KENLY, N.C. – Shell SuperRigs is a truck show unlike any other, and not only because the cash prizes are more generous and the trophies larger and shinier than at most other show-and-shines.
It’s different because the aforementioned prizes are not the main allure that attracts truckers from all over the US and Canada.
Ask any of the truckers at the show and they’ll tell you the same thing: they’re there for a shot at the calendar.
The prolific Shell SuperRigs calendar consists of a dozen rigs, handpicked from among the SuperRigs show’n’shine entrants and photographed at scenic nearby locations.
“The main goal is the calendar, and then do the best you can in the actual judging,” said Nathan Tompkins as he took a break from polishing a Pete 379 belonging to Winnipeg, Man.-based Jade Transport. Tompkins had been prepping Truck #199 for weeks and as he applied another coat of polish under the scorching North Carolina sun, he strained to calculate how many hours he’d put into cleaning the truck. “How many hours do I have left to go? I can tell you that; probably at least another 20 hours to go because that’s the judging deadline,” he said with a grin.
The same scene was playing out all across the Kenly 95 Petro parking lot, as truckers from all over spent hours working on their rigs in anticipation of earning a spot in the SuperRigs calendar.
When asked how much it would mean to make the calendar, Larry Ell said “It would be pretty important. That’s what we’re here for.” Ell was working on Born to Lead, a stunning 1982 Pete 359 taking part in only its second truck show. Most of the time, Born to Lead is hauling wheat around Anthony, Kansas. But this truck also has a Canadian connection; much of the stainless work was done by 12 Gauge Customs out of Guelph, Ont., Ell noted.
Like any truck show, the SuperRigs event is in many cases a family affair. Tyler Gwillim was most certainly the youngest entrant at the show. The 16-year-old was showcasing The Green Hornet, a bright green 1986 Peterbilt he helped customized with his father Mickey.
“I was young when we built it,” he told me. “I was like seven or eight, so I didn’t get to do too much myself, but if I could do anything, I tried. I really love this truck. I don’t think you can get any better than it.”
Tyler guesses he’s been to 30 or 40 truck shows, and he can often be found bouncing from truck to truck and offering the other contestants a hand with polishing.
“He’s little, so he can fit into spots nobody else can so they all want him there to help,” Mickey joked. However, owning one of the trucks in the competition has instilled in Tyler a new appreciation for all the work that goes into preparing a rig for judging.
“I usually used to help other people but then I started cleaning (The Green Hornet) and I said ‘Man, I feel really bad. I left him (Mickey) doing it himself all these years’,” Tyler said.
Now in its 29th year, the Shell SuperRigs competition is one of the highlights on the truck show calendar for any serious truck enthusiast. David Waterman, North American marketing manager for Shell, said the show is held at a different truck stop each year to ensure it’s always accessible to a fresh crop of trucks.
“That’s what makes it fun, seeing new contestants,” Waterman said. “I think by moving it around as we do, we have the opportunity for drivers that don’t necessarily have Oak Grove, MO (where the 2009 SuperRigs show was held) in their route, they can come to Kenly because it’s more in the region that they run. It’s gratifying to see we get some new talent and there’s some old ones too that may do some changes to the truck; it could be a paint job, it could be new chrome that they put on. It stays fresh.”
Shell also is taking steps to involve the local communities in the event, by putting on a big rig parade for local residents and inviting them to a fireworks display.
“What we’ve done in recent years is try to make it more of a community event, because these drivers are on the road more than they’re at home,” Waterman said. “We try to make it more of a home feel, where we invite the local community out and give it more of a carnival atmosphere.”
As for the calendar, only one truck show category winner is guaranteed a spot. The Best of Show winner is always included, but all other trucks are hand picked by the photographer and creative director, who have visited in advance to find 12 perfect spots for photo shoots. During the show, they are on the lookout for the trucks that would best suit each of the landmarks they had earlier identified.
“When the trucks start showing up, we’re travelling the parking lot, looking for trucks that have some unique image to them and would be ideally suited to place in this particular backdrop,” Waterman explained.