The trucking industry is heading towards a burnout, says Craig Kruckeberg. “Right now it’s about 100,000 to 125,000 drivers short and a similar amount of diesel mechanics short,” says Kruckeberg, owner and outgoing CEO of Blooming Prairie-based fender manufacturer Minimizer. “For my grandkids to someday have truck drivers to sell to, something has got to happen.”
Rather than sit on his hands, Kruckeberg put his hands on the wheel (literally) this year with the founding of the Bandit Big Rig Series, a 13-race circle track truck-racing series designed to capture the imagination of young people and make trucks interesting to them. Not only is Kruckeberg the founder, and Minimizer the title sponsor, but he is also a competitor.
To attract racing teams from around the country, Minimizer put up a $600,000 purse (nearly $50,000 per race in awards) and allocated half a million of its marketing budget. (According to Kruckeberg, Minimizer is on target to hit $23 million in sales in 2017.) Altogether, 22 drivers—also known as “bandits”—took part in the March-to-October series, including Kruckeberg’s sons, Tyler and Trevor.
Bandit, as Kruckeberg describes it, is “75 percent professional racing, 25 percent entertainment.” Although each event is broadcast online, as many as 8,000 fans show up for races that range from tracks in Alabama to Wisconsin.
As Bandit enters its sophomore year, Kruckeberg plans to kick the series into fifth gear. “We need to become Harlem Globetrotters on wheels,” he says. “We’re not a race series that races every Sunday; we go to different towns and engage the fans. So I’ve hired a general manager and a production manager” to help grow the fan base. Included in its 2018 plan is a move to larger tracks, including Lucas Oil Speedway in Indianapolis, which can seat 18,000.
Moreover, Kruckeberg decided in November to step down from Minimizer to groom Bandit into a top-tier series, one he hopes to eventually market through pay-per-view. The trucking industry “is probably one of the most boring industries to be in,” he admits (though he notes morticians may beat out trucking). “Which is why this has kind of become my advocacy effort—otherwise we won’t have anyone to sell to in 20 years.” —Sam Schaust