If you've never been to a big-rig show, put it on your to-do list. And if you can choose only one show to get to, it should be the annual Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky. Not only will you see all the newest and biggest trucks allowed on U.S. roads, but it also offers seminars, technology, people watching and more show-and-shine beauties than your eyeballs can handle.
We attended this year's show in March and thought you might like to see all the massive and monster trucks we found on the floor and in the parking lot. These are just some of the highlights of the cool stuff we saw. To get the full experience — sights, smells and tastes — you have to attend MATS yourself.
Customized big rigs are what this show is all about, but in a sea of seats, wheels, tires, service parts and other accessories it was nice to see this customized International LoneStar with modified headlights, lightweight body panels and blacked-out rims.
MATS is also about celebrities, albeit a different kind of trucker celebrity. Lisa Kelly began her professional driving career on the History Channel's "Ice Road Truckers," then launched into superstardom with the "IRT Deadliest Roads" spinoff. At the show she was mobbed by flustered middle-aged, balding men and tons of worshipping youngsters.
This customized Volvo pickup truck conversion was built in Dublin, Va., just 382 miles away from Louisville at the New River Assembly Plant. The truck has a 195-inch wheelbase, a 500-horsepower D13 Volvo under the hood, a Meritor RS 23186 rear axle with HD airbags and a custom crew-cab interior that includes a plasma TV, rear and side-view cameras, and a refrigerator built into custom cabinets.
As you might imagine, for folks who make their living sitting down, driver and passenger air-suspended seats are important to test. Add to that the millions of square feet attendees have to walk (close to six miles to see the entire show) and there was a lot of seat testing going on for weary showgoers.
This Freightliner Pikes Peak race truck is owned by Mike Ryan Motorsports from Santa Clarita, Calif., and although this truck has had several successful runs in the mountains of Colorado, what Ryan really wants to do is get his ChumpTrucks big-rig racing series off the ground. Look for an eight-track U.S. series to start in 2014. For more information, go to www.chumptruck.com.
All of the big engine companies have huge displays at MATS: Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Power Stroke, Duramax, Volvo and International. The most interesting future technology was in the Cummins booth, where it showed a compact next-generation two-stage turbo that looked to be on par with the high-tech turbos from Audi and Porsche. Cummins was promoting a motor generator for big-rig hybrid use that could, depending on the application, save as much as 40 percent on fuel costs. No applications for either technology has been announced.
The real show at MATS is out back at the PKY Truck Beauty Championship, where hundreds of chromed and polished trucks are on display in 25 different categories. Trucks with names like Bulldog Express, Liquid Motion, Black Menace, Smooth Move and Wild Child were on display for expert judging as well as gawking by show attendees. You can see all the winners in an interactive magazine format by clicking here.