Who is trucking’s biggest fan? Arguably, Robb Mariani would be a shoe-in for the title. His energy and enthusiasm for trucks, truckers and the trucking lifestyle are unmatched.
Within a minute of pulling in the lot of Bill’s Truck Repair in Sanford, Fla., Mariani is showing off his pride and joy, a black 1974 Ford W9000. But his enthusiasm isn’t limited to his personal property. He is just as pumped as he introduces me to the shop’s owner, Bill Goolsby, and chief mechanic, Lew Bailey. He chats about the trucks in the shop for repairs and shows me the back lot of older trucks and trailers.
While Mariani, host (and one of three executive producers) of television series American Trucker on the Speed Channel, isn’t a trucker or a certified diesel mechanic, his passion for all things trucking is well received. Truckers seem pleased to have someone carrying the torch for them, and American Trucker has been picked up for a second season with new shows airing this month.
So how did the 43-year-old interior designer and artist become the chief ambassador for trucking? Well, it’s not exactly a straight path to overnight success. Just like a trucker who shows up for delivery across the country, Mariani traveled a road chock-full of curves and obstacles.
Mariani credits Truckers News’ sister publication Overdrive magazine, trucking movies like White Line Fever and Smokey and the Bandit and an adventurous upbringing as the foundation for his love of trucking.
“Growing up in Milwaukee, I had a grandfather who drove for Schlitz and another grandfather who drove for Gateway and Yellow,” Mariani says. “One of my grandfathers had a subscription to Overdrive that I read religiously and that fueled passion for trucks and truckers. That was my inspiration.”
Mariani’s grandparents often would take him to the Union 76 truckstop in Oak Creek, Wis., for pie and ice cream. Quickly gobbling down the treat, the youngster, armed with a 110-speed Kodak camera, would fearlessly stroll up and down the rows of trucks chatting with truckers.
Cross-country trips in his parents’ 1968 Lifetime motorhome also gave him opportunity to talk to big rig drivers when the family stopped for gas and coffee. “I’d jump out and run up and down the lined-up trucks with my copy of Overdrive and yell things like ‘Oh, my God, that’s a Peterbilt 359,’” Mariani says, laughing. “I would knock on the doors of trucks and talk to the drivers about what kind of engines they had. They would let me inside the trucks to look around and take pictures.”
Building 1:25 scale models was also an outlet for Mariani to get his truck fix. At $25 apiece for a model kit, he collected recyclable materials from his grandmother’s tavern and worked odd jobs like mowing lawns and cleaning garages until he had enough money to visit the hobby shop. “I would take my money and go buy a kit,” he says, “and then I would have to figure out if I wanted to paint it like it was on the box or like I had seen one in Overdrive,” he says.
Cementing everything for the young Mariani was the popularity of trucker movies and television series in the 1970s. Hence the desire to one day own a 1974 Ford W-series like the Jan Michael Vincent character, Carol Jo Hummer, in White Line Fever. And then when Smokey and the Bandit came out …
“My grandmother and I went to see Smokey and the Bandit five times in the theater,” Mariana says. “That was probably the apex of the 1970s trucking movies. Then came along B.J. and the Bear. All things trucking were cool and revered. It was in the pop culture. I thought I was ahead of the curve. It was the golden era for me.”