There are really two truck shows in Louisville in March. One is the Mid-America Trucking Show, the official production at the Kentucky state fair grounds – where gleaming new trucks and endless booths of vendors are housed inside huge exhibition halls.
It’s flashy, fun and very commercial.
The other is “Papa John’s” – a parking lot at the nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium sports complex where hundreds of truckers park their rigs each year and, for three days, convert an empty expanse of macadam into a town.
“The party in the parking lot” is the way Penny Copenhaver of Independence, MO, describes it. “You meet a lot of wonderful people” she says.
The people get out their lawn chairs and barbeque grills and everywhere there’s music drifting out from radios and CD players.
At night, there’s live music on a flatbed stag – either amateurs or heavy hitters like Leland Martin.
And, like most small towns in America, Papa John’s has a heart.
Last year, the truckers raised more than $8,000 in just one night to help pay the medical expenses of Chance Rogers, the young grandson of trucker, Jim Rogers. Chance, who was suffering from cancer, is now in remission.
This year, the aroma of brats and hamburgers draws truckers to the tent where other truckers are selling tasty food to benefit the Special Olympics and the St. Christopher Fund, a fund that helps truckers who are down on their luck.
“This is what truckers are about,” says Penny’s husband, Gregory Copenhaver.
Did I mention the dogs?
Lots of truckers or significant others bring their dog. Sue Wiese, who heads up Operation Roger (in which truckers transport pets to new homes for free) holds a contest at Papa John’s.
Truckers see if their traveling companion can capture the prize for “Best Trick,” “Most Cutest,” “Most Laziest,” “Most Ugliest,” etc. Winners are determined by the volume of audience applause and/or laughter.
At the end of three days, they all pull out of the parking lot and everyone heads their separate way.
The town of Papa John’s vanishes for a year -- only to reappear the following spring.
It’s an annual event that Penny Copenhaver says is all about “talking, laughing, joking.”
Her husband Gregory has a one word definition of Papa John’s, "camaraderie."