-question written exam designed to test their mettle when it comes to trucking safety and knowledge. The timed quiz was followed by a pre-trip inspection of a truck/tractor trailer in which the contestants had to identify five defects designed to test their recognition skills (they had to identify them all within eight minutes). From there, they hit the main event: the driving course, which featured a series of eight obstacles such as a serpentine section that’s basically analogous to slaloming large cones (in reverse and forward), as well as a tight, simulated dock into which they have to back their vehicles as if around a corner. Each element had a point allotment, with deductions made from the total for each mistake, whether it be a scrape or a missed item.
Besides naming the top three drivers in each truck category, awards are also given to the best team overall, the Rookie of the Year (rookie referring to the contestant being a “Nationals virgin,” not necessarily a new driver) and the Grand Champion.
Here’s a breakdown of the winners:
Grand Champion: Ken Wiebe, EBD Enterprises, Manitoba
Team: Ontario (Mike Hamilton, Joe Kuntz, Sebastian Tatar, Shawn Matheson, Wayne Burnett)
1st: Ken Wiebe, EBD Enterprises, Manitoba
2nd: Keith Atherton, SLH Transport, Saskatchewan
3rd: Jean-Marc Laurin, Transport W.J. Deans, Quebec
1st: Mike Hamilton, City of Brampton, Ontario
2nd: Keith Franklin, Canadian Freightways, Alberta
3rd: Danny Maltais, Simard Transport, Quebec
1st: Marc Leger, Marc Leger Transport, Quebec
2nd: Brian Hrabarchuk, Canadian Freightways, Manitoba
3rd: Joe Kuntz, Home Hardware Stores, Ontario
1st: Sebastian Tatar, Con-way Freight, Ontario
2nd: Steve MacPhee, Day & Ross Transportation, Atlantic
3rd: Greg Muzychka, Canadian Freightways, Manitoba
1: Rod Harrison, Canadian Freightways, Alberta
2: Shawn Matheson, Home Hardware Stores, Ontario
3: David Leroux, Compagnie Martin Brower, Quebec
Rookie of the Year: Sebastian Tatar, Con-way Freight, Ontario
While rookie of the year Tatar may not have scored high enough above the average in his category to turn his triple win into a quadruple one, he still takes away some serious bragging rights of his own. He not only came first in his category of Single Tandem, he also won as a member of the championship-winning Team Ontario and his performance was good enough to make him the eventual Rookie of the Year. In all, it was a heckuva performance by the Con-way Freight driver, and he took it with humility.
“Today was my day,” he said. “Tomorrow might be somebody else’s. Yesterday would have been somebody else’s. We’ve got a lot of good drivers here.”
Tatar said he prepared for the competition by doing the things he does regularly in his daily duties, but with a twist.
“I did something totally uncalled for,” he admitted, noting that when you get to the Nationals, there’s no practice, no warming up, no qualifying opportunities to be had. “I’ve heard of other drivers going out and setting up a dummy track and just practicing, but I prepared in the live world, so if I had to go to a customer and had to back up into a dock, instead of having a whole parking lot (in which to do it), because backing up straight is the first option, I took the tightest possible spot to back up.”
Doing his due diligence out in the real world meant he ran the risk of something untoward happening, however.
“The only problem is that if something happens you’re not running over a pylon, you’re taking the corner of a building out, so it makes it a little more stressful. But it gives you the actual edge where you know you can do it, so let’s give it all we’ve got. “
Tatar’s biggest challenge came from “backing up into the alley dock, because you have the wall in front of you and you cannot touch it. So unlike other places where you can touch certain things (and only be deducted some points), if you touch the wall you’re done. But each obstacle has its own challenge, because you need different experience to get through them.” His message to others can be applied to the trucking industry, but it could also be handy pretty well anywhere. “Never give up,” he said. “I mean, whatever you get standing in your way, anything is possible. Dreams do come alive.” He also acknowledged the importance of the higher power in his life. “God is my witness and I brought him along with me and it was all I needed. He told me to just grab that steering wheel and (he’d) steer it for me and that’s just what I did.”
And he very nearly won it all…
With the 2015 National Truck Driving Championships in the record book, attention now turns to next year’s spectacular. And though the venue and date for next year’s Nationals hasn’t been set in stone yet, Team Ontario rep and president of the Ontario Truck Driving Championships, Ewen Steele – noting that the event will coincide with “70 years of trucking championships in Ontario” – said they’re looking seriously toward the Brantford area. Regardless of the final venue, “we’re looking forward to the Nation coming to Ontario next year,” he said. “We apologize if we may keep some of the hardware for ourselves, though.”
Ken Wiebe – Winnipeg, MB – B-Train, Grand Champion
Ken has been a collision-free professional driver for 35 years. One of his most unusual experiences came when he pushed two vehicles out of a flooded street, after which one of the grateful drivers wrote a thank you letter that was published in the local newspaper. He and his wife, Madelyn, have four children.
Sebastian Tatar – Port Hope, Ontario – Single/Tandem, Rookie of the Year
Sebastian has been driving collision free for 14 years. He enjoys playing soccer, working on cars and spending time with his wife and young son. He’s proud to have extinguished a fire and provided comfort to a family of four whose SUV flipped on the highway.
Mike Hamilton – Bolton, Ontario – Straight Truck
Mike has driven professionally for 19 years, the last 10 of which were collision free. A runner up at the 2013 provincial championship, Mike has also won three regional championships. To Mike, the best part of being a truck driver is the responsibility for operating large vehicles on the road.
Marc Leger Transport Robert – Single, Single
Marc is no stranger to the Nationals. He was the 2012 Rookie of the year and took first place in his division in a Moncton, New Brunswick driving championship. Marc has two children: nine year old Raphael and eight year old Mikael.
Rod Harrison – Edmonton, AB – Tandem Tandem
A professional driver for 38 years, 26 of which have been collision free, Rod has competed in provincial and national championships for 23 years, winning Grand Champion in each provincial competition in which he has participated. He has also placed first, second and third at the Nationals. Rod and his wife, Deb, have three children and four grandchildren.