SuperRigs 2012: Paying it forward

By Jami Jones, managing editor

The trucks lined the once-barren field near the Speedco in Joplin, MO, for the 30th anniversary of Shell Rotella SuperRigs in mid-May.

Grass had returned to the field stripped bare during the F5 tornado that devastated the Joplin community on May 22, 2011. Trees were sprouting leaves on what limbs were left. The gleaming new Speedco building, replacing the one ripped to shreds during the tornado, held its grand reopening ribbon cutting.

The evidence of a community on the mend was everywhere.

When Shell Rotella officials began contemplating where the 30th anniversary of Shell Rotella SuperRigs – the “Super Bowl” of show trucks competitions – would be held, Dave Waterman, channel marketing manager for Shell Rotella, said there was only one choice: Joplin.

They wanted to give a gift to Joplin. Shell just didn’t know they weren’t the only ones with a plan.

Shell Rotella and Speedco launched their effort to raise money for the Joplin Family YMCA at the Mid-America Trucking Show.

The fundraising effort, along with a little kick-in to round the numbers off, netted a $100,000 donation to the YMCA. The efforts, along with a little kick-in to round the numbers off, netted a $100,000 donation to the Joplin Family YMCA. Representatives from the Y were in awe of the generosity of truckers. Little did they (or anyone else for that matter) know there was more to come, later in the ceremony.

The awards program shifted gears and more than $25,000 in cash and prizes were handed out to winners in the Classic, Truck Only, Tractor-Trailer, Specialty and Best of Show categories.

Everyone was all smiles. It was a good day.

When it was announced that OOIDA Members Todd and Beth Roccapriore’s truck, driven by OOIDA Member John O’Keefe, won the grand prize, it probably didn’t surprise a lot of people.

The 2007 Peterbilt 379 EXHD Legacy – owned by Todd and Beth’s company, Clean Slate – was a head turner to say the least.

The brass knuckle-themed “The Low Life” and all of its customization easily set the bar even higher for SuperRigs.

As Todd, his wife Beth, John and fellow “The Low Life” teammate Jimmy Congdon, stood on stage I was caught off guard.

Todd was near tears. Beth was fighting them back for all she was worth. John was torn somewhere between a grin and joining them. Jimmy looked as if he knew something big was about to happen.

Todd asked to speak a few words to the crowd. He talked about their vision for the truck, and then he talked about their goals.

They wanted to make a good showing at Paul K. Young Truck Beauty Championship in March at the Mid-America Trucking Show and then they wanted to go to SuperRigs and win.

But not for themselves. They wanted to win for Joplin.

Todd then told everyone the “The Low Life” team was donating the $10,000 Best of Show check back to the Joplin Family YMCA.

Those who know the Roccapriores well, know this was just another example of the way they are.

Todd started in trucking when Charlie Shefcyk, the owner of an oil company in Todd’s home town, hired the 11-year-old.

“It was kid stuff – sweep the floors, empty the trash, wash the trucks,” Todd explained. “But then he threw me in the driver’s seat of their new oil truck and told me I was going to learn to drive it so I could move trucks around the yard.”

Legs shaking, Todd was scared. He hadn’t driven anything. Much less a standard. Much less a truck.

Charlie calmed him down, and that day marked the start of a long life together in the world of trucking.

Charlie taught Todd everything – including how to work on a truck and do body work. Charlie’s father had been a painter, and he filled in with that skill set.

The first big project Todd and Charlie worked on was “Chopped 93,” a 1993 Peterbilt 379. Their goal – to show at the Mid-America Trucking Show in 2009.

Charlie was diagnosed with cancer, but managed to work during his treatments up until a month before he died.

“We were three-quarters of the way done. Beth and I decided to buy a dump trailer to finish out the truck so we could show it,” Todd said.

Charlie directed Todd in backing the trailer into the shop 12 days before MATS. That was the last time he saw the truck. Charlie was placed in hospice care the next day.

“Charlie said, ‘Look, I’m going to beat this so you’re going to Louisville. That truck has to be there with or without me.”

Charlie died three days before Louisville 2009. The truck was there and won Todd and Beth their first awards.

Todd and Beth won the Shell Rotella SuperRigs with “Widowmaker” in 2010. Famous for its customization, the truck was seen as raising the bar in show truck competitions.

This year, the pair showed up with “The Low Life” with driver John O’Keefe, who was nervous but ready to tell the judges about his truck.

“There’s nothing better than to show somebody how to do something and then watching them excel at it,” Todd said of John.

John has been with Todd, Beth, Jimmy and friend Andy Geary every step of the way in tearing down and rebuilding “The Low Life.”

The truck is named as a reminder of how John could have turned out had he not decided to leave behind a young adult’s hijinks and pattern of bad decisions.

“I was on the edge of being a total screw-up. I could have either stayed on that path or done the right thing,” John said. “Getting my CDL and being under Todd’s wing got me going in the right direction.”

It wasn’t easy getting in with the Roccapriores. John had a bit of a reputation. Eventually, he wore them down and got a job and started to prove himself.

“I had a Class A CDL that said I could drive, but I couldn’t,” John said with a laugh. “So Todd has taught me everything.”

Beyond driving, John has also built on some knowledge of body work he picked up in high school.

“Todd is amazing. He knows more than I’ll ever know,” John said. “But I’ll keep working hard.”

John has been a part of the Clean Slate family for two years. The truck was their way of rewarding him for his hard work.

The idea of building the truck came to Todd and Beth right about the time the tornado hit Joplin a year ago. When they heard SuperRigs would be going to Joplin, the Clean Slate team decided to build the truck with the goal of winning the big check.

“Todd started talking about donating the check after we were already working on the build,” John said. “I told him it was a great idea.

“They need it more than we need it,” John went on. “Hopefully, it will help people there – even if it’s just a few people. They are still starting off with nothing.”

Todd and Beth believe in treating people with kindness in everything they do. John is now a firm subscriber in that theory as well. And the people of Joplin are a little better off thanks to their belief in paying it forward. LL