Monday, June 15, 2009

Hitting on All Cylinders

Practice pays off for Niles driver in Indiana truck rodeo

It was a good weekend for Dan Ferenczi, as he put it, to be “hitting on all cylinders.”

“It was just my day,” the Niles resident said after winning the Indiana Motor Truck Association’s annual truck-driving competition in Indianapolis.

“You get in a zone. I might go down there tomorrow and finish 10th.”

The new Indiana truck-driving champion said he had participated in the competition four times before and had finished no higher than fourth in his class.

The championship far exceeded his expectations, he added.

“I was hoping for a Top 3 finish,” he said, referring to the tanker class.

A truck driver for YRC (Yellow Roadway Corp.) in South Bend the last 16 years, the 42-year-old Ferenczi said he was eligible for the competition by virtue of his employment with an Indiana trucking firm.

He finished first among the 16 drivers in the tanker-truck division, he said, and was named the champion after accumulating the highest point total among the 121 contestants.

He credited his cousin, Jimmy Anglin, of Niles, and Don Conklin, a LaPorte resident, with helping him practice at a YRC training facility before the June 5 and 6 event. Anglin and Conklin also work for YRC, he said.

“Jimmy, Don and I practiced the last eight Sundays, I’d say for 35 to 60 hours,” he said.

The competition involved a written test and a “pre-trip,” or vehicle inspection, that can feature such simulated defects as rocks or nails concealed in tire treads and pins removed from fire extinguishers in truck cabs.

Ferenczi said he found nine of the 12 defects on his vehicle, overlooking a rubber piece that had been removed from a windshield wiper blade.

Also involved was a truck rodeo consisting of an obstacle course that, among other things, required drivers to back trailers into a precise location.

Ferenczi was flawless in his execution of the drill and later came within 10 inches of a tennis ball that served as the obstacle in an exercise known as “right steer roadkill.”

“That’s pretty good when you lose sight of it early,’’ he said, referring to the tennis ball.

Ferenczi said he had the high score on the course, picking up 265 of a possible 300 points.

A truck driver for 21 years, Ferenczi was accompanied at the competition by his wife, Sheryl.

Although she’s not allowed to ride along when he picks up or drops off freight on his local YRC runs, she’s a huge supporter, as is his family in general, he said.

“My whole family is in it (truck driving). My older brother (Steve) and dad (John) taught me to drive,” said Ferenczi, who has racked up well over 1 million miles on his routes and has never had a traffic ticket or over-the-road accident.

The road won’t get any easier as he’ll be in Pittsburgh from Aug. 18 through 22 for the national truck-driving competition.

More than 400 drivers are expected, including Conklin, who took first place in Indianapolis in the 5-axle class.

The fact the YRC team fell just short of winning the team trophy will give Ferenczi and his fellow drivers a target to shoot for in next year’s state competition.

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