BRAMPTON, Ont. — With the exception of the occasional nervous glance skyward, all eyes Saturday at the Powerade Centre in Brampton, Ont. were trained on nearly 50 of the most skilled professional truck drivers in the Greater Toronto Area.
They were competing in the Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships, with hopes of advancing to the Provincials in July and from there, to the Nationals. The competition this year was moved to the Powerade Centre, where a large section of the parking lot was cordoned off for championship activities. Supportive family members, colleagues and curious onlookers lined the course and cheered on the drivers as they navigated the challenging obstacle course that mimicked some of the most difficult scenarios a driver could be expected to encounter.
One of the trickiest of these, drivers in attendance told Trucknews.com, was the alley dock, which requires a blindside 90-degree backup between two tightly positioned barriers. In addition to demonstrating their skills on the obstacle course, drivers were also required to complete a knowledge test and a pre-trip inspection, during which they had to locate planted defects within an eight-minute timeframe while a Ministry of Transportation transport enforcement officer looked over their shoulder. No pressure!
The planted defects were intended to replicate commonly overlooked items MTO enforcement officers see in the field.
“We try to take items that are required to be checked by drivers as part of the pre-trip inspection report and simulate those defects here, so that makes it a real-world competition,” explained Mark Bonner, transportation enforcement officer with the MTO. “These are things we hope you don’t find (during pre-trips), but you should be looking for.”
A couple examples from Saturday include a significantly underinflated tire and a wheel bearing leak on the out-of-sight inside dual. Drivers must also indicate verbally what they’re examining as they circle the vehicle, covering all the items that require attention during a regular pre-trip inspection. Bonner said he was impressed by the performance of the drivers on Saturday.
“The drivers who come to these events really are the cream of the crop,” he said. “We put a lot of pressure on them and follow them around. It’s designed to fail. A tractor-trailer of this size and you only have eight minutes to call out a variety of inspection items, plus find the five actual defects we planted on the vehicle. I don’t know how many of the competitors will find everything; there will be a few and that’s why it’s a competition.”
The event also allows drivers and fleet managers in attendance to interact with transport enforcement officers in a relaxed setting. It was especially timely this year, just days ahead of the North America-wide CVSA Roadcheck enforcement blitz.
Back on the track, drivers in six categories filed through the course under progressively worsening storm clouds. Categories included: straight truck; single-single; single-tandem; tandem-tandem; B-Train; and back this year after a hiatus, step van. The tandem-tandem category was the most hotly contested and it was during this portion of the program that the skies opened up, sending drivers, onlookers, judges and other volunteers scattering in all directions in search of shelter. But the sheets of rain soon gave way to sporadic showers and the competition resumed.
Asked if rain impacts a driver’s approach to the competition, veteran competitor Rennie Barran of Speedy Transport said it’s no big deal. Waiting around for your shot at competing is the bigger concern, he explained.
Competitors must arrive early in the day for the driver’s meeting, and it can be difficult to maintain focus when you don’t get your chance to drive until late afternoon.
Another challenge, pointed out Jack Fielding from Bison Transport, is to adapt quickly to an unfamiliar vehicle. All competitors use the same trucks, meaning a driver in the tandem-tandem category such as Fielding, whose everyday truck carries a large sleeper cab, must quickly acclimatize to driving a shorter wheelbase day cab during the competition.
Fielding was back for his second kick at the can, having captured second place in the tandem-tandem division last year as a rookie.
“First is on order,” he joked before taking his turn behind the wheel, but it wasn’t to be this year.
Many of the drivers who participated did so with the full support of the carriers they work for and showed up in uniform, proudly representing their companies. The usual suspects were well represented: Speedy Transport; Fortigo Freight; Fed-Ex; Con-Way; YRC Reimer and a few others.
Murray Hutchinson is the new chair of the Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships and he said the committee would like to double participation by next year, when Ontario hosts the National championships. It’s ambitious goal but not an unrealistic one, he said.
“By doubling the numbers, that would only get us back to where it was five years ago,” he said. “Five years ago there were 80-100 competitors and 200-250 people out to the banquet. We want to get it back to that.”
Some carriers that used to support the championships dropped off the map when the recession hit and haven’t yet returned. Others choose to host their own internal driving competitions. But doubling participation will require a commitment from more carriers, Hutchinson acknowledged, since few drivers compete without the backing of their company.
“You need that support. The winners in each class here go onto the provincial level and that usually means a day – maybe two days – off work. If they happen to win at the Ontario level they go to the national level which this year is in Regina. So they have to have the company’s support so they can go. It’s a big commitment for the companies to allow their drivers the time to put into it,” Hutchinson explained.
There are many benefits for the carriers that participate in the program. There’s some serious camaraderie on display at the championships, with drivers from each team supporting each other and offering tips on how to best navigate the course. It also brings together drivers’ families and support staff from the company as well as management, giving drivers some extra incentive to perform well. And the preparation work that goes into competing in the championships serves as great – and inexpensive – form of remedial training for drivers.
The Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships are a precursor to the Provincials, which will be held July 11 in London, Ont. There, top performers from the Toronto and Central Ontario Regional Truck Driving Championships will face off to see who will represent Ontario in the Nationals this fall in Regina, Sask.
Truck News on-road editor Harry Rudolfs will be covering the Central Ontario championships June 13 at Conestoga Collage in Cambridge, Ont. from behind the wheel, participating as a contestant sponsored by Truck News.
Not in Ontario? Check with your provincial trucking association to find out when and where the provincial championships are being held in your area.
Without further ado, here are the Top 3 winners in each category (except for those in which fewer enrolled) from the Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships held May 30:
Grand Champion: Preetpal Nijjar of Flyers Trucking
Rookie of the Year: Daniel Wink of Speedy Transport
Team Trophy: Con-Way Freight
Kevin Bradshaw, Canada Cartage
Daryl Poole, YRC Reimer
Anges MacCormac, Bison Transport
Shawn Pietracupa, Con-Way Freight
Blair Gerelus, YRC Reimer
Guy Woolcott, Con-Way Freight
Sebastian Tatar, Con-Way Freight
Jason Wigle, Con-Way Freight
Daniel Wink, Speedy Transport
Preetpal Nijjar, Flyers Trucking
Craig Babin, Speedy Transport
Gregory Flear, Speedy Transport
Dan Congdon, YRC Reimer
Stephan Hughs, Canada Cartage
Storm clouds gather but the competition goes on.
The tennis ball challenge is one of the more difficult.
There’s little room for error between the tennis balls.
A straight truck competitor checks his mirrors.
Team Speedy prepares for competition.
MTO officers look over competitors’ shoulders during the pre-trip.
A Con-Way driver is congratulated by teammates following his performance.
Drivers had to spot this planted defect during an 8-minute pre-trip.
There’s little room to spare between the barriers.
Volunteers and onlookers gather at the starting area.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies