Doin’ Things in Style
On the Track, on the Show Circuit, on the Road
Since starting in 1985, Tom and Julie Eilen of Hampton, Minnesota haven’t run your typical family trucking business. It’s very diversified with local, regional and OTR customers. A wide variety of cargo requires a wide range of trucks and trailers. No two trucks are graphically alike. Three children are involved; one of them—youngest son, Jonathan—is the focus of this story. He’s a championship stock car racer and show truck builder, professional truck driver turned owner/dispatcher, and above all a committed family man. As you’ll see, whatever the Eilen family does is done in style.
In the late 90s, Tom and his family would attend Saturday night races at nearby Elko Speedway, a high-banked, 3/8-mile paved oval that has been affiliated with NASCAR for the past 26 years. Elko Speedway flies the banner of the weekly Whelen All American Series, which allows competitors to challenge drivers from approximately 60 other tracks throughout the season.
One day in 2001, Jonathan gathered his best 15-year-old courage to ask his dad about buying a race car that brother, Pat, and he could share. The resounding answer came quickly, “You guys are nuts. No way!” Surprisingly, just two weeks later, Tom asked his sons if they wanted to take a look at a low-budget hobby stock that was for sale. The boys jumped at the chance. The green ’85 Chevrolet Impala was acquired and quickly painted blue. What began as a gift quickly became a calling.
A Season Champion
Jonathan was slated to drive the first half of the season, with Pat taking the wheel during the second half. Jonathan reported it was like pulling teeth trying to remove him from the car. Pat did try it for one race and decided he would rather be a crewman. Jonathan went on to capture Elko rookie honors. With some experience under their belts, the Eilen boys completely rebuilt the ’85 Impala over the winter and gave it a new silver and orange look. Jonathan won the 2002 hobby stock championship. The car sits idle today, just the way it left the track on championship night 14 years ago. From there, he moved up to the sportsman division and then to late models. As a forerunner to Jonathan’s recent success, he won the first ever ARCA Midwest Tour race in 2007, which just happened to be at Elko, and then went on to capture rookie honors.
During the 2010 season’s third race at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 11, Jonathan suffered a broken back that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. The team had a rebuilding year during 2011 that did not foretell an incredible run to the ARCA Midwest Tour championship in 2012. The seasons since have had their ups and downs, but Eilen is always considered a threat to win wherever the series has run in recent years, including tracks in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Jonathan has been a part of the series’ “Touring Stars” program, which recognizes the top drivers committed to racing each year’s entire schedule. Just for good measure, NASCAR regulars who have ventured north to compete in the ARCA Midwest Tour include Aric Almirola, Rich Bickle, Kyle Busch, Landon Cassill, Jeff Green, Ron Hornaday, Travis Kvapil, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Ken Schrader, Tony Stewart, Dick Trickle, Rusty Wallace, and Johnny, Tim and Jay Sauter.
Jonathan, his family and the No. 77 race car travel in style aboard a Freightliner Coronado built out with a matching Renegade Sportdeck motorhome and trailer. “We focus on the ARCA Midwest Tour events,” said Jonathan. “They provide plenty of opportunities to keep the competitive juices flowing against some of the Midwest’s top talents. It seems we frequently have more time together as a family on race weekends. I love racing and plan to continue as long as I can maintain a reasonable balance with other responsibilities.”
“It seems we frequently have more time together as a family on race weekends.”
In It to Win It
When the kids were young, the Eilen family traveled to Louisville each year for the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) and then on to Florida for another show. Jonathan remembers taking photos of cool trucks with his brothers and waiting impatiently to have the film developed. Oldest brother, Jacob, who was taken away from his family too young in a 2008 automobile accident, is an inspiration to Jonathan, other family members and friends. Jake became interested in show trucks and fielded a MATS entry every year starting in 2003. Jonathan completed a black and orange Peterbilt day cab tribute truck in Jake’s honor during 2010 and showed it for a couple of years.
During the last four winters, Jonathan devoted a substantial amount of time to building “The Hustler,” his dream show truck. It’s a 1990 Peterbilt 379 powered by a rebuilt 650-horse Cat 3406E. Power is applied through a 13-speed and 3:55 rear gears. The truck rides on a 292-inch wheelbase. With the restoration process starting from two frame rails sitting on the shop floor, the all-steel truck wound up being very similar to a glider kit.
Setting out to build something very unique, Jonathan dropped the cab three inches and chopped the top six inches. Doing something others said could not be done, the front fenders are stationary; only the hood tilts forward. The curved visor with knockouts and the simply designed, swooshed dash are unique. Rear suicide doors are another standout feature. Jonathan handled about 97% of the design, engineering and fabrication. The completely custom interior features bucket seats. A career body man and painter, father-in-law, Don Graber, applied the pearl white and black primary colors. The flames and other graphics were then added by Top Gun Kustoms.
Driven to MATS 2016 in a rainstorm with the paint barely dry, The Hustler required a tremendous amount of cleaning and detailing to prepare for its premier showing. Jonathan’s masterpiece took second place to Bob Harley, a regular contender in the Builders Bobtail category. As a result of some tweaking, fine tuning and detailing, the tables were turned at Overdrive’s 2016 Pride & Polish Show in Dallas held in conjunction with the August 24-26 Great American Trucking Show. The Hustler became the 2016 Builders Bobtail Grand Champion. All the work, short nights and unwavering dedication paid off. In addition to the positive impact on the judges, this masterpiece drew a great deal of crowd attention including that of RoadKing magazine’s managing
Eilen Trademark Trucks
When identifying a truck fleet and establishing an identity, a strong case can be made for consistent paint schemes, graphics and lettering. As you may have gathered, however, that’s not the Eilen way. The custom paint and graphics are intentionally different on every Eilen truck and trailer. About 65 trucks, including 15 Fitzgerald glider kits, and 100 or so specialized trailers bear little resemblance to each other. That’s just perfect for the mixed fleet fielded by Tom Eilen and his two sons. When the Eilen boys were growing up, Tom typically ordered three new trucks every year, so each son could select a favorite color, design and striping. This approach was recently on display at the September 9 and 10 Big Iron Classic Truck Show in Kasson, MN. Pat also competed in the show’s very popular truck pulling competition.
The foundation of Eilen & Sons Trucking is built on simple principles—be on time and have premium equipment. With the wide variety of dry bulk and liquid commodities hauled locally, regionally, and beyond, you’d never guess these trucks are frequent show winners that haul a wide range of cargo including:
- Construction Materials
- Decorative Rock
- Demolition Materials
- Dry Goods
- Gravel & Sand
With an eye on the future and a steady hand on the rudder, Tom Eilen has guided his company through good times and bad. Having grown up in the business, the boys have seen and done it all. Washing and polishing trucks as youngsters evolved into maintenance and repair. Jonathan also spent 10 years behind the wheel, including substantial OTR experience. He revived the dry van business that now has 10 to 15 rigs on the road at all times. Tom owns the majority of the trucks and trailers, but Pat and Jonathan own some of the rolling stock with dedicated owner-operators making up the balance. In the process of being groomed for greater management responsibilities, Pat and Jonathan are spending more time in the office these days, continuing to learn the ropes handling a variety of functions.
While there’s much more to this story, you can see the tight-knit Eilen family has accomplished a lot together. Youngest sibling, Jodie, has a full-time job, but finds the time to help out at the shop or in the office when she can. In honor of Jake, the family hosts a motorcycle ride through southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin every Memorial Day weekend. On the home front, Jonathan is blessed with a supportive wife, Krystle, and two young children, Kelby and Adelia.
Based on doing things in style, customers and residents of the surrounding communities can always spot an Eilen truck coming down the road, because of its beautiful paint scheme, sleek graphics, polished wheels and chrome stacks.