Parade of champions
Picking a real favorite from the show truck competition at GATS is tough, even though someone has to win

By Susanne Stempinski, field editor

If I had to pick a favorite truck out of the 71 bobtails and combos parked on the show floor at GATS, I couldn’t do it.

I’ve thought about it. I’ve looked at them front to back, from one side to the other. I’ve rearranged them and stacked them side by side by side by side. Every truck has something special about it, something that reflects the owner or driver, something that whispers to a truck driver’s soul.

The Great American Trucking Show 2011 featured a show within a show. This Pride and Polish Truck Beauty Contest was both the final qualifier for the 2011 National Championship series and the runoff for bragging rights, recognition and prizes. It was a hard-fought competition, and in the end only a couple of points separated the champions from everyone else.

Ask Jonathan Eilen what drives him and he’ll tell you about his brother, Jake, who died in a car crash almost three years ago. His black and orange-flamed 2010 Peterbilt 389 day cab pulls Jake’s old trailer – a 2007 Mac Innovator. He hauled a load down to Texas from his home in Minnesota, unloaded, reloaded, cleaned, polished, and cleaned up with six trophies, including Best of Show Working Combo and the 2011 National Championship Best Working Combo.

His truck is all about being clean and detailed. The paint gleams with glossy brilliance. Under the hood is more than just a motor; it’s a work of art. Flames dance across the fenders, on panels with mud flap extensions, inside the doors and across the breather tubes.

It’s not just a family affair. Close friend Vinnie Diorio qualified for the Championship series with two trucks – his 2005 orange Peterbilt 379 pulling a 2007 Mac curtainside van and a 2007 black and orange Peterbilt 379 with a 2007 black curtainside van. The tractor was formerly owned by Jake Eilen.

If you just can’t get enough Jake – parked next to Jonathan Eilen was family friend and award winner Jake Lindamood with his brown and tan 2007 Peterbilt 379 and 2002 CPS dump. That truck is part of his family’s business where Jake worked with his late father, Bobby.

Look across the aisle and a few trucks down and smile when you see Bill and Marie Sandvik. They’ve been cleaning and polishing for days. They brought two trucks, a 1992 burgundy Peterbilt 379 shown by driver Isaac Aguilar and Bill’s 2005 brown and red Peterbilt 379, which was awarded 2011 National Champion Working Bobtail.

“It’s a great feeling to know that an old working truck can win big,” Marie said. The judges agreed; they couldn’t find a speck of dirt anywhere.

If you ask nicely, Tuffy Yeary might invite you inside her 2010 blue and black Kenworth W900L. It’s got an interior high on livability, big on clean, and as tall as Texas.

Tuffy, along with her husband Kenny, son Jimmy, grandson Andy and a slew of family, drivers and friends brought three trucks from their home base in Weatherford, TX. They came away the proud recipients of three trophies. We’ll see a lot more of them down the road.

Limited Mileage Bobtail in both the GATS qualifier and 2011 National Champion was awarded to Randy Stroup/First Class Trucking for his kick-your-imagination-into-orbit 1986 candy vibrance Peterbilt 359. Named “First In Class,” this truck is the pinnacle of the First Class Trucking fleet.

The best championships are earned the hard way. Sweat, effort, late nights, hard roads. Winner of Best of Show at the GATS qualifier and the 2011 National Championship Limited Mileage Combo went to Paul Voigt/Night Train Trucking with his absolutely spectacular 1999 blue and black Peterbilt 379 and 2004 Great Dane reefer trailer, known as “Disorderly Conduct.”

So which truck was the best? At the end of the show as the trucks rolled out of the convention center to load, to go home, to deliver the goods, people lined the street watching the Parade of Champions ... all 71 of them. LL