BANGOR, Maine — The battle of the big rigs raged Saturday as truckers from across the state descended on Dysart’s Trailer Shop in Hampden to battle for top honors in this year’s Maine Professional Truck Driving Championship.
The verbal combat was fierce as old rivalries between drivers for Hannaford Bros. and Shaw’s Supermarkets surfaced near the lunch concession.
Doug Snowden declared that he had come to Bangor from his home in Somersworth, N.H., to “take it back from Hannaford.”
Dick Brown of South Portland vowed that Saturday’s match would turn out the same way the Great Grocery Grudge had two weeks earlier — Hannaford drivers would be victorious and take home the title.
Although the barbs and challenges flew furiously, both men agreed that the contest, sponsored by the Maine Professional Drivers Association, was about promoting and practicing courtesy, safety and professionalism on the road. To compete in the annual contest that has been held since 1949, drivers must not have been in an ac-cident or issued a speeding ticket or cited for any other violation in the previous year.
Before a trucker can compete on the course that includes judging distances for stops, backing into tight spaces for deliveries and a test of other over-the-road skills, he or she must pass a written test on state and federal regulations. Drivers also must conduct a pre-trip safety check under the watchful eyes of Maine State Police officers from the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement unit.
When the drivers finally do climb aboard and start their engines, they may not drive their own vehicles but must use another company’s or a rival’s. That means that Shaw’s employees have to drive Hannaford rigs and vice versa.
Leanne Pooler of Milo, one of the few women drivers to compete in the event, entered for the first time this year. She drives for Central Maine Transport in Bangor.
“I’d like to see more female drivers here,” Pooler, who has driven 1.6 million miles in her career, said.
When asked what she likes best about her job, she replied, “I get to be in a different place every day.”
While most of the 75 or so drivers who competed this year represented Maine companies, independent drivers may enter the contest, according to Brown, a past president of the truckers’ organization.
Big rigs and 18-wheelers weren’t the only vehicles in the competition. Drivers of step van delivery trucks from Fed Ex and United Parcel Service also took part.
“I do it for the challenge,” Judy Weed of Portland said as she waited for her turn on the course. She has been a driver with Fed Ex for more than 22 years.
The winner of Saturday’s competition will be eligible to compete in the three-day national contest in Pittsburgh, Penn., later this year. Guy Currier of Milford, who drives a tank truck for Webber Energy Fuels, has represented Maine at nationals.
“It’s tougher,” he said. “You really are competing against the best of the best.”
Currier said that he comes to the Maine event every year to promote safety.
“I learn a little bit more every year,” he said. “It keeps me in a professional frame of mind. I’d recommend it for any driver.”
Currier’s co-worker James Jewell of Bangor would like the public to be more aware of how important safety is to the majority of truck drivers.
“I think the public perceives truck drivers as not being safe drivers,” he said. “But we have to be to be in this competition. It would be nice for the public to know that not every [truck] driver out there is regularly disobeying safety rules.”
The results of Saturday’s event are posted on the MPDA’s Web site at www.mpda.org.