TORONTO, Ont. — Excellence comes in many forms. Presently, the eyes of the world are on Brazil, where excellence is measured by the ability to kick a ball into an opponent’s net. Fewer eyes on Saturday were trained upon Kitchener and Toronto where excellence of a different sort was on display; the type of excellence that moves our nation’s commerce and can potentially save lives.
The Woodbine Centre north of Toronto played host to the Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships, a qualifier for the provincial championships. Nearly 50 drivers participated, demonstrating their skills across five categories: straight truck; single-axle tractor/single-axle trailer; single-axle tractor/tandem-axle trailer; tandem-axle tractor/tandem-axle trailer; and B-Train.
Participating drivers also had to locate planted defects on a tractor-trailer during a vehicle inspection and complete a comprehensive written test.
Rennie Barran, a driver for Speedy Transport, competed in his first driving championships last year, sailing through the regionals and provincials, picking up Rookie of the Year honours at both competitions, while also winning the tandem-tandem division at the provincials.
Barran admitted there was much more pressure this year, as he vied to defend not only the provincial championship, but also the prized parking spot Speedy awarded him at its terminal and the red shirt it gave him, emblazoned with a championship crest.
This year, however, Barran was edged out by Speedy Transport teammate Greg Flear in the hotly contested tandem-tandem division, in which 20 drivers competed. Flear not only recorded the top score on the day – 352 out of 500 possible points – he also was named Grand Champion, for outperforming his division’s average score by the widest margin. Barran finished with the second best score in the division – and among Speedy drivers – just two points behind Flear. Both will advance to the provincial championships in Barrie July 12.
(Scoring note: Teams that entered seven or more drivers in at least two classes at the Toronto Regionals are guaranteed three spots in the provincials. As a result, drivers from those companies are scored against each other, rather than against the field, in a sort of competition within the competition to determine which drivers will represent the company in the provincials. Therefore, they cannot win first, second or third in the division but they still qualify for Grand Champion and Rookie of the Year honours. See complete list of winners below).
While Barran was determined to defend his title, he still took time, upon emerging from the cab after his run, to give tips and pointers to his competitors on how to master the obstacle course.
There was a competitive spirit on display at Saturday’s regional championships, but also one of camaraderie. In some ways, the competition was as much driver vs. course, as it was driver vs. driver.
Preetpal Nijjar of Canada Cartage, another past winner, was cool as a cucumber when interviewed before taking his turn behind the wheel. Nijjar, who was named Grand Champion at last year’s regionals and competed in the nationals in 2011, placing just one point shy of the top spot, was philosophical when discussing his chances at winning. There are so many great drivers, he pointed out, that you can’t count on winning – you can only show up and give it your best shot and look to learn from the other competitors.
Nijjar will once again compete in the provincials this year, having finished third in the tandem-tandem division.
One of the most exciting runs of the day was saved for last. Dan Congdon mastered the course at an incredible pace, effortlessly guiding a set of trains through the course as though they weren’t there at all; even through the tricky Cloverleaf section that gave most of the other competitors fits.
What made Congdon’s run all the more remarkable, is that trains aren’t his everyday racket. In fact, Congdon has traditionally competed in the tandem-tandem category. As Congdon tamed the course, word quickly spread among the spectators that Saturday’s competition marked a new challenge for the veteran competitor. He told friends he wanted to master one category before trying his hand at another. Having won the tandem-tandem division 10 times – a personal goal – he decided to step up to the B-Train category.
Congdon won the B-Train division convincingly.
Saturday’s roster was ripe with past winners, but there were first-timers on-hand as well.
“This is my first rodeo,” quipped Bison Transport’s Jack Fielding, shortly before taking his turn in the tandem-tandem division. After emerging from the cab, we asked him how he felt he did. He shrugged and said “Average.” But it was better than average – good enough for second place in the tandem-tandem division and an opportunity to compete at the provincials.
And that’s how it goes at the driving championships. Throughout the day, the level of competition was so high, the skill level so deep, that there was little to separate the pack. Eagle-eyed judges and a carefully calculated scoring formula are all that determine who moves on to the provincial championships and who must wait till next year.
It may sound trite, but there were no losers at this weekend’s competition. The drivers who participated represented the best of the best. They had to climb behind the wheel of an unfamiliar truck – several drivers needed a quick tutorial on using an automatic, having never driven one before – before navigating an obstacle course that threw at them the worst possible scenarios they’d ever encounter in the field. They had just eight minutes to find planted defects on a tractor-trailer that they’d normally half an hour or more to inspect. And they fielded 200 questions during the written test.
It all sets the stage for what will be a compelling provincial championship July 12 in Barrie.
Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships winners:
Greg Flear, Speedy Transport
- Daryl Poole, YRC Reimer
- Satnam Singh Saini, FedEx Freight
- Frank Amegah, YRC Reimer
- Shawn Pietracupa, Con-Way Freight
- Blair Gerelus, YRC Reimer
- Robin Mull, Con-Way Freight
- Tomasc Kublicki Piottuch, FedEx Freight
- Sebastian Tatar, Con-Way Freight
- Kerry Elsworth, YRC Reimer
- Peter Walton, JD Smith & Sons
- Jack Fielding, Bison Transport
- Bruce Lampert, Martin-Brower
- Dan Congdon, YRC Reimer
- Jerry Morgan, Crown Drain
- Preetpal Nijjar
- Marc Lefebvre
- Kevin Bradshaw
- Jasmer Mann
- Jose Monterroso
- Baldev Nagra
- Greg Flear
- Rennie Barran
- Craig Babin
Rookie of the Year
Stephen Hughes, Canada Cartage
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