For Love of the Game

| July 09, 2005

Building a thing of beauty out of even a plain-Jane rig is easier today than ever before, veterans say. “You can order more stuff straight from the dealer than when I first started to show,” Holsomback says. Even custom touches, such as lengthened frames or stainless fenders, are easier to come by. “There were only four people in the country when we started,” says Karen Zander, who has been participating in truck beauty shows with her husband, Harvey, for eight years.

And while building a show truck may not be as tough as it used to be, the hard work of cleaning and detailing hasn’t changed. To prepare for judging, Stephens and other successful contestants dress and letter their tires, color in their mudflaps to match their truck colors and lie underneath their trucks to touch up chipped paint. “You don’t just go out and spend 10 grand on chrome, run it through a truck wash and wonder why it doesn’t win,” Stephens told Overdrive after winning his third consecutive Best of Show title in Louisville, Ky., in 1998.

Jeff England, a longtime Pride & Polish participant, agrees. To prepare for last year’s Pride & Polish in Dallas, he and four helpers hand-rubbed the entire trailer, “sides, underneath, every inch.” The extra effort paid off when his 2002 Peterbilt 379 extended hood took home Best of Show Combination, as well as several other trophies.

Truck show veterans who win – and keep winning – do so in part because they continually strive to differentiate themselves from the competition, Pike says. He tells of being at truck beauty shows and having another contestant pull in with a rig almost identical to his. “They copy what wins,” he says. “I can’t blame them. They want to do good.” Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s a big reason why Pike says he keeps making small changes to Ole Rag.

Contestants don’t influence only each other. Neal Holsomback, for one, believes truck beauty shows have spilled over into other parts of the industry. “There’re more good-looking trucks on the road now than there’s ever been,” he says. Compared to the 30 or 40 show-quality trucks around when he started, “Now you see trucks running down the road that could clean up and win,” he says.

And that’s good for the image of the industry. Pike says the attention his truck gets on the road is like “a truck show everywhere you go.” For example, a DOT inspector who pulled him over told him: “I should’ve had my sunglasses on when I came up alongside you,” Pike says.

The pride contestants take in their own rigs doesn’t keep them from building strong friendships – even among fierce competitors. Harvey and Karen Zander, who have won multiple trophies with Icy Blu and Icy Blu 2, consider Mike and Bonnie Burns, who own Dream Catcher, their best friends. “People ask: ‘How can you be best friends and compete?’ ” Karen says.
“It’s because we’re always in each other’s corners – a true friendship,” Harvey says.

Sometimes tragedy brings the truck beauty show community together. Neal Holsomback recalls his first show, the 1997 Pride & Polish in Atlanta, where fellow contestants Mark and Andrea Yeats left early when they learned their teenage son had been killed in a car accident. The contestants took up a collection for the Yeats family, forging a bond that remains today. “We still see Mark and his wife at all the truck shows,” Holsomback says. “The ones who were there in 1997 have all become real good friends.”

Pride & Polish veterans say the friendships they’ve built and the pride that comes from driving a head-turning rig motivate them to keep showing. And if their creativity and hard work pay off with a few trophies, so much the better. It is a competition, after all.

“You don’t want to feel like you’re bragging,” Holsomback says.

“Yes you do,” Barbara says with a laugh.

But in the end, for those involved, owning a working show truck goes beyond taking home the most trophies or getting on a calendar or the cover of Overdrive – the equivalent of a sports hero making it to a Wheaties box or a Sports Illustrated cover. More times than not, the work outweighs the glamour, but it’s worth it.

“It’s truly a lifestyle, not a job,” says Heather Hogeland, longtime contest veteran with the 1999 Kenworth W900L, Total Obsession, she owns with her husband, Roger. “It’s about our love for our truck and showing it off for our industry.”
-Laura Crackel contributed to this article.

Before winning their first Best of Show Combination award, Neal and Barbara Holsomback and their son Jay spent two days cleaning the tractor and trailer, including 13 hours underneath and seven on the outside of the trailer. But whether or not he’s getting ready to show Plum Classy, his 1988 Peterbilt 379, Neal says he cleans underneath it once a month.

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