Quarter-century of chrome: 2015 marks 25th year of Overdrive’s Pride & Polish

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Updated Aug 4, 2017
Overdrive and Pride & Polish will feature ongoing coverage in 2015 of the truck beauty contest’s 25th anniversary.Overdrive and Pride & Polish will feature ongoing coverage in 2015 of the truck beauty contest’s 25th anniversary.

Darian Stephens and Pride & Polish first crossed paths in 1997. Following a banquet hosted by his carrier the same year where he earned a Best of Show victory and a few other first-place trophies, Stephens brought his 1995 Freightliner Classic to Louisville, Ky., for Overdrive’s contest.

Stephens’ first showing didn’t yield much hardware, but the competition hooked him. “I hit all the shows for three or four years after that,” he says. “I must have competed in 50 or 60 shows over the years.”

Not all of those were Pride & Polish events, but through the course of Stephens’ half-decade run, he picked up more Best of Show trophies than any other Pride & Polish competitor in the truck beauty contest’s first 15 years.

And despite pushing the rig to 2.5 million miles pulling reefers nationwide, people still often accused Stephens of not working the show truck beauty. “But I did,” he says. “Every day.”

Stephens’ response is indicative of Pride & Polish competitors: hard-working truck owners and operators who pour their money, energy and souls into building one-of-a-kind showcases of their creativity and mechanical prowess.

As Pride & Polish turns 25 this year, it will announce an inaugural Hall of Fame at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas. Inductees will be added every year at GATS.

Beginning this month and throughout the year, Overdrive will cover highlights of Pride & Polish history, including profiles of some of the better-known winners.

Owner-operator Darian Stephens and his 1995 Freightliner Classic were forces to be reckoned with on the show circuit in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Stephens won six Best of Show trophies between 1997 and 2003, and he also won two Truckers’ Choice awards, which he says mean more to him than the Best of Show victories.Owner-operator Darian Stephens and his 1995 Freightliner Classic were forces to be reckoned with on the show circuit in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Stephens won six Best of Show trophies between 1997 and 2003, and he also won two Truckers’ Choice awards, which he says mean more to him than the Best of Show victories.

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The first Pride & Polish was held in 1990 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville. It added and dropped venues over the years, but in recent years it has hosted about five shows a year, including stops in California, Florida, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Nevada, North Carolina and Utah.

Trucks staged at the Great West Truck Show Pride & Polish in 2011.Trucks staged at the Great West Truck Show Pride & Polish in 2011.

2015 Pride & Polish calendar

Here are the dates for this year’s Pride & Polish shows. Visit prideandpolish.com for more details and to register to compete or attend:

April 24-26: 75 Chrome Shop Show, Wildwood, Fla.

May 22-24: Dynaflex Pride & Polish (in conjunction with ChampTruck trucking racing event), Willows, Calif.

July 17-19: Fitzgerald Truck Show Pride & Polish, Crossville, Tenn.

Aug. 27-29: Great American Trucking Show, Dallas

October: PDI Dyno Event & Truck Show, St. George, Utah

Over the years, a reputation for stiff competition and fair judging, along with the nationwide access to varying events, has made Pride & Polish the gold standard of show truck contests.The premier event is at GATS, where competition has drawn upwards of 80 entrants. Also in recent years, GATS has hosted the Pride & Polish National Championship, choosing champions from five contests over the last 12 months of shows.

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“Pride & Polish is the best of the best,” says Doug Holder, director of the series. “There are a lot of really big truck shows out there that draw in hundreds of trucks. While we welcome everyone, when you come to a Pride & Polish event, you’re coming to compete with the best in the business.”

The series also can be credited with driving the rise of custom truck enthusiasm over the last 15 years. That has included competing show truck events, TV shows featuring custom truck builds, the expansion of chrome shops and media outlets dedicated to covering show trucks.

What it takes to win

Bob Brinker, who shows his 2000 Freightliner Classic with his wife Shelley, designed his rig as a memorial to his late daughter, Amy McKnight. Brinker has been showing the truck for years at Pride & Polish shows around the country, picking up a few Best of Show trophies along the way. He took home in 2014, however, perhaps the most prestigious trophy yet: A Pride & Polish National Championship trophy.Bob Brinker, who shows his 2000 Freightliner Classic with his wife Shelley, designed his rig as a memorial to his late daughter, Amy McKnight. Brinker has been showing the truck for years at Pride & Polish shows around the country, picking up a few Best of Show trophies along the way. He took home in 2014, however, perhaps the most prestigious trophy yet: A Pride & Polish National Championship trophy.

Pride & Polish’s high judging standards are well known among those who compete in the show circuit. It’s part of what draws the country’s best competitors.

“If you’re going to show at the top level, you have to be dedicated to your truck,” says Bob Brinker, a longtime Pride & Polish competitor and perennial winner. “It ain’t ‘Drive it every day and stop and get it washed and waxed before the competition.’ Every minute you have, you’re working on your truck, and that’s what it takes to compete at the top level.”

Brinker, who shows his truck with his wife, Shelley, is the reigning Pride & Polish National Champion in the Working Bobtail category. He’s also won a bevy of other Best of Show victories at Pride & Polish events in his 14 years of showing his 2000 Freightliner Classic XL.

Brinker has about $125,000 in the truck and its custom build. But it’s not uncommon for him to spend $10,000 a year cleaning and prepping the rig for shows or adding new features.

It also takes a never-ending supply of elbow grease, which Brinker readily supplies. “For the last 10 or 12 years, every weekend in the summer, all I do is work on the truck,” he says. “Getting it ready or polishing or adding. If you want to compete with the big dogs, you better be a big dog.”

Longtime Pride & Polish competitor and small fleet owner Bill Sandvik has picked up Best of Show honors at multiple Pride & Polish venues over the years, and he’s had two different trucks featured on the cover of Overdrive for Pride & Polish victories. Sandvik’s personal truck, a 2005 Peterbilt 379, won the inaugural Pride & Polish National Championship in 2011, earning him a spot on Overdrive’s October 2011 cover. Three years earlier, a 1992 Peterbilt 379 in Sandvik’s fleet, shown by Isaac Aguilar, won Best of Show and was featured here on the October cover of Overdrive that year.Longtime Pride & Polish competitor and small fleet owner Bill Sandvik has picked up Best of Show honors at multiple Pride & Polish venues over the years, and he’s had two different trucks featured on the cover of Overdrive for Pride & Polish victories. Sandvik’s personal truck, a 2005 Peterbilt 379, won the inaugural Pride & Polish National Championship in 2011, earning him a spot on Overdrive’s October 2011 cover. Three years earlier, a 1992 Peterbilt 379 in Sandvik’s fleet, shown by Isaac Aguilar, won Best of Show and was featured here on the October cover of Overdrive that year.

Likewise, the late Bill Hall Jr. – an annual odds-on favorite to take home an armful of trophies at the Great American Trucking Show – said he used to spend $25,000 each year on new paint to ready his 2004 Kenworth W900L. He said he gave similar treatment to the rest of the baby blue show trucks he brought to the competition each year.

Suzanne Stempinski, a former competitor who’s now a show organizer, says competition steadily has become fiercer. “Trucks have gotten cleaner, expectations have gotten higher,” she says. “Pride & Polish shows are the toughest, most competitive shows there are. If you’re not bringing your A game, you’re not competing.”

That stiff competition, however, is part of the show’s allure, she says. “If you can do well at a Pride & Polish competition, you have undisputed bragging rights, and you’re going to see pictures of your truck everywhere – in magazines, online.”

After roughly a decade-long hiatus, Pride & Polish brought back the Truckers’ Choice award in 2013. It was brought into the modern era, too: Overdrive readers cast votes online from the pool of National Championship competitors, chosen at the preceding Pride & Polish stops throughout the year. Both in 2013 and 2014, owner-operator Austin Ashley’s 2007 Peterbilt 379 won the award. He also won the National Championship in the Limited-Mileage Combo category in 2014. Here’s his truck on the cover of Overdrive’s September 2014 issue.After roughly a decade-long hiatus, Pride & Polish brought back the Truckers’ Choice award in 2013. It was brought into the modern era, too: Overdrive readers cast votes online from the pool of National Championship competitors, chosen at the preceding Pride & Polish stops throughout the year. Both in 2013 and 2014, owner-operator Austin Ashley’s 2007 Peterbilt 379 won the award. He also won the National Championship in the Limited-Mileage Combo category in 2014. Here’s his truck on the cover of Overdrive’s September 2014 issue.

However, it doesn’t always take deep pockets and loads of custom features to compete. A clean truck with an owner dedicated to details, such as owner-operator Mike Burns, has as good a shot as any at winning Best of Show.

Burns competed annually in Pride & Polish shows in Louisville, Ky., and Dallas between 1996 and 2003. His category’s First Place award was an annual bout between him and a few other competitors. Burns also took home several Truckers’ Choice awards.

But other than some murals added when he first bought the ’96 Kenworth new, Burns didn’t outfit the rig with too many pricey add-ons. He did, however, put in the work necessary to make his 1996 Kenworth W900 a winner.

“I would pull it off the road for about three weeks to get it cleaned up and polished,” Burns says of his pre-show routing. “I kept the truck up in tip-top shape.”

Finding friends in fierce competitors

Mike Burns’ 1996 Kenworth W900L features airbrushed art of his children, one on each side of the truck. Here’s Overdrive’s 1996 coverage of Burns’ Truckers’ Choice award.Mike Burns’ 1996 Kenworth W900L features airbrushed art of his children, one on each side of the truck. Here’s Overdrive’s 1996 coverage of Burns’ Truckers’ Choice award.

Pride & Polish competitors square off in intense competition on the show floor, but they often bond as colleagues and good friends.

Prior to every show’s judging, competitors spend hours cleaning and polishing their rigs, chatting with each other and even lending supplies to help each other get the job done.

Mike Burns, who used to show his 1996 Kenworth W900 annually at Pride & Polish events, says he and a group of other Pride & Polish competitors regretted seeing each other only once a year. So they decided to make a tradition out of spending New Year’s Day together.

“It’s something I’ll cherish the rest of my life,” Burns says. The gatherings relocated each year, with those in the group taking turns hosting. The tradition lasted nearly a decade.

Bob Brinker, who competes annually with his 2000 Freightliner Classic, says he’s built friendships on the show circuit that now “are almost like family.”

Though Brinker echoes Burns’ thoughts about seeing his friends only on occasion, Pride & Polish helps boost camaraderie among competitors and the trucking industry as a whole, he says.

“Truck drivers aren’t the only ones that see the trucks,” Brinker says. “It helps the industry to have these trucks out here on the road. I get thumbs-ups every day all day long from cars. It helps our image quite a bit, I think.”