The sun is setting over St. Matthew’s community centre as I cycle up to Holbeck Working Mens club on Wednesday (10 September 2014). I can’t resist taking a picture and quickly snap away at the black silhouette of the church next to the big orange ball slowly disappearing. I go inside the club and buy a nice pint of cask Keighley ale. I am reminded by the bar man that it’s pound a pint night, bargain! He places my change on the bar next to my newly sipped glass.
Then out of the corner of my eye behind the bar is another, much larger shiny cut glass vase. It is the trophy representing the best HGV driver of the year 2014 by Arla Foods. This trophy was recently brought home last week by local club member and resident of Holbeck, Mark Baker. The trophy is in pride of place next to the crisps, for all the punters to see. A local guy winning best articulated driver in the country – I wanted to find out more!
I see Mark walking into the bar a couple of minutes later. I can tell it’s him because he’s wearing a bottle green polo shirt with ‘Best Driver of the Year Award 2014’ embroidered on it. We take our pints into a quieter room away from the club managers meeting. Mark tells me he’s been driving lorry’s for over 20 years and the competition was a chance for him to show off his skills and mental agility. Although, he is very modest. He says, he didn’t even think of applying for it this year. His boss however, was looking for drivers and pulled him out based on best standards through the driving style performance list. He thought he’d give it a go.
Trucking runs in the family, Mark’s dad was a lorry driver. It’s like a second language and I am keen to hear all the technical words like; a Taco Graph, that’s what truckers have inside their cab. It records everything; mileage, stopping and starting, hours under the European directive. Then there’s the steering axles, the pivoting on the 5th wheel coupling. The Arla driver of the year has been taking place for over five years now nd is held in Lutterworth just outside Leicester. It is a proofing ground used in the filming of fifth gear, so lots of space. This year was special because it was the first time Arla brought in subcontractors including Eddie Stobarts drivers.
The test saw the drivers being put through an advanced Highway Code 8 page exam. The test is designed to be twice as difficult than the standard HGV test. The practical tests were just as challenging. Mark explained by drawing a lined diagram of how he reversed the 40ft x 8ft 14 wheel wagon to the opposite side of the bay by manoeuvring through a series of cones, then pulling forward and repeating the same on the other side. The next was guiding the truck through a zig zag of cones leaving only 6 inches on either side of the truck. Well I’m impressed. I’m triumphant when I reverse a car into my driveway in one go.
I asked him how he felt before he sat in the cab to take the test. He said;
“Well I thought it’s just what I do just do day in day out, apart from the pressure of 53 other lads, all the bosses and management watching you. I knew I had to concentrate 100% I couldn’t take me mind of it for a second.”
The scoring was not judged on individual challenges but Mark scored best overall all of the event. (Yes, better than Eddie Stobart’s driver who came third place). Mark recommended the competition as a practice ground for different driving conditions. I was impressed again this time I thought how this could be rolled out as a team building exercise. Truck driving is a pretty solitary occupation, so this is a chance for the drivers share experiences and socialise.
There was also an evasive breaking test. The anti-skid pan using ABS (Anti Brake System). This was a greased course specifically prepared beforehand by an outside company. The first was to test the braking with ABS in place. The second was to brake without the ABS. They had to practice the emergency stop with spraying water from all directions. Mark stopped within inches of the walled cones whilst the other lads blasted though them. Mark laughed saying he was the only one who listened to the guy who briefed them before. Good listening skills are always important.
When he found out he’d won, his Dad was the first person he called. His Dad said ‘get away’ and his children were happy and said ‘well done’. He received £1000 cash prize and diecast model truck. The trophy is in the bar and was christened with local best, and his model is on the mantelpiece at home. Well done Mark, your’re the new Holbeck working men’s club hero.