Double the Fun
It's a truck show. It's a calendar. It's SuperRigs 2009, and the judges are very particular.
Story and photos by Paul Hartley
In late June, the Shell Rotella SuperRigs event rolled into Oak Grove, Mo., a hamlet just east of Kansas City, and pitched its gigantic blue and white tent at a sprawling truckstop along I-70. The event, now in its 27th year, drew truckers from across the nation and Canada who were intent on (1) winning one or more of the numerous truck-beauty trophies or (2) being chosen for a page in the 2010 SuperRigs calendar. Despite the $10,000 top prize, it’s likely that all serious participants were actually more interested in their chances of being photographed for the calendar than the 15 minutes they spend showing their rigs to the judges.
The calendar and competition are only loosely associated. Both are sponsored by Shell, of course, and they occur simultaneously, and in the same general area. Their schedules are different, however, as are their goals and, for the most part, trucks. Only the Best of Show winner is guaranteed a spot on the prestigious calendar. The reasons for this separation are both logistical and practical.
The photography begins well before the judging, largely to ensure that the crew has enough time to do its job. The plan is to shoot two trucks per day, Tuesday through Sunday. The competitive activities, though, start Thursday and conclude with an award ceremony Saturday. Participating truckers often spend days preparing for the show, says David Waterman, marketing manager for Shell. “Once it wraps up, most of these guys need to get back on the road quickly and start making money again. They usually don’t have time afterward for photos.”
Another consideration is calendar design. The chosen trucks should be suitable for the settings in which they’re photographed. “We’re trying to tell a story with every page,” says Man Ha, the art director who worked on this year’s project. “That doesn’t always work out so well, but it’s our goal.”
One of Ha’s best-matched images in Missouri depicted an impressively renovated 2001 Peterbilt and shiny new Timpte grain trailer parked in the manicured driveway of a local ranch. The truck’s owner, Jake Nolan of Keystone, Iowa, was delighted with the attention his rig was getting.
“I was working on my truck when a woman from Shell came over and started asking questions,” says Nolan, a first-time SuperRigs participant. “Next thing you know, she introduces me to the photographer and art director, and they asked if I wanted to be on the calendar. Obviously, I did,” he says with a broad smile.
Nolan’s ready cooperation is typical of truckers who’ve been chosen for a spot. Sometimes, the responses are borderline hysterical, says Scott Williams, an agency executive who helped organize SuperRigs events between 1990 and 2004.
“Offering a page on the calendar was always the best part of my job,” Williams says. “We’d pick out trucks, then talk with the owners to ensure they used Shell products. When we’d ask if they’d be available for a photo session, a lot of them would start jumping up and down, crying, calling their friends and family, kissing and hugging people. Sometimes I’d get choked up just talking with them.”
If doling out fame is the event’s easiest gig, truck judging has to be its toughest. Five people drawn from industry media outlets took on the task this year. Four were veterans of previous SuperRigs competition. Bruce Smith was the newcomer.
“I was nervous going into it,” Smith says. “I wanted to make sure my scoring criteria matched that of the others. But Eric Harley and Steve Sturgess (both veteran judges at SuperRigs and other events) kept telling me that didn’t matter, as long as I stayed consistent throughout the event.
“There is no right or wrong in this judging,” he continues. “Each of us was probably ranking things a little differently. I think this diversity was a real benefit, making the process as fair and accurate as it could be.”
Fellow judge Jami Jones agrees, adding that she and her colleagues took their jobs quite seriously. “SuperRigs is like the Super Bowl of show-truck competition. The participating truckers have put days, weeks, sometimes months, of work into their equipment, just to have 15 minutes of our attention. It’s our duty to ensure their efforts don’t go unnoticed.”
Apparently the judges were particularly pleased with Brad Caton’s efforts, which involved almost singlehandedly cleaning and polishing two tractor-trailer combinations and getting very little sleep during his two days of preparation. Caton won the event’s top prize, a super-sized check for $10,000 and bragging rights to the Best of Show title.
He also earned a page on the calendar.