By Susan Stempinski
There’s a lot to admire about show trucks, their owners and drivers. There’s the bling. The sparkle and shine that only comes from tremendous effort. There’s the willingness and business ability on the parts of those owners and drivers to stop the wheels for a period of time to prepare their trucks for competition.
The Mid-America Trucking Show is not a wash, wipe, park kind of show. It is a forum to showcase some of the brightest and some of the best of the transportation industry, inside the convention center and out on the show lots. Lots, plural. There were three separate and distinct truck beauty contests in the spotlights at MATS 2008.
Judging for each competition was a lengthy process. To win, contestants didn’t need merely a clean and beautiful truck; they needed a presentation from the driver as well. To be a champion at MATS, excellence must run more than skin deep.
First up, the NAST Truck-Lite Trophy Championship featured five of the six trucks that qualified at different venues around the country throughout the course of 2007. The sixth qualifier opted to stay on the road during the show. The other five went to Louisville hoping to take home the highly coveted Truck-Lite Trophy, along with a generous check.
At the top of his game, with a 2001 white and blue scalloped Peterbilt 379, Truett Novosad earned the Truck-Lite Champion designation. Novosad, a heavy hauler from Caldwell, TX, calls his truck “High Cotton.” His truck’s clean lines and repeating patterns clearly indicate an extraordinary attention to detail.
Novosad shares credit for his truck’s success with friends and family. His grandmother stitched the cotton bolls on his bedding, and friends Randy and Dennis have been helping him with cleaning and polishing since his first show four years ago. White with blue scallops in some places, switching to blue with white scallops in others – on the hood, under the hood, on the floor, inside the visor, top to bottom, front to back – there’s nothing happenstance about his truck’s evolution.
Novosad runs seven trucks, hauling construction machinery for the pipeline industry. He operates in a small niche market where he knows his customers personally and by name. Novosad doesn’t believe in brokered freight.
“When you haul for a broker, you need to call three people just to talk to one. That doesn’t work for my business,” he said. “When I tell a customer their equipment will be delivered at a time and day, it’s there. If I have to pay for a police escort to make it happen, I will.”
He believes in clean, late-model equipment.
“My truck is the oldest one in the fleet. All our equipment looks good from 20 feet or 20 mph,” he said. “Doing truck shows is all about pride in your ride. Not only do customers like to see good-looking equipment hauling their freight, but dirty stuff seems to wear out faster. All the maintenance you do to keep your truck looking good helps you find stuff before there’s a major catastrophe. And time is money.”
In a tough competition, Gerry Kissinger, from Stoughton, WI, was awarded the second spot in the Truck-Lite final. But Gerry doesn’t take a back seat to anyone. Truck shows are an opportunity to showcase more than his 1991 Mack and 2006 Great Dane Trailer. It’s not the V8 putting out 800 hp or 368 LEDs lining his truck and trailer that light him up. It’s the chance to raise money and awareness for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Special Olympics that puts stars in Kissinger’s eyes.
To date, he has assisted in granting no fewer than eight wishes for seriously sick kids (at a minimum of $2,500 per wish). Ask him to talk about his truck, and you’re more likely to chat with him about how he’s going to help even more children. In fact, Kissinger has committed to donating his winnings to his chosen charities.
“Winning a trophy is about bragging rights. But I’d swap any trophy to put a smile on a sick kid’s face right now,” he said.
“Make-A-Wish is my life’s charity. When you look at the American flag on the side of my trailer, there are 50 stars on our flag. My goal is to assist in granting 50 wishes. Even if I got out of trucking, I’d always stay involved with this. There are a lot of good charities out there to help pay medical bills. But Make-A-Wish makes their life happier.”
And it all started at a truck show.
“I went to Waupun (WI) a few years ago because it was a local show and I had heard a lot of good things about it. The kids got to me hook, line and sinker. And it’ll be a cold day in hell before I give them up,” Kissinger said.
Paul K. Young
Cold, rain and gloom didn’t dampen the spirits or the enthusiasm of the competitors in the 19th Annual Paul K Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championships. With almost 100 entries on the lot, dirty hands and blinding smiles accepted accolades and atta boys from crowds of attendees who ventured out onto the lot any time there was a break in the weather.
Ronnie Baird has been a familiar face in the show truck community since 1994. More than an experienced hand around a truck, he’s been driving for upward of 45 years. He’s collected friends and trophies everywhere he goes – close to 150 to date (trophies, that is).
Baird’s kindness, willingness to mentor others, and outstanding example as a professional both on and off the road earned him the highly coveted Diesel Dave Sweetman’s Pick of the Litter Award. And if that weren’t enough, the judges recognized him as well. His 2000 Peterbilt 379 pulling a 2000 Heil Dry Bulk tanker garnered Best of Show, Limited Mileage Combo honors.
“I was so excited to win the ‘good guy’ award from Dave Sweetman,” Baird said. “I think that one means even more to me than the ‘best truck’ trophy. I was parked next to the Sandvik’s truck (longtime competitors and friends Bill and Marie). They’ve always beaten me before. But they were the first ones to congratulate me and they really meant it.”
He gets help from some high school kids who work in the shop, too.
“One guy can’t do it all by himself.”
The trophies go back to the shop, Baird keeps some, the boss keeps some, and the rest get donated to Special Olympics.
“I just love trucking,” Baird beams. “They can’t give me a road too long or too many loads. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Also winning Best of Show honors in the Paul K. Young competition were Bob and Shelley Brinker and their 2000 Freightliner Classic XL, decorated from stem to stern with a “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme. Frame rails look like wood and water; the freshly painted engine replicates a treasure chest; maps are embroidered into their seats. At any moment, a cutlass-wielding pirate could clamber over the deck plate and sing a sea chantey while he hoists a bottle of rum. Take the tour and you’ll see a rat peering out from the firewall or pieces of eight in strategic places. It’s always changing – and always a visual feast.
It’s hard to believe Brad Caton’s 2007 Peterbilt 379 and 2007 Mac dump trailer actually work. But this dynamic duo heads into the pits – every day – hauling sand and gravel in and around northern Wisconsin and Minnesota for Eilen & Sons Trucking. All the Eilen trucks look great. It’s a job requirement for all the equipment they own, and everything that’s leased to them as well. Caton took home seven trophies altogether, with Best of Show Working Combo and Best Peterbilt as top of the heap achievements.
It’s almost impossible not to smile at Michael Most’s truck because there’s so much going on. M&Ms dance along the sides of his bright yellow 1998 Freightliner Classic, a bigger than life M&M holding sweet treats stands alongside the sleeper. There’s a ghost portrait of Dale Earnhardt on the hood and an ode to the heroes of Sept. 11 across the back of the sleeper. Most’s smile lights his face as he talks about his People’s Choice Best Working Truck win.
“There had to be thousands of people out here looking at all these trucks,” he exclaimed. “And they voted for mine.”
The certified truck beauty show judges thought he did a pretty good job, too, giving him a couple of additional awards for his efforts.
Big Rig Build-Off
The third toe-to-toe competition was Mid-America’s Big Rig Build-Off IV, featuring five amazing, over-the-top, potentially street legal vehicles put together by truck aficionados who really wanted to push the limits of possibilities.
The clear winner, crowned Master Builder Champion by the voting public as well as engineers from Peterbilt, Freightliner, Volvo and International, was Randy Stroup and First Class Services of Lewisport, KY.
Stroup’s entry started out as a 1986 Peterbilt 359, purchased two years ago from a friend who had bought it brand new. He married it to a 1988 Pete 379 with twin sticks – and two transmissions.
With a tremendous amount of customizing, fabricating and modifying, it became an updated Pete 359 on a 325-inch wheelbase, Unibilt sleeper with a large opening, reinforced in all the stress points and sitting on a half-inch-thick slab of aluminum. He dropped 4 inches out of the windshield, put the old-school lined panel on the back of the sleeper, and that was just the beginning.
The grille shell is chromed – not polished aluminum. The custom grille inserts were fabricated vertical flat bar grilles sent to Las Vegas and diamond cut to look like an old Holley head. The 3406B Caterpillar under the hood puts out 650 horsepower. The air cleaners look as if they float. Interior, exterior, no piece of this truck escaped updating.
What kind of advice does a man who started with a GMC Astro at the age of 15 have for today’s drivers?
“I understand, we’re in the trenches every day,” Stroup said. “You’ve got to be smart. The smart ones will prevail. Know your costs. Dig in and don’t haul cheap freight.”
Looks good, runs hard, works smart. That’s a winning combination in anybody’s book. LL
Suzanne Stempinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.