Best of Show

Keystone J.R.
1995 Freightliner
Classic XL
Darian Stephens,
Hereford, Pa.

Throughout its 15-year history, Overdrive’s Pride & Polish Truck Beauty Contest has played host to the best-turned-out rigs in trucking. While they share many qualities – beauty, creativity, cleanliness – no two are alike. Some, such as the Best of Show winner at Overdrive’s inaugural 1990 Pride & Polish, memorialize fallen heroes. Others, such as 2004’s Best of Show bobtail, celebrate family life. Still others, such as the winningest Pride & Polish rig of all time, showcase their owners’ quest for perfection. All turn heads.

From the start, as the first truck beauty contest to be held in conjunction with a trucking convention – Louisville’s Mid-America Trucking Show – Overdrive’s Pride & Polish attracted truck show enthusiasts eager to display their rigs before peers and the general public. Records from the first Pride & Polish are incomplete, but the second, held in 1991, drew 40 rigs to compete in 11 categories. Shows in recent years have drawn more than 140 contestants vying for trophies in more than 20 categories.

While many compete, through the years only a handful have earned the prestigious Best of Show title and the coveted display in Overdrive.

“The highlight of our truck showing was being on the cover of Overdrive,” says Neal Holsomback of Sugar Valley, Ga., who with his wife, Barbara, has won four Pride & Polish Best of Show titles with their 1988 Peterbilt 379, Plum Classy. “Ninety percent of the people that talk about our truck say, ‘That was on the cover of Overdrive,’ ” he says.

The first Pride & Polish Best of Show truck to grace Overdrive’s cover was Bob and B.J. Montgomery’s Something Special, a red and burgundy 1986 Kenworth T600A. While judges selected the truck based on its overall appearance, design and finish, the mural memorializing the seven astronauts aboard the ill-fated Challenger really captured their attention. (The Challenger exploded after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986.) Bill Campbell of Idaho painted the mural, which depicted Jesus with arms outstretched, receiving the astronauts into heaven.

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An entirely different type of truck caught the judges’ eye at the fifth annual Pride & Polish in 1994. For the first time, top honors went to a first-time participant – and a truck devoid of chrome. Instead, subtle custom details, such as a Mopar Dodge hood scoop, custom-molded air intakes and slots cut out of the front fenders, earned top honors for Bob Krumpols’ 1989 Peterbilt 377.

The Crossville, Tenn., trucker wanted his rig to “look like a space-age race truck,” he said then. A household goods mover, Krumpols had a flat-top sleeper built between the frame rails to maximize space and still accommodate an office with built-in, full-size desk, fax machine, copy machine, computer and filing cabinets, as well as a complete kitchen and full-size bed, while allowing a car rack over the tractor.

Best of Show winners have come in various makes, models and colors throughout the years, but the biggest winner in the history of Pride & Polish remains Darian Stephens with his purple 1995 Freightliner Classic, Keystone J.R. “We call him Mr. Pride & Polish,” says Heather Hogeland, herself a multiple award-winner with her husband, Roger, and their Kenworth, Total Obsession. “He put a bar up that was really hard to compete with,” she says.

With his first Pride & Polish win in March 1997, in Conventional Bobtail 1992 and Newer, Stephens launched a winning streak that others only aspire to. Racking up a record six Best of Shows – five in a row – as well as countless engine, interior and class awards, Stephens admits that between 1997 and 2000, his show preparation “got to a fanatic level.”

“The level of detail as far as cleanliness, undercarriage presentation, wheels – some people only did that for some shows. I did it every show, and a lot of my friends did, too,” he says.

Although he’s a fierce competitor, Stephens sees benefits beyond winning trophies. “After I started doing it awhile, I saw opportunities to improve the image of the industry and to contribute to charities, while at the same time trying to compete and do well,” he says. Despite the level of success he’s reached, he recognizes the contributions that all Pride & Polish participants make. “Every competitor, whether they win or not, deserves a pat on the back for putting the best effort forth and being a positive image for the industry,” he says.

As the winners’ faces have changed through the years, so has the show itself. In 1995, a new category, Charity’s Choice, was added, which enables spectators to vote for their favorite truck for a $1 donation toward the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And with the number of trophy-quality show trucks on the increase, in 1997 show organizers split Best of Show into two categories: Bobtail and Combination.

The venues have changed, as well. In 1995, Overdrive added a Pride & Polish contest at the International Trucking Show in Las Vegas and another in conjunction with the Southern Trucking Expo in Atlanta in 1997. When Overdrive’s parent company, Randall Publishing, launched the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, show organizers started another Pride & Polish competition in September 1999. The next year, the show moved inside the Dallas Convention Center, a change that was a big hit with contestants who appreciated the chance to ready their rigs in climate-controlled comfort.

One element of Pride & Polish that never changes, truck show enthusiasts say, is the friendly atmosphere. “Everybody’s like family at Pride & Polish,” Neal Holsomback says. “Overdrive knows how to make people feel like they enjoy them being there.”

There’s friendliness among the contestants, too. At each event, participants share tips, polish and elbow grease. “It’s not a die-hard competition,” says Russ Brown, who with his wife, Debbie, has won numerous Pride & Polish awards. “If somebody needs help, everyone pitches in. That hasn’t changed over the years.”

Some have done more than their fair share. For eight years, Phil and Theresa Ferneyhough of Clarksville, Ind., fired up a grill on the fifth wheel of their Freightliner and served participants hot dogs and hamburgers. “We love every minute of it,” Phil said. “The first year, we cooked for ourselves. This year, we did 500 hot dogs and 500 hamburgers,” he told Overdrive in 1999.

Fierce competition tempered with a strong sense of community has been the hallmark of Overdrive’s Pride & Polish for all its 15 years. “Pride & Polish has something no one else has,” says Carol Ann Schlussler, a longtime participant and multiple award winner. “All the other truck shows try to get the same camaraderie, but they just don’t have it.”

Most popular truck color: Purple
Most popular theme: Native American
Most trucks at a Pride & Polish: 147
Years with bad weather: 5
Most Best of Show wins: Darian Stephens with six
Truck with most wins overall: Stephens’ Keystone J.R.
Truck maker with most Best of Show wins: Peterbilt
Amount raised for charity: Nearly $15,000 since 1995

Without question, winning Best of Show – and a spot on Overdrive’s cover – is the prize every Pride & Polish contestant dreams about. But another title carries its own badge of honor: Participants’ Choice.

“That’s the biggie of my life,” says Heather Hogeland of Fontana, Calif., who with her husband, Roger, has won numerous awards with their 1996 Kenworth, Total Obsession, including tying for a 1998 Participants’ Choice award with Russ and Debbie Brown of Oklahoma City. “That stays in my living room.”

Started in 1996, Participants’ Choice – originally called Truckers’ Choice – goes to the truck that receives the most votes from fellow Pride & Polish contestants, a tribute that even longtime truck show winners count among their proudest moments.

Darian Stephens, for example, has won six Best of Show awards, as well as many other trophies, but his Participants’ Choice trophy is “the sweetest,” he told Overdrive upon winning it in March 1999. “Out of everything I’ve won, this means the most to me. That stuff moves me – to have your peers choose you.”