A convoy of trucks and other vehicles departed Hagerstown Speedway on Thursday morning led by a big rig carrying U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
The Republican from Texas was introduced on stage by one of the organizers of the People's Convoy, Brian Brase, to cheers from the crowd assembled at the speedway west of Hagerstown.
"Your voice is being heard," Cruz told the enthusiastic crowd. "When the Canadian truckers started speaking up, the eyes of the world were transfixed on Canada.
"Canadian truckers were standing up for Canadian freedom, but they were standing up for Americans as well, and this convoy is carrying on that same spirit."
Thursday's convoy planned to make one lap around the D.C. Beltway before returning to Hagerstown in the afternoon.
The convoy is composed of several groups that traveled from different parts of the country to converge at the track before heading to the Washington, D.C., area to protest government mandates related to controlling the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cruz said he was proud to join the group exercising its First Amendment right to free speech and peaceful protest.
"What the men and women want here is for the government to leave you the hell alone, and that is the most American sentiment you could imagine," he said. "It is your life, it is your health care, it is your speech and it is your freedom.
"You have the right to speak and make choices for your own family," Cruz said. "The Constitution protects it and we will stand and fight and demand it, and God bless you and God bless the United States of America."
Cruz and others criticized the mainstream national media for what they said was limited or biased coverage of their message.
Brase told the crowd that Cruz' presence in the lead truck for Thursday's lap around Washington's Capital Beltway might change that.
"Hi Fox News, we're out here," he said. "Hi CNN, we're out here. Hi MSNBC we're out here.
"Maybe now you'll show it, right?"
Trucker Stan, from Dallas, who doesn’t give his last name but on his YouTube channel goes by the nickname “Sasnak,” which is his home state of Kansas spelled backward, has been live-streaming hours of convoy happenings from the speedway.
In an interview Wednesday, he said he also felt that national media coverage was lacking.
“Some little rally that has 30 people out there crying … about something has more news trucks than there are people,” he said. “There’s not one satellite truck out here, not one. None of the mainstreams.”
How long will the convoy stay?
The Northeast Convoy rolled into the speedway from New England on Thursday, March 3, followed by the main People’s Convoy from California the next day.
Speedway General Manager Lisa Plessinger said she initially thought the convoy would leave that Saturday, March 5, but additional participants continued to show up.
Since the speedway doesn't officially open until March 26, she decided to let them stay.
"One thing leads to another, and I said, 'Alright, if I'm not racing, I'm OK with you guys staying, you've got a mission to accomplish and I support that mission,'" she said. "I believe in freedom, I'm ex-military myself, and these are the kind of people who are part of my racing public."
Plessinger said she isn't charging rent and has only asked to be reimbursed for expenses such as utilities and gravel to repair the normal wear and tear on the parking lot.
"They're the cleanest people we've ever hosted at the speedway, as far as picking up trash" she said. "They're polite and happy, and every time you see them they are thanking me for letting them stay there.
"They're just really grateful, grassroots, hardworking people."
This week the convoy departed the speedway every morning to make laps around the Capital Beltway and return in the evening, except for Wednesday, when the trip was canceled due to the weather creating concerns about safety.
As of midday Thursday, Plessinger said she didn’t know how long the convoy planned to remain at the speedway.
Convoy leaders could not be reached for comment. They have been announcing each day's planned activities at morning gatherings of participants without detailing future plans.
Plessinger said the convoy can stay until Saturday, March 26, when the facility officially opens for the season’s first race. Earlier, she said they would have to vacate by March 19 so her crew would have a week to prepare. On Thursday, she said speedway staff would be able to prepare the track, pits and grandstand areas even with the convoy there, since it mainly only occupies the vast parking lot at the 56-acre facility.
A test-and-tune session for racers to shake down their cars had been scheduled for the first Saturday after the convoy arrived, but it had to be canceled because the convoy’s initial setup interfered. Changes were made that would permit test-and-tune sessions this Saturday and next even with the convoy present, but this Saturday's scheduled test-and-tune has been canceled due to a forecast for foul weather, she said.
Plessinger said Wednesday that the convoy’s presence has benefited local businesses such as motels, restaurants and gas stations.
She noted that convoy participants favor buying from local places over national chains.
"A lady from New Mexico brought Krumpe’s Do-Nuts for them this morning,” she said. “She looked for a local doughnut.
“She wanted to make sure she was supporting our local (businesses)”
Sasnak patronized the Wrenches & Wreckers shop in Hagerstown on Wednesday to get an oil leak fixed on one his truck's rear axles.
Preparation for the convoy: Washington County Board of Education, law enforcement ready for truck convoy's arrival
Scenes from the convoy: People's Convoy camps out at Hagerstown Speedway
How do things function at the speedway?
He has been visible through his videos, but Sasnak wanted to shine a spotlight on the volunteers he praised for tackling jobs like directing traffic, cooking and serving food and organizing the cornucopia of donated groceries and toiletries in the huge commissary under the grandstand.
“I just have a camera and a loud mouth,” he quipped. “They’re the ones working their butts off.”
Showers and free haircuts are available on the grounds, and a Trucker Replenishment Station offers first aid, a lost and found and comforts such as lip balm, hand sanitizer and towels.
Sasnak found one of the volunteers doing other people’s laundry Wednesday while he was doing his.
“She lives up in Pennsylvania, not too far from here, and she comes down every day and picks up people’s laundry,” he said. “She’s over there right now folding laundry to bring it back to these guys so they have clean clothes.”
His YouTube channel has focussed on the convoy since he “stumbled across it” and joined at Great American Pizza and Subs in Golden Valley, Ariz.
He said the flashy trucks draw attention to the convoy’s message, but it’s the supporters in a stream of cars, campers, buses and vehicles of every description — and the backers who line the bridges over the convoy’s route — that make it a People’s Convoy.
“We are representing all those people on the bridge and the people who couldn’t come to the bridge, people who think the same way,” he said.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: People's Convoy today: Sen. Ted Cruz leads truckers' protest to DC