SNOW ’N SHINE
A sideshow to the Mid-America Trucking Show, the PKY Truck Beauty Championship takes show ’n shine events to a whole new level. A rugged-up Warren Aitken reports from Louisville, Kentucky
Part of the Mid-America Trucking Show, the PKY Truck Beauty Championship was a chilly but rewarding event
TRAVELLING IS PART and parcel of being a truckie. We get paid to do it all week, so a little plane ride is nothing. However, three plane rides and 26 hours’ worth of travel is about as appealing as back-to-back-to-back safety inductions. What can make it all worth it, including airports with overpriced food, cramped seats and toilets that are not milehigh-club friendly, is the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) and the PKY Truck Beauty Championship. MATS has been running for more than 40 years. It has grown to become the largest annual event of its kind in the world. I could baffle you with numbers but, to put it into perspective, if you’ve worn out your work boots walking around the Brisbane Truck Show then you can be damn sure you’ll need much comfier shoes when you get to Louisville, Kentucky.
MATS is at least three times the size of the Brisbane Truck show and has more than 1000 exhibitors. If you are short of pens, stubby coolers or new shopping bags then three days strolling around MATS will sort you out. Everyone from manufacturers, recruiters and designers to state police, knife salesman and the ‘Citizens for Tobacco Rights’ are there to offload freebies.
Running alongside the Mid-America Trucking Show is the PKY Truck Beauty Championship, the extremely well-polished carrot at the end of my arduous journey. The PKY Truck Beauty Championship is in its 29th year. Taking up one huge parking lot outside Louisville’s Kentucky Exposition Centre which hosts MATS, the show is viewed as the start of the American truck show circuit.
Paul K Young was the head of a private management group that began MATS back in 1972 and it’s a tribute to him that his initials prefix the title of one of North America’s top show-and-shines.
The Mid-America Trucking Show is a three-day trade event beginning on a Thursday and running through to Saturday. But the PKY Beauty contest technically starts on the Wednesday night preceding MATS, opening with a light and sound show that you
could easily mistake for an open-air nightclub, albeit with more country music and less ‘doof-doof’. For a huge truck fan like me, the truck show begins the Sunday beforehand.
Bigger in America
Just as a bit of a scene setter, let me tell you a bit about the Kentucky Exhibition Centre so you can come to grips with the expanse involved. While the internal area that hosts MATS has 1.3 million square feet of exhibit space, there is also nearly 500 acres of outdoor area. That’s including the parking for 19,000 car parks!
Circling the main exhibition centre and allowing access to the different parking areas is the Circle of Champions, a one-way fourlane road right around.
With the scene set, a ‘ticky’ tour along the Circle of Champions on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday is a great way to fill a day up. Although the shows don’t begin for a few days, the worker bees that make all these events possible are already hard at it.
Lot D is the opening parking lot when you enter. This area is one of the assembly points for a lot of the trailers that will get taken into the show. I blew my Fitbit’s target just wandering around there with my jaw dragging.
Next on the exterior tour was Lot J; my attention locked on the new Mack Anthem, several Kenworth T680s and a tow truck that I’m sure could have hooked up to a building and dragged it home.
A little bit of time was spent walking my shoes to the point of extinction before I thought, “It can’t get better than this,” and I was back in the rental car.
With the unnerving feeling of my left arm resting on the window, I left Lot J with a smile as wide as a 909’s turning circle.
I didn’t even make it a kilometre when I saw Lot H, also known as Gate 4, and now known as, “I’m posting my wedding ring home and staying right here.”
Lot H is where all the fun starts for the PKY Truck Beauty Championship. Sunday saw the truck washing teams setting up ready for the week ahead, joining several detailing and polishing teams already hard at work. Several trucks were already onsite ensuring there were guys already knee deep in polishing residue.
For three days there was just a constant stream of rigs rolling in looking jaw-droppingly stunning. The owners and crew had spent countless hours turning them into absolute showpieces.
I watched the team from Evans Detailing and Polishing, one of the most requested outfits there, polishing everything from the inner trailer wheels to the smallest bolt under the diff housings. Watching them polish a car-carrier’s trailer just made me feel lazy when I
“I swear you expected to see Santa doing the judging.”
thought about the effort I used to put in. Forget about eating your dinner off these things, I swear to you, your dispatcher could have done his makeup in the floors of the trailer.
Many may think all the accolades for these trucks go to the cleaning and polishing teams that put in so much work, but the owners and drivers are right there as well.
In fact, their commitment to the cause came to the fore with a vengeance on the Wednesday morning, which was when all the trucks were parked up for the start of the PKY Truck Beauty Championship with a night lights competition.
Mother Nature wasn’t at all worried that it was the first day of spring. She instead decided to greet the thousands of attendees with eight inches of her finest snow. As picturesque as the day was for me, my heart went out to all those in the show. There trucks were blanketed. I swear you expected to see Santa doing the judging.
Did it faze the big-bonnet boys? Not in the slightest! Home Depot (like Bunnings but bigger and without the sausage sizzle) did a roaring trade, with spades brooms and even air blowers flying off the shelves. Every single chamois in Kentucky was being used on Wednesday. By the time the sun had set and the stereos were cranking that night, there were a few piles of snow to navigate but every truck looked brand new again.
There are 12 judges tasked with picking holes in each truck. I word it that way because, quite frankly, the standard of the big rigs involved means the judges really do have to find the things the guys didn’t do well rather than what they did. The categories are similar to over here; drivers opting into whichever suits them best, including interior and engine bay categories as they see fit.
One of the things that does make the North American shows different from Oz, though, is there is a distinction between working trucks and show trucks.
“The overall PKY Truck Beauty Championship winner must be a working truck.”
Several of the trucks shining brightest are built purely for show and for the show circuit. While they turn heads, the overall PKY Truck Beauty Championship winner must be a working truck. The outdoor rave party that is Wednesday’s light show is when the judges begin their arduous task, which they complete on the Thursday. Prize giving is in one of the seminar halls on Saturday morning. Another feature of the PKY Truck Beauty Championship is the show magazine handed out on the Saturday after the prize giving. Every truck entered gets photographed (a task made difficult when the snow came) and the magazine is printed with all the winners acknowledged.
Like every show ever run anywhere, there is always a level a discourse, complaints of politics and general questions of ‘how the F did he win’ that follows. It’s only natural. For a truck fan, though, the winners and grinners were irrelevant. The PKY Truck Championship is a whole new level of shine. If you’ve ever thought about going, if you’ve ever been tempted, take Nike’s approach – ‘Just Do It!’ The people were extremely accommodating and the flights, hell, it’s no worse than trying Pennant Hills Road on a long weekend Friday.
The United States of America may be the home of liquid cheese and deep-fried everything but it knows how to put on a show!
Above: The polishing teams hard at work on a couple of W900s on Sunday
Top: Davis Brother Designs built this stunning 2000 379 Peterbilt ‘Foolish Habit’ for Thompson Trucking Opposite top to bottom: Another standout in the light show was John Jaike’s III 1999 Kenworth W900L; ‘The Goose’ Snow Truckings 1996 Freightliner...
Middle: It’s the attention to detail that got Brian Dreher’s engine bay first prize
Below L to R: The polishers getting stuck into their Sunday work; Another standout, Jonathon Donadio’s W900 Kenworth picked up several prizes including best Lights Combo