It’s MATS week in Louisville

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The first significant truck show of the 2023 season is this week. Truckers, fleet owners, media, equipment manufacturers, and industry suppliers will gather in Louisville, KY, for the world’s largest, longest-running, heavy-duty trucking show.

Starting this Thursday, truckers and their families will make up the bulk of attendees over the three-day event, but some truckers have been preparing their big-rig show trucks for weeks. Some were even here at Mid-America Truck Show (MATS) last Saturday, “clocking their wheels,” removing stones from tire treads, wiping down the underside of their trucks, and putting the final coat of wax on the exterior. It won’t be unusual to experience all four seasons this week as we transition from Winter to Spring. Truckers prepping their show trucks in recent years have experienced rain, snow, sleet, and sunshine in the space of a few days. Getting sunburnt is also on the cards! 

How did it all start?

The largest annual trucking event in the world was founded by Paul K. Young (PKY), former Kentucky Motor Transport Association President and tire salesman, and a few industry friends who had an idea. According to MATS, they wanted to develop a show in the eastern half of the United States, similar to the largest heavy-duty show at the time, the International Trucking Show in California and more accessible than the North American Truck Show that had taken place in Boston for many years. 

The goal was to create an event that was more accessible to professionals in the heavy-duty trucking industry, specifically owner-operators and fleets. From 4,000 attendees at the inaugural event in 1972 to the estimated 60,000 attendees this year, including over 850 exhibitors, little did Paul K. Young know he was laying the foundation for what would become the world’s largest heavy-duty trucking tradeshow.

Integral to MATS is the PKY Truck Beauty Championship, held with the tradeshow. This elite competition hosts some of North America’s best custom show trucks with a light show, awards ceremony, a close-of-show parade, and several exclusive competitor events. DAT will be at booth 65216 in the West Wing and just outside in J Lot at The Grumpy Pete, a 379 Peterbilt show truck sponsored by DAT Freight & Analytics. DAT will be the exclusive sponsor of the Friday Night Concert, headlined by Country music star Elvie Shane. Tickets for the concert are free, with 15,000 total available, and only available by stopping at the DAT booth (#65216) 

Do judges really wear white gloves during judging?

The stakes are high for the hundreds of glistening big rigs lined up outside the main pavilion and competing in the PKY Truck Beauty Championship. Some will be pure show trucks that no longer haul freight, but others will be working show trucks vying for the top award and much sought-after bragging rights.

Judging categories range from “Limited Mileage Class” to “Working Dump-Straight Truck” to “Working Interior Cab Only.” Still, regardless of the category, every entrant will have already spent thousands of dollars and weeks getting their big rig ready. The truck operator with a non-working show truck will have their truck in the shop weeks in advance, removing all the winter grime, but it’s a very different event for the working show truck.

After a winter of hauling freight and a buildup of salt and grime, truckers face an enormous task in getting their big rigs in show condition. Most trucks will go into the shop at least a week in advance and spend, on average, four days at the very minimum getting buffed, polished, and waxed. Because it will almost certainly rain on the way to the event, drivers must do it again before judging starts on Thursday, March 30, at 9 am. Luckily the “Prep Lot,” a dedicated staging area outside the main pavilion that includes a truck wash, opens on Sunday, March 26, giving contestants three to four days to prepare. 

Unlike most truck shows, MATS is a judged event, and it won’t be uncommon to see truckers all over and under their trucks in the Prep Lot for days. And yes, judges have been known to wear white gloves to ensure every spec of dust has been removed.

Rags down. The big moment arrives.

Once judging begins, competitors will hear “rags down” over the public address system, which means drivers can’t touch their trucks after being parked in the designated area aligned with the judging category each truck has entered. Once all custom trucks have been judged, it’s time to celebrate these works of art and crown the winners at the Awards Ceremony at 10 am on Saturday, April 1, where the winners of each class will be announced, along with Best of Show, People’s Choice, and other awards. 

For some, it’s recognition of all the hard work and dedication to the profession, it’s just for fun and bragging rights, but for others, it’s a way to use awards and their prize-winning show truck for marketing their product and services. Either way, the stakes are high.

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