Big Spenders

For Frank Chipman of Princeton, W.Va., cost is secondary when dressing up his truck, Hurricane.”You get an idea in your head, and you just go for it and figure out a way to pay for it as you go,” he says.

Chipman’s 2005 Peterbilt 379 took second place in its class at the 2004 Pride & Polish at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas. Chipman says he buys only the best equipment and runs hard to pay for it. “I figure if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right.”

Doing it right for Chipman has meant investing close to $40,000 in accessorizing his truck. That’s not uncommon for show truckers, some of whom spend twice as much to get their rigs looking right.

“Some guys have more money, and they know how to use it,” says Jim Wallace, owner of Chrome Plus in Dallas. “I’ve been in this business for years, and I’ve seen guys put as much as $75,000 or $100,000 in their trucks.”

“One guy had full-quill ostrich hide leather done on the whole interior of his truck and extended sleeper,” Wallace says. Show truck owners prefer LED lights, which Wallace sells for $12 to $80 each. Wallace says custom-painted graphics generally run “as low as $300 or as high as $3,000.”

Wallace says he’s seen too many drivers invest big in dressing out their trucks, only to lose them and their homes. “It’s like an addiction,” he says. “Some guys get into it, and they can’t get enough chrome.”

Besides his cash outlay, Greg Muirhead of Gun Barrel City, Texas, also counts the expense of down time. “It costs us about $5,000 per truck per show,” he says. “We have to pay the driver, and the truck generates zero revenue that week.” Two of Muirhead’s 27 trucks compete in shows. “You can really go overboard and spend $30,000 or $40,000 on a truck,” he says. “But you have to be careful about what you spend because whatever you put on a truck, it still has to work.”

Unlike most show truckers, Muirhead has sponsors. “Bridgestone Tire, Thermo King, Great Dane, Classic Chrome Plus in Dallas and Valley Chrome in California have helped us over the years,” he says. “They might give us a set of tires or some extra chrome for the reefer unit, but there’s no cash assistance.” In return, sponsors get publicity at the shows.

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Harvey and Karen Zander of St. Louis Park, Minn., say getting their first sponsor took years, even though they had many show-truck trophies. Eventually other factors helped build their reputation: Overdrive Trucker of the Year, safety awards, and service with high school driver education, Trucker Buddy, Big Brother and other charitable organizations.

Sponsors are “looking for positive exposure and media coverage,” Harvey says. They also might require multiple truck show appearances annually, and they like winners. “If you don’t take trophies home, the sponsor might not be there next year.”

The Zanders used sponsor relationships to get top-of-the-line specs on the 2003 International 9900ix they won for being named the Truckload Carriers Association Independent Contractor of the Year.

Some winners find that neither sponsorship nor their own big spending is necessary to win. “Just have fun and stay comfortably within your means,” advises Bryan Martin, president of 4-State Trucks, a retail parts and accessories store in Joplin, Mo.

“It isn’t all about winning,” Martin says. “It’s seeing other folks’ trucks, meeting new friends, and telling truck driving and truck building lies – er, stories.”

Some show truckers find ways to save time and money and still win. LaDonna Salo of Rossville, Ga., paid $610 for a stainless steel wrap on her fuel and air tanks, air breathers and brackets.

“Now I don’t have to pay to have them buffed,” she says, which would cost about $500 for the same parts with their original aluminum finish. “I just have the truck washed and then spray the stainless steel down with window cleaner, and it looks beautiful.” Salo’s 1992 Peterbilt 379, Optical Illusion, won its class at Dallas last year.

“You don’t have to have all that chrome to be a winner,” she says. “Just a nice clean truck that’s sharp will catch their eye. And if you don’t place in the show, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a beautiful truck.”

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