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July 5, 2011

Shell Rotella SuperRigs 2011

Well, we just had a post-SuperRigs conference call and concluded that the contest isn't broke and we don't need to fix it. Though a little tweaking is in order. Just in case you've never heard of it, SuperRigs is the annual truck beauty contest and this last was the 29th. It is also the event from which the Shell Rotella SuperRigs Calendar trucks are selected, so from the competitors standpoint, the event is huge, with winning recognition and prizes in the main event, or getting a calendar slot. This latter is, for most, better than a show win.

So the event is big -- not in terms of numbers as this year saw a total of 60 trucks through the judging line. But it's huge in terms of the quality of the participants. So much so, that the judges -- five of us -- have to be very cognizant of the role of the truck in this "working truck show."

Quite apparently, some trucks really don't work much more than the show circuit, and that was what the post-show conference call was about: to try to find a way to verify the status of an entry, or maybe create a new category within the show that is just for the show trucks. Whatever, we want to find a way for the judges and the calendar selectors (not the same thing at all) to ensure that the working trucks get their shout at the show.

The Contest
This year saw the widest display of vocations, the most diverse customization and the best ever glamour rigs.  Staged at the Petro in Kenly, North Carolina in early June it was certainly not the biggest ever, but as always with this competition that moves to a different venue each year, the draw was strong and there were some notable local jewels not seen before.

And, as always, there was the nail-biting associated with the selection for the Shell SuperRigs calendar. This draws from the trucks assembled for the contest judging, though with the exception of the Best of Show, the trucks selected for the calendar are not necessarily – make that most often – not the class or category winners.

So in addition to the 15 class places and six category winners, there are three top places for best of show and runners up and then 12 available slots on the calendar. Altogether a lot of reasons for the owners of the nation’s top glamour trucks to pull out all the stops.

This time the Best of Show was a blue striped 2003 Peterbilt and immaculately shined East soft-sided trailer owned by Jeremy Heidersheit, a popular and outgoing guy who with another entrant had been dancing with the band on the stage to everyone’s delight – even the band’s – during the event. As he took the trophy and the $10,000 check for the top prize he said, to much laughter and applause, “The last time I was on this stage I was hitting a cowbell with a drum stick ..."

First runner up for Best of Show was the always popular pair of Corey Radke and Vinnie Diorio with the 2007 Peterbilt 379 and MAC aluminum trailer that was entered under the Rolln banner. This truck has been a winner before with the late Jake Eilen and like all the Eilen trucks, truly creative and absolutely immaculately turned out.

And working. The judges strive to score the trucks accordingly. While a little used “showcase” truck may win high points for its general appearance, its design and for the detail of its turnout, there are categories where the lack of mileage or low annual mileage mean the overall score drops the entrant out of the running altogether.

A local entry from nearby Raleigh was a late arrival and just squeaked through the judging line with minutes to spare. Brandon Smith had been working through the night to get the bright blue 1996 Peterbilt 379 and highly polished aluminum East dump trailer ready and it was worth the effort: he took first place in the Classic class with a truck that has 1.2 million miles on its odometer and was a used and abused logging tractor when Smith acquired it. Like others who put their own work and personality into a truck, Smith's efforts were acknowledged with high marks – especially for the interior and much of the chrome that he did himself.

Million Miles Plus
That’s the surprise of SuperRigs: some trucks are so mouthwateringly good like the Street Rod W900A of Scott Diller, for instance, perfect as a jewel but the product of a hot-rod customizer’s shop. It didn’t figure in the final assessment. Not so, though, for the 2011 Peterbilt and tank combo from Farmers Oil that had come all the way from Cheney, Kansas. Downgraded for its low mileage, this spectacular outfit was elected People’s Choice by show visitors and other competitors.

Visitors have become more numerous in the last couple of years as the Shell marketing folk and the truckstop venue have worked with the local community in reaching out with a parade through the small towns where the truckstops are located. This guarantees a very good turnout of not only truckers staying over, but a lot of “civilians” for the Friday evening light show and firework display. Since the show runs through Saturday morning, many of the locals are back, their appetites whetted, to see the trucks in daylight.

The event runs for a total of two and a half days – but that’s the judging. Serious competitors usually get in the weekend prior to the event to start cleaning and polishing their highly customized rigs. Some stage locally and bring their masterpieces in when they are satisfied, not giving competitors any chance to see what they are up against. Some bring show-prepared trucks and tractors in on a lowboy, but if the judges are aware of this, points are knocked off the total. This is not just a glamour show, it is a working truck show.

And work they do. The last couple of years have seen quite mind-boggling dump trucks walk off with the top prizes. This year there were dumps, tanks, gas haulers, even trash haulers, in among the over-the-highway tractors and tractor trailers. One was a specialty hauler of crushed limestone. Jason Kieffer had brought his bright green and orange flamed Peterbilt 379 straight truck and trailer combo from GAP, PA. The truck, with its highly polished aluminum bodies for truck and trailer spends most of its time in the fields where the limestone is used to raise the pH of the soil. That’s tough duty for a truck that shows at SuperRigs.

The mileages on some of the trucks are quite extraordinary – especially given the fact that they look showroom-new. An accumulated 500,000 miles is a low mileage vehicle here. A million is not at all unusual and there are more than a few with two or even three million miles. The fact that they are so cherished is one of the reasons. One contestant boasting 1.2 million miles without the engine ever being opened said the high mileage was a tribute to the brand of engine – a Caterpillar; to the driver; and to the lubricant –Shell Rotella, of course. It didn’t get him any additional points though.

Points are awarded in five categories: Appearance, Design, Detail, Originality and Workmanship. In addition, the trucker can choose to be judged for engine appearance, interior appointment and customization, best chrome and best overall theme. In addition to these, the Friday night lights show sees the judges scooting among the trucks on golf carts to evaluate the most creative and artistic lighting that on the one hand, enhance safety and on the other contribute to the overall glamour of the event.

It’s a tough call, but the five-judge committee came to consensus fairly easily this year with an impressive and very coordinated display by winner J R Schlaeger with hundreds of lights that made his 2003 Kenworth W900L stand out from the 30 or so other contestants for this category, all lighting up the truckstop with a far better show even than the generous firework display booming overhead.

The other category winners are selected by aggregating the scores that are entered by the judges on the scoresheets alongside the checked boxes. These are opt-in categories for the contestants and often involve stories about how the theme is trying to say, how the interior evolved, how difficult and expensive it is to chrome that particular pipe or bracket. For best chrome, one driver said that on a down weekend in a truckstop he sanded the aluminum rails of his trailer, spending five hours one day rough polishing one rail, then turning the truck around to hide from the midday heat under the trailer while spending another five hours polishing the opposite rail.

Storied Contest
The stories are often remarkable, sometimes terribly moving. Young T J Timblin who brought his Blue Leasing tri-axle Kenworth W900L and Doonan step-frame trailer from Wisconsin to take the top prize in tractor-trailer class was in a wheelchair for this year’s event. He had been helping his father with a load of pipe on a truck at their home terminal when it slipped and took his leg. But he was out there with his crew getting the truck ready and drove it through the judging line just as he does still, every day.

These stories come out as you walk the lot. And the contestants talk to each other and the Shell folk there to administer the contest and select the trucks for the calendar. They talk to the judges, too as most have five or 10 years, returning each year for the privilege of being a part of the Shell Rotella SuperRigs. I am very fortunate. My first event was in 1985 and I’ve missed only a few events at the beginning and at the middle.

So this year’s event was my 21st time judging the friendliest but most competitive event on the trucking calendar. They say I can come back next for the 30th anniversary event and my 22nd. You can bet I’ll be there.

2011 Winners
Best in Show - Jeremy Heiderscheit (2003 Peterbilt 379 and 2009 East Curtain trailer)
1st Runner Up - Cory Radkte (2007 Peterbilt 379 and 2007 MAC dump)
2nd Runner Up - Gerald L. Kissinger (1991 Mack Superliner and 2006 Great Dane SuperSeal reefer)

Tractor Trailer Division
1st TJ Timblin (2005 Kenworth W900I and 2008 xl specialized)
2nd Shawn Cielke (2006 - Kenworth W900B and 2006 Wabash spread axle reefer)
3rd Nathan Tompkins (2007 Peterbilt 379 Legacy and 2010 Brennes bulk tank)
4th Mike Bunning (2008 Peterbilt 289 and 2010 Mac dump)
5th Wayne Baker - (2011 Peterbilt 389 and 2008 Great Dane reefer)

Tractor Division
2nd Timothy R. Hough (2004 Peterbilt 379)
3rd Nathan Deacon (2007 Peterbilt 379)
4th Mike & Pat Manuel (2006 Peterbilt 379)
5th Jr. Schleager (2003 Kenworth W900L)

Classic Division
1st Brandon Smith (1996 Peterbilt 379 and 09 Mac Triaxle dump)
2nd Ron Elledge  (1994 Kenworth W900B)
3rd Mike Mullins (1982 Kenworth W900A)
4th Joe Blizzard (1990 Peterbilt 379)
5th David Ratliff 1970 Peterbilt 359 and 1979 Great Dane reefer)

People's Choice - Eric Heatherman (2011 Peterbilt 389 and 2010 Mississippi Tank)
Best Theme - Big D Koslicki (2001 Freightliner Classic and 2007 Utility)
Best Chrome - Jeremy Heiderscheit (2003 Peterbilt 379 and 2009 East Curtain trailer)
Best Interior - Gerald L. Kissinger (1991 Mack Superliner and 2006 Great Dane SuperSeal)
Best Engine - Gerald L. Kissinger (1991 Mack Superliner and 2006 Great Dane SuperSeal)
Best Lights - Jr. Schleager (2003 Kenworth W900L)

Wayne Baker (2011 Pete 389 and 2008 Great Dane 53' Refer)
Scott Diller (1981 Kenworth W900A)
Ron Elledge (1994 Kenworth  W900)
Ray Graves (1982 Peterbilt 359)
Eric Heatherman (2011 Peterbilt 389 and 2010 Mississippi Tank)
Jeremy Heiderscheit (2003 Peterbilt 379 and 2009 East Curtain trailer)
Gerald L. Kissinger (1991 Mack Superliner and 2006 Great Dane SuperSeal)
Michael LeJeune (1987 Peterbilt and 2009 Timpte)
Jake Lindamood (2011 Peterbilt 389)
Cory Radkte (2007 Peterbilt 379 and 2007 MAC)
Joe Rondeau (2011 Peterbilt 389)
Randy Supak (2010 Kenworth W900L)
Bill Warner Jr (1989 Ford LTL and 2010 Mac Dump)
Jeremy Lane (2006 Peterbilt 379 Ex. HD)

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