5 can't-miss highlights upcoming at the Mid-America Trucking Show

user-gravatar Headshot
Updated Mar 17, 2024

Spring in the air where you live? Down here in Nashville, Tennessee, nothing says Spring is just about here like a run up I-65 to Louisville, Kentucky, where I'll be next week, for the Mid-America Trucking Show. 

Joining me from Overdrive here will be your friendly News Editor and custom-rigs specialist Mr. Matt Cole (look for him on the lot of the PKY Truck Championship as early as late Tuesday, March 19, next week) and video editor Lawson Rudisill, too (he'll be the guy carrying his own body weight in camera equipment all around the show). Likewise, all the way from Vermont, our own Alex Lockie, Executive Editor, will be walking the show floor or in the seminar rooms and elsewhere typing furiously, it's sure. 

Probably a safe bet you might find me in similar positions -- there's a lot to like about the Pro Talks series this year, and much else happening at MATS besides. Here, several highlights, including some late-arriving additions to the schedule you won't want to miss. 

1) Overdrive's Partners in Business: 2:45 p.m., Friday, March 22 

PIB 2024 session postcardYou can download a pdf of this postcard to share via this link. The newly updated Partners in Business handbook for owners will be available via this link in the days ahead of MATS next week.

We're a little partial to this one, granted. The new edition of the Overdrive/ATBS coproduction of the only start-to-finish handbook to establishing and running an owner-operator trucking business (in all the many forms that can take) is fast on the way to availability by mid-next week. At MATS, Overdrive's own Gary Buchs and ATBS Vice President Mike Hosted will walk session attendees through a market outlook for the rest of year. Likewise: An analysis of the past year's performance of owners, derived from cost, revenue and income benchmarking data from the tens of thousands of owner-op clients in the business services firm's network. 

The goal: To get you thinking hard about your own business -- and deliver tactics and broader strategy to set yourself up to weather the rest of the down cycle and really take off when trucking markets turn to the positive. 

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

Jay Hosty's 2006 Western StarAlso at the session, meet Overdrive's current Trucker of the Year Jay Hosty -- we'll be presenting him with this year's trophy, a custom-designed scale model of his 2006 Western Star 4900EX (pictured) in lifelike detail, designed and built by Eston Hoffman of Hoffman Mechanical Design. The 2024 Trucker of the Year award is sponsored by Bostrom Seating, a brand of the Commercial Vehicle Group; reps will be on hand for the recognition of owner-operator Hosty at the top of the program.

[Related: Survival strategies, tactics to thrive in a down market: Owner-operator business in spotlight at MATS]

2) Small-business survival strategies in a down market

Our session with ATBS isn't the only one focused on pulling through tough currents in the MATS Pro Talks series. -- owner-operator and Rate Per Mile Masters Facebook group founder Chad Boblett gets things going at about 1 p.m. Thursday after the show floor opens with a session on the floor stage in the convention center's East Hall area. Following that in early afternoon, well-known trucking-business coach Kevin Rutherford joins Truckstop's Brent Hutto for "Stay alive and thrive." Overdrive covered Rutherford's talk around similar themes at the November 2023 annual conference of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies. Hear it here:

More small-biz-focused sessions follow on Friday with DAT; another with Truckstop, too; the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association; Triumph Financial; and Overdrive/ATBS of course.

And: A late addition to the schedule is the following series of four talks/panels moderated in part by transportation attorney Hank Seaton and co-organized by CDL Drivers Unlimited and the Alliance for Safe, Efficient and Competitive Truck Transportation, which regular readers will recall was instrumental in early pushback against the public display of CSA scores:  

Cdldu Asectt At Mats

Expect a strong current of advocacy from those four talks, with Seaton and Bruce Lundegren of the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy touching on regulatory efforts at the Department of Labor around independent contractor classification and what those efforts might mean for owners contracting with motor carriers. The SBA, Seaton said, represents the "only people in Washington who say, 'I’m here with the government and I’m here to help' – and they really mean it." 

Seaton, among others, views the DOL independent contractor rule, in effect as of this past Monday, as a possibly big barrier to small-business formation long-term, given further chilling effects it could have on carriers leasing owner-operator businesses. Mainstream press outlets and people in government, Seaton said, "need to understand that not every owner-operator can get a job as a truck driver," or wants to, that's certain.

Seaton and Lundegren will be speaking next-door to the first day's worth of meetings for public comment to the FMCSA's own Truck Leasing Task Force (room C108 in the South Wing at the convention center). The task force, with a close focus on lease-purchase arrangements, invited owners and/or lessees to share their lease-contract experiences directly during public comment period times outlined in the story at this link.   

For the 3:30 Friday CDLDU Driver Presentations session, my talk with group members/cofounders a couple weeks back on Overdrive Radio about the group's new Driver Advocacy Network push (in addition to new health insurance resources) might give you a bit of background on the growing grassroots effort. 

[Related: A shot at health insurance, and the new Driver Advocacy Network, with CDLDU]

3) Fraud in brokered-freight networks   

gloved fingers on a keyboard, truck moving on screenFreight-fraud related sessions at MATS range from ASECTT/CDLDU talks to those featuring reps from FMCSA on anti-fraud initiatives.

The Federal Motor Carrier Administration has been talking about work on a new motor carrier/broker/freight forwarder registration system since at least the Fall of 2022, when then-FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson told me the agency had been exploring a path forward toward beefing up the system to lock out the untold number of entities who successfully gain authority only to peddle fraud schemes on unsuspecting brokers and truckers. 

At MATS on Thursday, right at noon in South Wing room B104, FMCSA Office of Registration Director Kenneth Riddle is set to detail efforts to build the new registration system, among other fraud prevention shifts within the agency. 

You can be certain Seaton and broker Dale Prax, the man behind the Freight Validate platform detailed by Alex Lockie in part in this 2023 story, will also dig into fraud prevention efforts. Fundamental enforcement, too. Seaton was part of the groups who, with the National Association of Small Trucking Companies and others, pressured Congress to engage the DOT Office of Inspector General on the need for an anti-fraud task force within OIG to bolster on-the-ground enforcement of anti-double brokering misrepresentation prohibitions in federal broker regulations, among other measures that might tamp down freight-network misdeeds common today. 

[Related: Senators, Reps push to establish 'cop on the block' to shut down double brokering, other fraud

FMCSA's other principal session at MATS ought to provide some intelligence on other rules of utmost concern for many owner-operators, too -- the push toward a speed-limiter mandate, possible automatic emergency braking moves and others. That's in B104 on Friday at 10 a.m. sharp.

And there's a lot more where all that came from in the sessions at the show. The schedule includes a late-day Friday talk on the East Hall stage by 2021 Overdrive Small Fleet Champ Jason Cowan of Silver Creek Transportation, on building relationships toward long-term success. Find the full schedule of talks at this link. 

4) .... and this ought to be No. 1 for truck nuts: The custom rigs

The unique creations and time-tested classics are always out in force all over the site of the Kentucky Exposition Center for MATS. That's especially true for the former this year, with MATS rebooting a hypercompetitive event from years past called the Big Rig Build-Off. Four master builders will square off for bragging rights and more with trucks built especially for the event. 

Competitors include K&D Transport/Johnson Hill Customs' Adam Johnson, finalist in the 11-30-truck category of Overdrive's Small Fleet Championship last year, out of Wisconsin

Big Rig Build Off 2024

All the featured builders, in fact, will be familiar to longtime Overdrive readers, and sure to bring the creativity and spark to what they bring to the show. In addition to Johnson, they are:

  • Dustin Dickerson, Dickerson Custom Trucks. Dickerson began his career in vehicle customization at the age of 20, when he started Invision Auto in a building he rented from his grandfather. Now, he owns Dickerson Custom Trucks, which operates out of Thorntown, Indiana. They are a full-service shop that offers everything from mechanical work to custom fabrication.
  • Troy Massey, Massey Motor Freight. Massey and his wife, Abby, founded Massey Motor Freight in 2016 in Nacogdoches, Texas. Troy also runs a custom shop that often creates hand-made and custom-made parts for truck builds.
  • Brian and Thomas Davis, Davis Brothers Designs. Davis Brothers Designs is a full-service custom semi shop based in Owensville, Indiana. The company was founded by Brian and Tom Davis, who were initially grain farmers that used trucks primarily for the transportation of their crops. Their trucks often feature custom paint jobs, chrome accents, and gigantic stereo builds.

I wouldn't miss it if I were you, and the same can be said for all the working owners who'll show out on the main PKY championship lot. It's always a place of inspired innovation and plenty of shop talk around maintenance, business and so much more. 

[Related: Pride & Polish-winning 'Bandit' 2021 W900L: New floor, other mods add to the trophy case]

5) 'Sisters of the Road' tour terminus

I wrote about this one a few weeks back now -- the photo exhibit traveling across the country in a 53-foot dry van behind owner-operator Debbie Desiderato's Western Star, featuring portraits and oral histories drawn from the "Sisters of the Road" book by photographer-writer Anne-Marie Michel. You'll be able to walk through the exhibit inside the van adjacent to tour sponsor Uber Freight's booth at the show in the North Wing, but here's a taste courtesy of Desiderato. (We talked on Tuesday -- keep tuned for the next Overdrive Radio podcast edition for a report on how the unique hauling experience has been for her since the start of the tour March 1 to coincide with Women's History Month.)

Debbie Desiderato and the Sisters of the Road traveling exhibitDesiderato on-site with the tour in Texas at FotoFest in Houston, which wrapped up this week. From there it was on to Uber Freight's headquarters, then Saturday at the Idella Hansen Petro in Little Rock, Arkansas, on the way to MATS.

View inside the Sisters of the Road trailerThe view inside the "Sisters of the Road" trailer -- Michel's book featured portraits and the stories of 40 different female U.S. haulers.

There's certainly much, much more happening at MATS to look forward to. Keep tuned for big announcements from Overdrive Radio sponsor Howes Products and Partners in Business sponsor Rush Truck Centers, among many, many others making news around the show. I hope to see you there. 

(And if you can't be there, just keep your browser bookmarked on this page, where we'll collect all our coverage of the show. Right now, find all the advance coverage there to help plan your time in Louisville if you can in fact make it.)