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Shell Rotella Super Rigs brings out the beautiful best in trucking

Pride over prizes draws entrants obsessed with rolling clean

The lines of colorful and polished heavy-duty work trucks parked outside Trail’s Travel Center in southern Minnesota covered the gamut of freight hauling. But they shared a common theme: professional pride in trucking.

Sure, the 37th annual Shell Rotella Super Rigs competition offered cash prizes in its beauty contest. Even without winning a category, every truck had a chance to be included in Shell’s annual calendar that adorns the walls of truck maintenance facilities and is a collector favorite.

The owner-operators from 14 states and two Canadian provinces gathered just off Interstate 35 near Interstate 90 in Albert Lea, Minnesota fanatically keep their trucks pristine. 

“Have pride in your stuff and look good going down the road,” said Jay Palachuk, who drives a 1996 Kenworth W900L with 2.6 million miles. 

The truckers, many with families in tow for a mini-vacation, began arriving on July 25 outside the community of 18,000 residents named for Albert Miller Lea, a Confederate major in the Civil War. Lea surveyed the land that became the town for the U.S. Army in 1835 before joining the south. 

As they awaited their turn for judging, owners polished the ample chrome on their rigs and inspected for flaws that might cost them points. Four volunteer judges walked around each truck, scoring appearance, design, detail, originality and workmanship.

“This is about the glorification of trucks and trucking,” said Steve Sturgess, a judge for 30 of the competition’s 37 years. “So many people see trucks on the highway as a nuisance and something to get away from. Then you see one of these trucks and you say, ‘Wow, this guy really cares.’”

Ironically, more than a few entries were gliders, shiny new exteriors with pre-emission remanufactured engines that cost less but emit far more pollution than newer diesel trucks.

Categories included tractor, tractor-trailer and classic trucks running at least 85,000 miles a year. Non-work trucks were judged separately.

$100,000 paint job

Jay Palachuk entered Super Rigs for the first time this year with his metallic green 1996 Kenworth W900L. He purchased the truck with 1,500 miles on the odometer. It is on its third engine. The first lasted 780,000 miles; the second lasted 980,000. His current power plant is in its sixth year. 

Palachuk spent $100,000 on a paint job and a few exterior upgrades last year.

“It looked good before I had it painted,” he said. “This truck gets washed and polished by me every week. A quick wash job is five hours. A more thorough job takes eight.” 

The interior is all original except for the seats. Kenworth-embossed floor mats protect unblemished factory-installed carpet beneath. 

Palachuk spends eight to nine days on the road at a time, hauling custom kitchen cabinets in his equally well-preserved Great Dane trailer under contract to D.M. Krenkevich in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“It’s a big job cleaning up for a show,” said Palachuk, who last entered a competition in 2014, the 75 Chrome Shop truck show in Wildwood, Florida. 

With the long hood open, the Caterpillar 550-horsepower Caterpillar 3406E 14.6-liter diesel engine stood out because it was painted white. Palachuk said the color was an homage to a tradition dating to the 1970s.

The story goes that Kenworth agreed to purchase engines from the construction equipment maker only if they agreed to paint them white, which would make oil leaks noticeable. Over time, Kenworth favored engines from its PACCAR Inc. parent company. It also offers 15-liter engines from Cummins Inc. 

Palachuk doesn’t understand drivers who drive dirty trucks.

“I should be able to pull into a truck stop and not have the nicest truck there, but there’s a good chance I will,” he said.

On Saturday, Palachuk placed second in the Classic Truck category. He collected a trophy and $1,000 in prize money.

Recruiting tool

Dean De Santis and his wife, Theresa, each entered their themed trucks. The customized grill on his bright red 2018 Peterbilt 389 consisted of repeated ‘7s’ with a gambling motif on his Conestoga-style trailer displaying horse-racing betting slips and playing cards.

Theresa’s orange-and-black 1985 Peterbilt 359 played up a witches theme, with high-heeled boots repeated in the grill. Judges awarded her top prize in best theme and engine categories leading to best-of-show honors and the $10,000 first prize.

Theresa De Santis won Best of Show honors at the 37th annual Shell Rotella Super Rigs competition on Saturday (July 27). (Photo: Alan Adler.FreightWaves)

The couple sold their waste-hauling business in Massachusetts in 1993 and moved to Arizona. They decided they liked driving for a living and contract with Long Haul Trucking out of Otsego, Minnesota. 

Dean De Santis said his customized rig helps draw younger people’s attention. He mentors those interested in driving careers “as a way to pay it forward and get some of these guys involved.”  

Dean De Santis drives a 2018 Peterbilt 389 with a gambling theme. He said the effort helps recruit young people considering a career in trucking. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

The judging

Dean De Santis stood nearby as Sturgess made notations on an iPad. He gave the equivalent of high B grades for theme, design, detail and originality. He liked the polished frame rails. Workmanship took a hit because Sturgess disliked the lack of fenders on the rear wheels. 

“To anyone not in trucking, it looks pretty darned good,” Sturgess said. “Some drivers think if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes Long Haul Trucking (No. 252).


  1. No fucking woth it. The reward most be at least twice of the investing on truck upgrdes spend 100,000 on upgrade a truck for a diploma or just 1000 reward thats bull shit for all the million of dollars rotella s doing out of the trucker..
    The rewar must be at least the double of the invest of a trucker dput on upgrade their rig…

  2. Why would anybody want to recroute young people in to truck driving. I hated driving once cell phones got really popular. Even though I was making the highest salary hourly in the industry, I Went back to school to get off the road.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.