MATS Madness
Few can argue that MATS showcased a top-notch, highly imaginative, spit-shined collection of the best show trucks in the industry.

By Suzanne Stempinski
field editor

The name and theme of the 2007 Mid-America Trucking Show was “Undisputed.” It fit – it was the biggest, the best, the most compelling trucking industry trade show of the year, any year. The show offered more exhibitors, more square footage, more options, more opportunities and more gorgeous working show trucks than you’d find anywhere else.

Where else could you find three show truck competitions in one place? The Seventh Annual Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship, the Third Annual Big Rig Build-Off, both presented by Stars & Stripes, and the NAST Truck-Lite Trophy Series Championship.

For anyone who has ever reveled in the sights of gleaming paint, aluminum and stainless, blinding lights, incredible imagination and attention to detail, the trucks were a moveable feast.

Every truck had something special to offer, and the stories told by the drivers and owners reflected their pride in themselves, their families, their equipment and their industry.

Undisputed champions with their third MATS Best-of-Show Working Bobtail win – along with four class trophies – Harvey and Karen Zander and their winter-themed 2003 International 9900ix, “Icy Blu 2,” earned their recognition the hard way.

Harvey, an OOIDA member leased to Dart Transportation, epitomizes the working show truck owner-operator. He and Karen give much of the credit for their win to their friend and hard-working helper, Rick Hoffman.

“He’s been a godsend. He used to drive for Dart and helped us a couple of times in Waupun and decided he liked being part of the craziness, but didn’t want to have the responsibility of actually putting a show truck together so he’s happy just helping us,” Karen said. “We count our blessings with him.”

After winning Best-of-Show Limited Mileage Combo at every Stars & Stripes competition in 2006, Clint Dicks started off the 2007 season in exactly the same place – the top of the heap.
Always looking to make changes to his 2000 white and orange Peterbilt 379 and 2006 Mac flatbed to keep it “Freshly Squeezed,” this time the OOIDA member overhauled the interior, put on a fresh coat of paint, changing the front fenders from orange to white, put on a fresh deck plate and just a little more stainless.

The result – an elegant and classy ride that turns heads everywhere. Getting this truck ready is a family affair and then some – with his mom, dad, girlfriend, brother, brother’s girlfriend and a few friends putting in long hours to present this truck at its absolute best.

Suicide doors open to a beige, black and orange interior, accented with stainless and style. The doors work on remote controlled actuators; the exterior door handles have been removed.

The night before judging, while all hands were on deck cleaning and detailing, the truck doors were inadvertently locked with the remote control key fobs inside the truck. The back-up access system chose that moment to malfunction. Oops. After a three-hour scramble and a call to a late-night locksmith, the truck was reopened and Clint breathed a big sigh of relief.

“I knew it would be fine when the locksmith pulled up driving an orange car and wearing an orange shirt,” he explained. Orange you glad he did?

A new champion burst onto the scene taking Best-of-Show Working Combo.

New OOIDA members Jerry and Kimberly Beaudoin, from Southington, CT, brought out the big guns with their totally customized combo. It’s a sleek, black and orange 2007 Peterbilt 379 along with a 2007 J&J dump trailer. SRS logos laser cut into slabs of billet aluminum adorn the truck and trailer. They stand for Soil Recovery Systems – their company hauls stone, contaminated soil and compost.

Every aspect of the ride was designed to highlight repeating themes of elliptical curves and points, from the front bumper to the back of the trailer; including mud flaps, brackets and more. The front bumper, fabricated in their shop from scrap steel, features hidden headlights that rotate to the on position. Suicide doors open to reveal twin sticks – one for the high/low and another for shifting through the gears. They’re awesome.

The 255-inch wheelbase tractor has individually set fenders for each of the drive axles, again, custom built. Lighting is recessed and shines down – even into the wheels. The trailer is double-walled, so the exterior will remain blemish-free from rocks and soil pounding the interior.

Everything operates on a remote control, from the headlights, to the doors, the hood, the tarp, the tailgate. All the hydraulics are underneath and everything can be operated from inside the cab.

The Beaudoins came with a crew of eight and “Lucky,” their toy poodle. Their truck had a constant crowd around it – bad boys and big toys.

Best-of-Show Limited Mileage Bobtail was awarded to OOIDA members Bill and Marie Sandvik of Valley Center, CA, and their 1998 white, blue and green Peterbilt 379.

The Sandviks are no strangers to show truck competition – their trucks are a familiar sight to show truck aficionados. Their trucks look almost as good going down the road as they do on the show lot.

Every driver takes pride in his ride, and Bill and Marie are happy to help their drivers dress up their trucks. They know that taking care of the trucks and drivers translates into drivers who are also happy to take care of their freight. They have very little turnover, with a large number of employees staying with them for many years.

The Sandviks were also delighted with winning the first place Peterbilt award.

“That means almost as much to the guys as winning Best of Show,” Marie said. “It’s a huge honor.”

Big Rig Build-Off

Five custom truck builders came to Louisville with one goal – to show off their skills and creativity in the Third Annual Big Rig Build-Off.

Competitors came from Los Banos, CA; Ontario, Canada; Kansas City, MO; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN. They brought rides that didn’t have to be street legal, didn’t have to make their living running up and down the road and had no limits other than the creativity of the builders.

They were nothing short of amazing.

The winner was selected by MATS attendees using their badges for electronic balloting. When the votes were tallied, Jim Raines with S&J Truck Sales in Ft. Wayne, IN, was declared the winner with his hot orange ride, which was custom built for Reliable Carriers owner Tommy Abrams.

It started as a 1995 Peterbilt 379 with a 475-horsepower Caterpillar engine, 13-speed Eaton transmission, 3.55 rears and a 310-inch wheelbase. The cab was chopped 7 inches and the front of the hood was extended by 8 inches, allowing for some custom-built bodacious fenders.

The grille, with the old-style shutters, looked so incredible that they decided to extend the shutters into the bumper. The hand-built headlight brackets were extended 4 inches on each side, making the hood look even wider. It’s not – it’s actually a stock width.

Every inch of the truck was customized – glass, windshield wiper brackets, suicide doors and seats. The seat boxes sit 3 inches inside the floor so that when the air is let out, the cushion actually rests on the floor. It took approximately a year and 2,200 hours to build this rockin’ ride.

By the time you read this, it should have been delivered to its proud owner – but only after adding a power hood lift and marrying it to its trailer.

No book-smart, life-dumb engineers at S&J and no computer-aided design system, the nine employees have all been together for a very long time. They figure everything out on paper and then make it work.