HJ/EDJune 26, 2006

Cokato man wins state truck driving championship

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Daryl Simonson of Cokato, a professional truck driver for Marathon Petroleum, took first place in his class June 10 and 11 at the Minnesota Truck Driving Championships in Burnsville.

Simonson, 56, will represent Minnesota in the tank truck division in New Orleans for the national championships Tuesday, Aug. 15 through Saturday, Aug. 19.

The 60th annual competition included 105 professional truck drivers. Simonson has had no accidents in the 2.4 million miles he has driven. Winning the “rodeo” is a wonderful culmination of his truck driving career, he said.

Simonson and his wife, Mavis, have seven sons, four daughters, and 28 grandchildren. Simonson said he likes to lead them by example. No matter how old you are, be the best you can be.

“I’m living my life to the end. Me and a rocking chair don’t get along,” he said.

Simonson, who originally is from the Thunder Bay area of Ontario, Canada, said he started driving a “straight” truck immediately after he graduated from Cokato High School in 1968. He delivered lumber for Standard/Cokato Lumber, he said.

In 1980 Simonson began driving a semi gasoline tanker from Warden Oil Company of Minneapolis and has been hauling gasoline ever since.

“The fumes got to me,” he said.

Simonson now drives for Marathon and delivers gasoline to Super America stores. His tractor trailer combo weighs 80,000 pounds so he is extra careful to watch and anticipate what other drivers will do so as to avoid an accident. If he gets involved in a collision, he probably will be the only one to avoid injury or survive, he said.

“You have to drive ahead of yourself,” Simonson said.

He told how recently he was heading west on Highway 12. When he got to the intersection of Highway 15 in Dassel, he saw an older couple approach the intersection. Simonson doesn’t remember exactly how he knew the driver would pull out in front of him, but he knew, he said.

Simonson had already put his foot above the truck’s brake pedal. Sure enough, the couple pulled out in front of him. Fortunately Simonson was able to brake before a collision occurred, he said.

Many people have asked him if it worries him that his gasoline cargo is flammable. It’s similar to hauling a bomb, he said.

Actually, gasoline tanker trucks explosions are very rare, he said.

Besides, Simonson calls himself an optimist. He doesn’t think about his flammable freight, he said.

Having a large family has meant he had to keep his nose to the grindstone, but he still calls it “a wonderful life,” he said.

This truck driving competition was his third, he said. The rodeo simulates driving in real traffic and in tight spaces, Simonson said. On the first day for example, one of the tests has participants turning a tanker truck a sharp 90-degree angle and then through a space only six inches wider than the truck, he said.

Next, participants have a personal interview with judges, which include highway patrol and officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, he said.

Then participants do a six-minute pre-trip inspection of a truck. “We basically make sure it’s road worthy,” Simonson said.

Participants check if the hood is latched, the lug nuts on the wheels are tight, or if the dollies are all the way up into position. “You really have to be observant,” Simonson said.

On Sunday, the final test is another road test under even more difficult and tighter conditions, he said.

The test is tough but dealing with real traffic in the Twin Cities is tougher than ever before, he said. There seem to be more inattentive drivers than in the past, he said.

Not only is Simonson happy to win, but happy to be representing Marathon. It makes him feel as if he is giving back to the company that has been good to him, he said.

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