Robb Mariani on Creativity, Truckology And The Future of Trucking

Robb Mariani, the designer turned truckologist turned TV show host, was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to be one of our first interviews for this blog. You might know Robb from starring in Speed Channel’s American Trucker TV Show.

Interview with Star of American Trucker TV Show, Robb Mariani

The self-proclaimed Truckologist, Robb Mariani, didn’t get that nickname overnight.  Instead, it took decades of dedication and some unique experiences throughout his life which inspired him to change careers from a designer and animator to a nationally televised TV show host which helped him to pursue his true passion in life– highlighting the trucks and truckers whom he admired from childhood.

Before we get started, Robb wants you to know:

We have shot the pilot episode for my new series “Smoke and Mirrors.” It is based around the 40th Anniversary of Smokey and the Bandit. We are looking to add additional sponsors, so if there is a relevant sponsor out there that wants to join us – please contact me. Monitor my Facebook for updates and when we will air the premiere.

Meet Robb Mariani

Questions and Answers (OTO): Your show, American Trucker, offers an unique perspective of the trucking lifestyle. Which episodes are your favorite from the show and why?

Robb Mariani: I’m proud of all the American Trucker episodes that we did. It would be difficult to pin down one episode as a favorite.  Every show was a great deal of work. We were (on) a very tight production – most of the fun happened off camera – making each show a favorite.

The “Independent” episode I shot with my good friend Brad Wike was the most fun that we had. Brad owns the original Peterbilt from the movie “Duel.” We used the truck in the “Independent” episode, and (Brad) did quite a bit of stunt driving with it – most of which was left out of the episode! NASCAR “Cup-To-Go” and the NASA episodes were a blast – literally! To be part of history with the last flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery was something I’ll never forget – complete with the “lost NASA Peterbilt fleet!”

OTO: What happened to American Trucker — is the show still on tv? How can people view American Trucker online?

Robb Mariani:  American Trucker was a top 5 show on the former Speed Channel, now re-named and formatted as Fox Sports1. Fox decided to make an ESPN-style sports network, and, since they ultimately owned American Trucker, (I had to sign a Grant of Rights), they killed all the shows – Trucker included – in spite of it being a hit. American Trucker was syndicated and went all across the globe in dozens of countries. I have received fan mail from countless truck fanatics – something that I’m immensely proud of. It is probably airing with sub-titles right now! Can you imagine me with sub-titles? Fans can watch American Trucker on YouTube. I believe it is also on HULU (at least it was) and Amazon.

OTO: Your background is in design, and you’ve been referred to as a truckologist.  Can you explain the transition from changing careers from design to becoming a tv host for a trucking show?

Robb Mariani: I was born with artistic abilities. It all began when I was able to draw as a little kid – most of my early work involved drawing cab over trucks! Considering trucks of the 1970’s and 80’s had hundreds of different graphic paint schemes – not to mention that every vehicle/truck ever built was designed first by an artist – art and trucks were always one-in-the-same to me. By the time I got out of high school, I had lots of success entering art competitions in drawing and sculpture, so I went to college for graphic design. I then spent many years as a video game designer/animator in the 1990’s . . . Working in those creative environments prepared me for my future in TV production. Games have concept, refinement, development, and ultimately – a finished product for consumers. Producing TV is very much the same: concept, development and ultimately a finished show for the audience/consumers.

I never stopped being a truck fanatic during my design days. When the internet came on strong in the late 90’s – I formulated a concept to take my truck fetish to a wide audience, as I felt, and still feel, that the trucking industry is a diamond mine of American stories. I’m a self-proclaimed “Truckologist” because I have studied them since my childhood. It is no different than an archeologist who goes into the field to study fossilized bones. My goal was to create a series all about trucks and trucking, and apply my truck knowledge and love of the industry into an entertaining TV show. It was never my goal to host the series. When I met Steve Beebe (my fellow executive producer of American Trucker) he declared: “I’m the show.” My reverence and passion for the series translated into me being the host, as no one else could tell the stories the way I could. I wanted to convey an important message through the show – respect for trucks and truckers!

When I was a little kid traveling on the road in my parents motor-home, we would hit every 76 Truck Stop we could find. I would run up and down the truck isles and knock on doors asking the truckers of the day if I could sit in their truck – I was never turned away. Every driver I met was as kind and gracious as possible. All of them made an indelible impression upon me. I believe that is still my driving force and what has me currently working on a new truck series.

OTO: In a previous interview about creative design, your partner commented about you that, “He can not only dream it, he can build it and create it… Robb can do everything.” Since those days, you’ve gone on to become a TV Host and Executive Producer. Which aspects of your previous career helped you in transitioning into your new role and which new skills were the most challenging to learn?

Robb Mariani: (I have no idea what interview you are referring to – I have no partner)! To your point/question: in design, you have to design the concept and then execute the design into reality. TV is the same formula in many respects. The challenge of producing TV is very daunting and hosting it is even harder. Everything that you work to produce has to ultimately be translated in front of high-definition cameras and microphones – you can’t hide. From that perspective, there was no other experience I could fall back on to become a TV host – other than me being the middle of 7 children. You had to fight-for-your rights! With TV cameras, it is pretty simple: you either can host, or you can’t! Most people have no idea that being in front of a TV camera actually sucks energy from you. It is the reason you see people say bizarre things on camera and often ramble on without even realizing that its happening. Fortunately for me, the camera is my friend and I have no problem telling stories to camera – it is a gift that took me years to realize. My energy creates synergy with the camera.

OTO: In a different interview you mentioned, “I’m not a drama guy… I’m anti-Hollywood… I’m a down-to-earth guy.” How do you navigate organizing the production of your ideas– while remaining true to yourself? Are there certain processes or habits that you’ve learned to apply for realizing your creative production ideas?

Robb Mariani: (Great question) I stay true to the subject of trucks and truckers, so it’s kind of like “form following function.” I grew up in Milwaukee, WI, a true blue collar town with serious work ethic. My Nana/grandma (AKA ‘the Wad’) owned and ran a tavern for 48 years. My father graduated from Marquette with a master degree in electrical engineering. Those two main influences in my life made the most impact, even though I lost my father when I was only 20. My dad instilled logic and an analytical approach at every level, and his examples of creating ideas into tangible things were everywhere. He designed and built our house. He even made a canoe with his friend (Hugh Foreman) from scratch! It took them over a year on weekends, it was the most meticulous work I ever witnessed. The Wad, on the other hand, instilled incredible wisdom upon me. The first thing I ever remember from her was this creed: “A man is only as good as his word, if your word is bad – you’re bad.” If only everyone’s grandma applied that to their grandchildren! I live by that creed everyday.

I spent years working at my Nana’s bar (Molly’s Tavern). She taught me to save all the aluminum cans and newspapers from the bar. When I had enough bags and bundles, I would load the bed of my grandpa Emil’s 1974 GMC pickup full, and she would take me to the scrap yard to cash it all in. When I got paid for that work, it became a habit. The main reason? It afforded me enough money to go to Hobby Town USA on Greenfield Ave and buy 1/25th scale truck models, paint and supplies to build them! So those learning experiences parallel how I apply creative ideas into TV production. Everything starts with a basic set of ingredients. You need a drive to obtain results, or things just stagnate and nothing gets accomplished.

OTO: You’ve came across several people in the industry. From your perspective, where do you see the trucking industry headed?

Robb Mariani: Today, there are still a few old-school truckers around – but they are a dying breed. When I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s, trucking was actually in its “golden age.” In those days, you had at least a dozen manufacturers making class8 trucks. Cab over trucks dominated the industry. There was a huge variety of semi trucks at every truck stop and on every road. Drivers were a different breed. I look to the cliche’ of “you are what you drive” to best describe truckers then to truckers now. Many drivers and their trucks were the stuff of legend, and the CB made them known. Trucks like “El Turbo” were the envy of every driver holding a wheel. You not only had a huge variety of trucks, but then you had guys create their own identity with their rigs – and the basic truck was already awesome! Trucks were made of steel and aluminum – chrome was real! That will never be seen again (I’m not talking about adding a Jones hood and 10″ stacks on a 300″ wheelbase like today). The trucks had as much character as the drivers. The term ‘old school’ really was not in vogue – it was an identity born from pure pride of being a trucker, and drivers had a lot of class. Today, that is now looked upon as “old school.”

Once trucking was deregulated in 1980, it marked the rapid end of a generation of trucking. Length laws went away, and with that, the cab over truck was an endangered species. The evolution of trucks was fast-tracked to aerodynamics. Max fuel economy was the natural trend for manufacturers, as it is always about the bottom line – turning profits. All fine, however, it was the foreshadowing of what we have today. Today, you only have a handful of manufacturers building new trucks. You can look at any truck stop today and see a sea of plastic uni-rigs that are nearly identical and a complete lack of character for most every truck (unless you spot an antique truck still working). Sadly, it also is a reflection of today’s drivers. Truckers of the past embodied the American spirit and freedom. A typical trucker then wore jeans, boots, a button shirt with a pocket for a note pad and pen. They sported a gleaming belt buckle and a cowboy or trucker hat. Truckers were very identifiable. Kind of like cowboy’s of the asphalt. Today, you might see a typical driver wearing flip-flops and sweat pants, and a Bluetooth headset.

Most of the trucks being made today are all automatics. That is so they can have anyone drive a big rig, as the industry is facing a huge void of drivers – the generation of older drivers is retiring. Small fleets and owner operators are being shoved out of business with burdensome regulations where they can’t compete with the big companies. Big companies have cameras all over their trucks – and sensors that can auto-brake trucks, without driver input. They are monitoring drivers like robots. Then there is the ELD mandate – mandate being the operative word. You have Elon Musk (who has become a billionaire on the tax payers dollars no less) is coming out with a fully autonomous semi truck. I personally don’t see his quest as noble, but rather arrogant. Computers are programmed by people – people are not perfect, neither is a computer program. I don’t trust computers and sensors to drive a semi truck – period.

Tesla’s “fully autonomous” self driving car has already caused fatalities. A Tesla driver crashed at full speed into the side of – of all things – a semi trailer, as the computer could not discern the white colored trailer from the sky. Imagine taking the driver out of the truck driver equation . . .

A future with fully autonomous semi trucks is a future I’d prefer not to be in. Computers fail, and when that happens, people will die. Yes, I have a strong opinion or two on the future of trucking – but, like everyone, the opinion is my own. I always remain open-minded and optimistic. Being proven wrong in some things is good!

OTO: If fans want to reach out and stay connected with you, how do you suggest they do so?

Robb Mariani: They can find me on Facebook (I have two pages, the one with my truck Low Patrol is my main page. The other is the inmates running the asylum)! Or, you can visit my retro American Trucker website @ and drop me an email.

Key Takeaways

  • When producing new ideas, consider Robb’s advice, “Everything starts with a basic set of ingredients. You need a drive to obtain results, or things just stagnate and nothing gets accomplished.”
  • Robb doubts the practical applications of the future outlook for computers and automation to be able to drive trucks effectively and safely.
  • In your life, see if you can apply the advice given by Robb’s Grandma (The Wad), “A man is only as good as his word, if your word is bad – you’re bad.”

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