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MATS Memories

By on March 7, 2011
RoadKing Mag

It’s hard to believe that the Mid- America Trucking Show is 40 years old, and harder still to realize that I’ve attended almost 30 of those shows.

My first was in 1982, and for the first few years, I attended as an exhibitor. Just as I was setting up for my first show, a man dressed in slacks and a golf shirt drove up in a utility cart and asked how things were going. Did I have any problems? Was there anything management could do to improve anything?

He introduced himself as Paul Young. I thought he might have been a mid-level supervisor. Little did I realize that he was the owner and president of the show.

In subsequent years, after I became a writer and was no longer tied to a booth, I saw Paul going around to ask drivers, owner-operators and families how the show experience could be made better for them.

I found out later that after the show was over, the entire management team got together and critiqued the event. In making plans to improve it the following year, they took into account all the comments Paul had gathered.

The trucks
Twenty-two years ago, MATS hosted its first show truck competition, the Pride and Polish. A few years later, a group of competitors met at the Executive Inn near the show to create the National Association of Show Trucks (NAST). Within two years, its membership had the first uniform set of rules for truck beauty contests, to be used at shows across the country.

Truck-Lite, the leading maker of truck safety lighting, established the Truck-Lite Trophy to be presented at MATS to the highest point-earner during the previous season’s competitions. The first winner, in 1998, was Ron Golding of Lockport, N.Y. with his truck, American Pride.

A few years later, Paul Young passed away. For 2001, NAST joined forces with the Stars and Stripes Truck Show series and renamed the event at MATS, now known as the Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Show. What a fitting memorial for a man who loved truckers and their trucks and devoted his life to them.

The people
NAST had its annual meeting at MATS as did many other trucking organizations. I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with some them. While Trucker Buddy International wasn’t organized at MATS, the show has hosted its annual meeting since 1994. Twenty-two years ago, a few members of the trucking industry press corps had an idea for a trucking industry journalists’ association. The first sign-up sheet was circulated at MATS. While not an organizer, I’ve been a member of Truck Writers of North America (TWNA) from its inception.

Automotive journalists’ groups had their Car of the Year and (pickup) Truck of the Year awards, but the way heavy trucks were assembled in the late 1980s, those awards wouldn’t be meaningful. After all, how do you differentiate between several trucks that all come with the same choices of engines, transmissions, axles, brakes and more, none made by the truck makers?

We decided to create a Technical Achievement of the Year award. Grote Industries won the first for a light-emitting diode (LED) safety lighting. We created a trophy, but had no venue to present it, so it was given at the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting. That lack of a proper venue spurred TWNA to create an Industry Awards Banquet held at MATS.

Now TWNA presents its Lifetime Achievement Award at the banquet. They honored me with it in 2006. And other honors are handed out that night too. Grote decided to sponsor the technical achievement trophy after they won the first one. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Grote Trophy, handed out at the banquet. Goodyear chose the event to present the Highway Hero Award.

In addition to industry talk and awards, the show has its share of pure fun. Each year, one of the major exhibitors sponsors a country music concert for attendees. My first, courtesy of Kenworth, featured Alabama. It was great. The next year, Alabama was featured again, with a surprise opening act, the Charlie Daniels Band. Daniels was so good that by the time the featured group came on, Alabama was almost disappointing in comparison.

The growth of the Mid-America Trucking Show has been little short of miraculous. When I first attended, the show occupied about two-thirds of the West Hall. When the South Hall and then its addition were built, they filled up almost immediately. Soon the show had almost 1,100 exhibitors occupying well over a million square feet. That doesn’t include space in the parking lot devoted to the Stars and Stripes truck competition. The economic downturn took a toll, and there are slightly fewer than 1,000 exhibitors today, but MATS is still about twice the size of the next largest show.

No wonder drivers, managers and industry suppliers are often heard to say, “See you in Louisville!”

Mid-America Trucking Show
March 31 – April 2
Kentucky Expo Center
Louisville, Ky.

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