Opening the door to a stunning cab interior design
By M.B. Roberts
Example? Beth and Todd Roccapriore’s 2007 Peterbilt 379 and 2011 Mac Dump, The Low Life. This meticulously designed rig claimed First Prize in the Working Interior OEM Sleeper and Cab category at the Paul K. Young Truck Beauty Championship at the 2012 Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS).
“There are three themes to this truck: brass knuckles, holes, and stripes,” says Todd, who along with driver John “Red” O’Keefe and body shop owner Andy Geary, were Low Life’s primary builders. “The themes carry through from the exterior to the interior.”
Professional big rig customizer Bryan Martin, of Joplin, Mo.’s Chrome Shop Mafia, says that these types of personalized, complimentary graphics, such as Low Life’s hood-to-fender and floorboards-to-seats striping are a hot trend among truckers.
“If the outside of their truck is black, blue and silver, they don’t want the inside to be grey,” says Martin. “They want it to be a combination of black, blue and silver to give it a custom look.”
More than a showpiece
Like the Roccapriore’s previous award-winning show trucks, Chopped 93 (a 1993 Peterbilt 379), and Widow Maker (a 2004 379 EXHD), Low Life was built to be a working truck, so the interior was made to be practical as well as pretty.
“We hand-fabricate the dashboard, then along with the steering column, push it forward so the driver has more leg room,” says Todd. “Everything is designed to be comfortable and useful.”
Low Life’s inside is efficient and ergonomically correct. But it’s also a sight to see, from the brass knuckle-holed steering wheel, door handles, and stick shift, (all complimenting the truck’s visor and grill thematically); to the custom-fabricated, crushed velvet-wrapped Fiberglas stereo boxes that match the bedspread and headliners; as well as lasers that punctuate the sounds coming from the stereo.
“As the music gets louder, the lasers get crazier,” says Todd.
As it is with all his trucks, the stereo system was a point of pride with Todd. O’Keefe, meanwhile, made it clear from the start that certain accessories were on his must-have list.
“I wanted suicide doors and train horns,” he says.
And so he got them.
The creative process
Todd Roccapriore’s passion for overhauling trucks was born of necessity more than 20 years ago when his mentor, the late Charlie Shefcyk, hired him at age 11 to work for his small kerosene and heating oil company.
“We never had enough money to pay somebody so we always fixed our own stuff,” says Todd. “We did all the painting and fabricating ourselves.”
More than two decades later, Todd still hauls oil for C. Shefcyk and Sons, in addition to his full-time job hauling contaminated soil and other materials for his wife Beth’s company, Clean Slate Environmental in Hebron, Conn.
“When I opened my company in 2006, we needed our own truck,” Beth says. “So we bought a truck with a sleeper and converted it to a day cab. Then we said, ‘Let’s spruce it up a little bit.’”
“I remember standing there holding the saws after cutting the roof off of our perfectly good truck,” says Todd. “Beth was just looking at me, and I know she was thinking, ‘This is our biggest investment beside our house and you just cut the roof off!’”
Showing off at MATS
As the rebuilding progressed, Shefcyk urged Beth, Todd and driver Dennis Chupron to ramp up their efforts and enter Chopped 93 into competition at MATS in 2009.
“It all evolved because of Charlie,” says Todd. “He was fighting cancer but still came out and worked on the truck with us during his treatment. He challenged us to finish the truck and make it to the show on time.”
Chopped 93 won six awards at the Paul K. Young Truck Beauty Championship. But the awards were bittersweet. Charlie Shefcyk died three days before the competition.
“We won all these awards but we didn’t win Best in Show,” says Todd. “Because of Charlie, that became our new goal.”
Enter Widow Maker, the Roccapriore’s lime green and black, widow’s peak-themed 2004 Peterbilt 379 EXHD. The interior contains a 6,000-watt stereo system, 60 speakers, seven amplifiers, massaging chairs and a stripper pole. It took Best of Show working combo at MATS in 2010.
High marks for Low Life
Widow Maker’s follow-up, which is still an eye-catching part of Clean Slate’s working fleet, was Low Life, named for its driver, John O’Keefe.
Nic Gillan has customized dozens of trucks for Outlaw Customs in Denver, and notes that a truck’s interior often reflects the driver.
“Maybe a rancher will want a Western theme or he’ll ask us to incorporate a hide off a bull that gave him hell,” he says.
Low Life took five months to build. As with their previous trucks, the Roccapriores and their crew did all of the customizing themselves.
“We built 95 percent of the truck in house from scratch,” says Todd. “When we get a truck, we take it apart right to the frame rails, then we sandblast it all and start from the ground up. The last step is the cab, sleeper and hood.”
Finally, the gleaming, tricked-out truck hit the road.
“We got a lot of thumbs-up from other drivers,” says O’Keefe. “People get a little crazy, trying to get close and take pictures.”
Prior to competition, Low Life, like most show trucks, comes off the road for a thorough cleaning and polishing.
“The trucks are judged with a white glove,” says Todd. “It’s possible to keep your truck nice and looking good in general in work mode, but you have to take your truck off the road before a show.”
Back to work
The Roccapriores enter their trucks in competitions for just one year, so after collecting its awards at MATS and other shows in 2012, Low Life went back to its routine as a working truck, still driven by O’Keefe.
“I wouldn’t be too crazy about driving a regular truck after this,” he says.
Whether going for trophies or just looking for a smile and thumbs up from fellow drivers, truckers who customize their truck’s interior are looking to express themselves through their rigs.
“They want to pull into the truckstop, open their door and get people’s attention,” says Martin. “There’s no limit to what you can customize on these interiors to give it your own look and feel so that it doesn’t look like any other truck.”
That’s always the Roccapriores’ motivation. Back in their shop, they are hard at work on a truck they hope to debut at MATS 2013. For now, Todd is keeping the details under wraps.
“We’re gunning for Louisville,” he says. “This truck is a team effort; we’re doing the interior and somebody else is doing the chassis and the motor.”
The only thing he’ll give away is that this rig is a head-turner.
“It makes our other trucks look like junk,” he says.