As everyone knows, the 2020 Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) was canceled this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Along with that cancellation came the loss of the official start to the 2020 truck show season – the PKY Truck Beauty Championships – always held in conjunction with MATS. Who knew back then that so many other shows would be canceled in the following months! In order to fill the hole left from having no MATS event in Louisville, KY, a show that has ran every year for the past 49 years, show manager Toby Young and his team came up with the idea of having a bracket style virtual truck show. MATS is always held while the NCAA Basketball Tournament (known to many as “March Madness”) is happening, so the bracket style competition not only made sense, it was a fun and interactive concept, as well.
Putting on a “virtual” truck show was a new concept, but this event ended up being virtually perfect, or at least as “perfect” as a virtual event could be! Starting out with over 200 entrants from all over the world, the show producers chose 110 of the top entrants to compete. With seven total rounds of voting, that went from April 14 through May 12 (each round lasted about four days), the field was narrowed by half each round. Broken down into four regions, Midwest, West, South and North, competitors were placed in their appropriate bracket and then randomly placed to go head-to-head against another truck in their region for the first round. Just to make everything work, a few trucks in each region were given a “Bye” for the first round.
After voting on the 47 matchups in the first round, the number of competitors was narrowed to the top 64. This field of competitors was top notch, and some of our favorites didn’t even make it past the first round, including Lavern Cross and his blue and white 1982 Kenworth W900A and Wes Wimmer with his blue, black and orange 1973 Kenworth W900A (a past cover truck from way back in April 1999, when it was owned by our friend Ken Weiland, who passed away a few years ago).
Round 2 saw 32 matchups, which resulted in the 32 winning trucks to move on to the next round. A few notable rides that did not move on from Round 2 included a brand-new build owned by Brandon Lesage out of Abrams, WI. Brandon’s black “Not Committed” 2019 Peterbilt 389, featuring teal stripes and a matching 2020 Wilson cattle pot, lost to the eventual winner, which makes sense, because this truck was amazing. Other surprising Round 2 losers were CJ Donovan and his silver and maroon 1984 Peterbilt 362 cabover, which we featured in our August 2019 issue, along with Daniel & Phyllis Snow’s green and silver “The Goose” 1996 Freightliner Classic XL and Tony Huttenstine’s new 2020 gray and maroon Kenworth W900L, which he runs for Fleenor Bros.
Moving on to Round 3, the competition really began to heat up and many great trucks did not go through. With 16 head-to-head matchups, the field was reduced to the “Sweet 16” of the remaining entrants. Some of our friends and favorites that fell in this round included past MATS Best of Show champions, brothers Pat & Jonathan Eilen of Hampton, MN and their “Final-Final” truck – a black 2007 Peterbilt 379 with orange ghost flames and a matching 2019 MAC half-round end dump. This truck was built in honor of their brother Jake, who died in 2008. Others that did not move on from this round included Ryan Van Dyke, our young friend from Tangent, OR and his teal and white 2017 Peterbilt 389 and matching curtain van, J & L Contracting’s “Never Satisfied” red and white 2008 Kenworth W900L (our April 2019 cover truck), and Jeff Miller’s mint and dark green 1958 Peterbilt 351, which was featured in our December 2019 edition.
With the “Sweet 16” in place, voting began for Round 4, which included eight matchups, to determine the “Elite 8” that would move on to the next round. Some of the eight competitors that did not move on were Luke & Fred Rethwisch of Tomah, WI and their 2019 “Black Bandit” Peterbilt 389 and matching 2019 MAC tanker, Johnny Payton of Jeffersonville, OH and his magenta and white 1993 Peterbilt 379, Chad Smith of Hemlock, MI (C & J Bark Haulers) and his black and orange 2018 Peterbilt 389 and East walking floor doubles, and Todd Gribble of Somerset, PA with his “Tiredless Perfection” blue 2012 Peterbilt 389 and polished MAC tanker.
The four other competitors that did not make it through Round 4 included Terry Aslinger of Marquand, MO and his red, white and blue “Old Glory” 1996 Peterbilt 379 and 2018 Sun Country trailer, past MATS Best of Show winner Eric Turner Sr. of Ellenwood, GA and his blue 2015 “Show Time” Peterbilt 389 with black stripes and a matching 2018 Wally-Mo car hauler, Gavin McKinley of McCloud, OK and his 1993 “Good Lord Lorrie” dark red Peterbilt 379 with white stripes, and our friend and past cover trucker Phil Miller of Amargosa Valley, NV and his cream-colored “Keepin’ With The Theme” 2017 Peterbilt 389 and matching polished and painted 2015 Wilson livestock trailer.
With only eight left in the competition, Round 5 featured four match-ups that sent four more amazing trucks packing, including our past cover trucker Bob Harley of Burbank, OH and his phenomenal and award-winning dark purple “Bad Attitude” 1972 Peterbilt 358 (our January 2015 cover truck). Another past cover truck (February 2018), owned by Kaleb Hammett of Dodd City, TX, also did not make it through this round of voting. His “Ya Savvy” truck, a gray and red 2017 Peterbilt 389 with a matching 2015 Trail King RGN trailer, is another past MATS Best of Show winner. Two others who failed to move on were Chad Berry of Medford, WI and his gray and purple “Money For Nothing” 1995 Kenworth W900, and Gary Jones of Lawson, MO and his 1999 “Excessive Behavior 2” white Peterbilt 379 with gray smoke graphics and a matching 2019 Globe 55-ton trailer.
Now it was down to “The Final 4” rigs – the winners of each region. With only two matchups in this round, voting was quick but not easy, as the four remaining competitors were all awesome rides. Our friend “Big Ed” Davis of Central Point, OR (winner of the West region) and his turquoise and white 1979 Kenworth W900A, fitted with a painted to match 12-V71 Detroit engine with twin turbos, shockingly did not move on to the final round. Ed and his friends built this truck in his shop over a long period of time, starting with just a hood and a cab. The other competitor who did not move on in this round was Ed Harwell of Cave Springs, AR (winner of the South region) with his “Service & Sacrifice” 1988 Freightliner FLT cabover. The truck is retired now, and used solely for shows and parades, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Wreath Laying Day. Ed also uses it for military funerals and other events that honor service. And just like that, they were down to just two finalists.
Round 7, the Championship round, pitted Jamie Walker (winner of the Midwest region) against Chad Smith (winner of the North region). Both of these amazing combinations were deserving of the win, but it was Jamie Walker of London, KY and his bright magenta 2001 Peterbilt 379 with pink stripes and polished 2020 MAC tanker that took the top honors. Purchased new by Jamie’s late father, Raymond, the truck was completely rebuilt over an 11-month period from April 2019 to March of 2020. Scheduled to make its debut at MATS, you can imagine their disappointment when the show was canceled. Jamie uses this truck every day, hauling gas from Knoxville, TN to various fuel stations in Central and Southeastern Kentucky for Estepp Energy LLC out of Lexington, KY.
Earning a respectable 2nd place was Chad Smith of STS Transit, Inc. in Upper Sandusky, OH. This is the 100th truck purchased since the start of their company back in the 1980s, so Chad wanted to build something special. The white 2019 Peterbilt 389 with baby blue stripes was completed last year and taken to several shows as a bobtail. Late last year (2019), Chad decided to build a matching trailer to put behind it, and the 2020 MAC frameless dump, polished and then painted underneath to match, really made the rig complete. This flashy combination boasts a total of 405 lights!
With over 200 entrants from the United States, Canada, The Netherlands, Columbia and Japan, seven rounds of voting that included 110 total head-to-head match-ups, and over 150,000 votes cast, it would be fair to say that this first-ever virtual truck show was a rousing success. Of course, a REAL truck show would have been better, but we are all making do these days, trying to keep things as normal as possible in all this craziness. I am not sure if this is how every “virtual” truck show will be run, nor should it be, as each event should have a unique aspect all their own. For MATS, the bracket deal worked, because of their connection to the NCAA tournament, which also uses a bracket system.
We would like to thank Toby Young and everyone at Exhibit Management Associates for not only coming up with a fun way to keep the PKY Truck Beauty Championship alive and relevant, but also for allowing us to be a part of it. Congratulations to Jamie Walker for being the 2020 PKY People’s Choice champion. But enough with the “virtual” truck show – let’s start looking ahead to MATS 2021, which is scheduled to happen on March 25-27, 2021. God-willing, this will be a REAL in-person event that will celebrate both the return to normalcy and the 50th anniversary of MATS. We can’t wait until next year and hope to see you there!