The real heartbeat of MATS
To experience the people is to experience the Mid-America Trucking Show itself

By David Tanner, associate editor

“Are you truckers?” I asked a pair of showgoers.

“No, but my feller is,” came one gal’s response, pure Kentuckian.

The Mid-America Trucking Show has a large cast of characters. Sure, there are cool exhibits and products, trade-show shwag and announcements – but without the thousands of patrons buzzing around like busy bees, there is no show. To experience the people is to experience the show itself.

My journey through the aisles of products and OEM exhibits would have been OK for purposes of writing the news, but my experience at MATS would not have been complete without a visit to the show truck lot on the Kentucky Exposition Center grounds and later the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium lot across the way.

Although different, and set up for different purposes, each of these outdoor spaces gives the observer a true sense of trucking community.

From trucker caps to top hats; suits and ties to a plain ol’ gorilla suit; bushy beards or bald heads … a gal in flannel carrying a puppy in a towel; a fitness guru and good ol’ fashioned barbecue; newlyweds making MATS a destination … my list of observations could go on and on.

There was “Garian’s Dad,” aka Chris Perry or “Stinger” as he is known by handle. He says everyone knows him because his 18-year-old son Garian, nicknamed “Mad Fingers,” plays the guitar like no other and did the national anthem at the Sirius XM booth to open the truck show.

“He rocked it, Hendrix-style,” Chris said proudly. “Freewheelin” Co-Host Chris Tsakis was also impressed with the young man.

Friday evening was gearing up to be a fun one as LL staffers were headed out to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium parking lot – shortened to “Papa John’s” in the trucking community.

Papa John’s was great people-watching, but it was also a great locale to break the ice and meet some of the people that we interact with on the phones at OOIDA headquarters.

I can’t say I was totally surprised to see a top hat and a gorilla suit (Hi Rusty!), a Cherokee wedding or a live band playing through a rain shower. And I wasn’t at all surprised to taste some of the best food around for the price of a donation to charity. There are some big hearts out at Papa John’s, always quick to throw in a few bucks for someone in need.

I got some face time with members Scott Grenerth, Jan McCarter and Jon Osburn, and met Corporal Norm.

I met Carl Shoemaker and a few others wearing OOIDA life member jackets. In fact, I saw more life member jackets out at Papa John’s on Friday night than I observed during the entire rest of the truck show.

Saturday afternoon meant time on the show truck lot. I talked to Sidney McDonald, a former trucker who was injured on the job in 2007. I could tell he missed trucking.

“I’m looking to get back into it,” he said. He then asked me where he could find Hank Good’s “Highway Hilton” on the lot. I’m new to MATS, but not to Highway Hank. I knew exactly where he was and had just taken a picture of the Hilton a few minutes prior. Best of luck to you, Sidney.

I ran into Bill Arth and his unmistakable 1973 White-Freightliner cabover dubbed “Helen Wheels.” Definitely a standout in a field of conventional hoods. Bill and I shared a laugh when I told him the Paul McCartney & Wings song reference in the truck’s name was not lost on me. He said some people don’t get it beyond the mere play on words. I do.

Next, I sidled up to a conversation going on between OOIDA Members Marie Sandvik and Shelley Brinker – both multiple award winners at the show.

I learned during the conversation that Shelley is not afraid to get her hands dirty as she and husband Bob work on the show truck. That’s a different strategy than Marie, who tends to let her husband Chuck do most of the heavy lifting. Either strategy can be effective, as these familiar names on the truck show circuit demonstrate time and time again.

Hearing them converse about the number of young truck owners and winners at MATS this year (such as OOIDA Member Colin Stuart) reiterated a point that Land Line Managing Editor Sandi Soendker and I had discussed earlier that morning during the Paul K. Young Truck Beauty Championships (aka the trophy dash).

They are the future. Rain or shine, it doesn’t matter. The dedicated are out there, doing their thing. The supply of elbow grease wouldn’t fit in People’s Choice winner Jeremey Graves’ Farmers Oil tanker.

The camaraderie, fellowship, and a healthy dose of competition all add flavor to the show.

I’m glad I made MATS 2011 my first trip to Louisville. The people were great, there were no strangers, and the products were top-notch as well. From what I witnessed, trucker spirit is alive and well. LL