Events, Truck Shows

Truckstar Festival – The Netherlands’ festival of big fun

The Truckstar Festival is not only the biggest truck event of its kind in Europe, it’s known as the continent’s most “fun festival”. Warren Aitken travelled to the TT circuit at Assen in The Netherlands to take part in the celebration of light, sound and mind-blowing trucks.

In order to do this story justice, I went searching for the most appropriate descriptive words I could find.

Remarkable, astounding, incredible, awesome, mind-blowing, impressive, fantastic, tremendous, pre-eminent and unsurpassed. 

All these words are emotive and powerful in their own right. All of them can conjure a sense of amazement and wonder. However, individually none of them hold the gravitas required to get my point across.

This was my first journey into Europe and subsequently my first journey to the Truckstar Festival.

The entire experience requires words that summarise how unbelievably cool the trip was, how monstrously mind-blowing the festival was, and how fantastically friendly the truck fans were.

The fairground inside the track really ramps up at night. 

Hence, I used my thesaurus to find the most accurate descriptive words I could.

With so much to say, it’s hard to know where to begin. I can honestly say this was one of the best shows – sorry… festivals – I have ever been to.

Sure it was a long trek to get there. All up I think I had about 21 hours up in the air.

If you are at the fancy end of the plane it may be no issue, but for guys my size, down in cattle class, 21 hours is a pretty hefty effort. Even with that and knowing I would have the same on the way home, it was worth it.

The Truckstar Festival was like nothing I have ever experienced. Whether you are a fan of the Euro gear or not, these guys take customising and cleaning to a whole new level.

And do you remember the old adage, ‘It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality’? Well, the Truckstar Festival blows that out of the water because it’s packed with quality and quantity. I mean it’s seriously packed with quantity.

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Let’s start there. There were 2300 trucks at the Truckstar Festival. For the record that’s actually the cut-off as well. It’s not like they ran out of trucks to put in. The 2300 trucks is the maximum number they can fit in the grounds.

That equates to 1500 around the track, a couple of hundred in the competition area, and several hundred more in the oldies section, the American section, the heavy haulage section, the tow truck section and a couple of other sections I didn’t even get a chance to see. 

Expanding event

The show began back in 1980, the same year that Dutch publishers Sanoma Media printed their first issue of Truckstar magazine. With the success of the publication, they decided to run a little truck show to help promote the new mag.

That first show was held at an exhibition hall and featured less than 100 trucks. By year two however, there was huge interest in Truckstar magazine and subsequently the Truckstar Festival, meaning the exhibition hall would not be near big enough.

One of the main instigators of this amazing truck show is Robert Servaas. Seen here getting me a few freebies before he went back to overseeing this massive event.

Instead, the show was moved to the famous F1 track in Zandvoort. This was the real beginning of the juggernaut that has become the Truckstar Festival.

By 1992 even the Zandvoort F1 track was being stretched to its limits and the show moved to its current home, the world-famous Assen TT circuit.

The 4.5km track at Assen has played host to such famous names as Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. It was even the location of Jack Miller’s first MotoGP win.

Lunatics on two wheels aside, for the last 30 years the TT circuit gets shut down for a week, the track gets coated in sand and the world-class facility hosts the biggest truck festival in Europe, attracting over 50,000 people through the gates to eat, drink, party and drink.

Along with a plethora of pimped-out trucks, there are concerts, activities, light shows and bucketloads of booze on hand. It is a truck event like you have never experienced.

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Before we start talking about the race trucks and the car football, let’s just explain the truck show side of the festival.

The competitive aspect takes place in the main area of the TT circuit. There are two separate competitions going on over the festival.

Firstly, there are trucks from all around Europe that have applied to compete in categories like Best Paint, Best Interior and other categories.

Those show trucks apply to enter the competition months in advance, submitting photos and information to Truckstar magazine. The Truckstar team then whittles the numbers down to the amount they can squeeze in.

It is a huge honour to get your hands on the top truck trophy and they get pretty excited when they do.

The second competition is open solely to Dutch trucks and has the top 24 battling it out for the title of the ‘Most Beautiful Truck of the Netherlands’.

Battling it out is probably the wrong turn of phrase, but ‘buffing it out’ or ‘cleaning it out’ just didn’t have the same ring to it.

Getting your truck into the Netherlands Top Truck Competition is done a little differently to what we see over here. The finalists for this competition are selected by readers of Truckstar magazine.

At the start of each year, Truckstar releases a special edition where Dutch drivers and owners can submit a photo of their truck, along with all the relevant information.

The trucks are catalogued in one of eight categories. Geconditioneerd Vervoer, Huif/gesloten veroer, Open Voertuigen, Zeecontainertransport, Losgestort Vervoer, Bulk and tanktransport, Speciale voertuigen and Losse trekkers.

For those who don’t speak Dutch it’s basically fridge vans, tautliners/pan, flat tops, containers, bulk, tankers, heavy haulage and prime movers. It’s just more fun to say in Dutch.

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All the submitted photos are printed in a special issue, with each issue having an assigned code. This means whoever buys the magazine then votes on the trucks they like.

A couple of months out from the show the votes are tallied up and the top three in each category are notified and invited to display at the festival.

There they are judged and on Sunday the pecking order is announced – first, second and third. The eight category winners are then lined up and out of those the overall winner gets announced.

All the trucks are working trucks, obviously on much better roads than ours, but working nonetheless. Having a heads-up in advance allows a lot of these guys to spend the weeks before the show detailing their trucks and adding all manner of special touches, right down to customising the trailer’s toolboxes.

Best in Europe

Even with the limited numbers involved in the competition, it Is a mammoth effort for the five judges. That includes reigning down judgment on not just the Netherlands’ top 24 trucks, but also finding time to pick out winners among the best Europe has to offer.

The quality of every single truck in the judging area was second to none. The attention to detail in both the paintwork and the preparation was on a level that tired me out just looking at it.

Sound systems that would rival a small nightclub, paint so glossy the finish would mirror an actual mirror, and light setups that should come with an epilepsy warning and a set of polarising sunglasses.

Whether you are a fan of European trucks or not, you couldn’t help but be blown away.

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Skipping over just how difficult it must have been for the judges I would love to quickly fill you in on the awards and prize giving. Once again, I have never seen anything like it.

The front straight of the Assen TT circuit hosts the prize giving and the front straight stand is absolutely packed.

Thousands of people turn up and watch as the top three from each category line up, with the MC waving the winner forward to thunderous applause. Then the eight category winners are announced and lined up.

The atmosphere is electric and rivals that of a Hollywood awards gala.

When the winner was announced there was cheering, tears and mass applause. You could not help but be carried away by the wave of enthusiasm. Once again, it was an eye-opening experience. This leads me to a run down on the festival side of things.

At the end of 2022 when I first thought about heading to the Truckstar festival I spoke to the legendary Bruce Hay from Drake Collectibles.

Bruce had attended in 2022 and raved about it, telling me in no uncertain terms I would not get to see everything, no hope.

Obviously being full of my own machismo I took that as a challenge. Of course I will get around everything, I love walking and it’s just a truck show.

Well, I can tip my hat to Bruce, I didn’t make it.

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Here’s the thing. The 1500 trucks parked around the truck would keep any truck nut preoccupied for days if not weeks. The drivers of those trucks aren’t there to win prizes, they are there to kick back and have fun.

I was three times over the legal limit before I got 100m down the track. Everybody wants to talk; everybody is offering you a drink. There are containers turned into pools, there are old trucks turned into bars, there are fridge trailers turned into giant eskies and coordained off sleeping quarters.

On one side of the track there’s a DJ cranking ‘doof doof’ music while drunk truckies ‘dance like no one is watching’. Three trucks down on the other side of the track made for a home-built grandstand facing a massive theatre system that’s broadcasting the F1.

You go a little further around the track and you will find parents sharing drinks while the kids are running around having a giant foam fight.

If you escape that intact, by the time you get another few trucks down the track you find yourself having to look up and see a bunch of guys sitting on a couch that their truck crane has lifted some 10 metres in the air, making great use of their super-soakers from the high ground.

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Joyous occasion

I was walking for a couple of hours, went through two camera batteries and damn near filled a 64GB card up. While the alcohol consumption would easily rival the top of the mountain at Bathurst, the atmosphere was always light and joyous.

I met hundreds of people and understood about 1/100th of what they were saying, but it was unbelievably fun.

Like the show itself, I have barely managed to scratch the surface and all my posturing will pale in comparison to the event itself.

The Truckstar team has been finetuning this event for years and can now just tweak things here and there as they relish the event they have created. It is extremely family-orientated throughout the day with plenty of playgrounds and activities for the kids.

At night there are light shows galore, from the show trucks to trackside parties. There is also a fairground with side shows and rides that run until late and Saturday night saw a massive concert with around five bands keeping the crowds entertained and dancing.

If you need a break from the overwhelming awesomeness of the show during the day, there was entertainment galore down the front straight.

From the high-speed antics of the racing trucks to lunatics in crappy cars playing car soccer. Best of all was the annual ‘Decibel Competition’.

The remote control world is taking off at truck shows these days, at Assen they added in the loaders and everything.

They may still have all the emissions laws that we have to endure as well, but the truckies over there put a lot of effort into making sure their V8s sound as tough as possible.

I am still investigating this year’s winner but last year it was a V8 Scania registering 128db. That puts it louder than a jet plane, slightly less than a gunshot and about on par with a jackhammer.

I could go on for days with more info from this incredible show, there is just so much to say. Instead, I will let you go and enjoy the photos.

I will however wrap it all up by imploring anyone with a passion for truck shows, with a love of trucks and an appreciation for craftsmanship as well as anyone with a healthy appetite for the unhealthy and desire for the drink, to make the effort to see this festival.

I will definitely be going back, so pack your bags, your walking shoes, and plenty of camera batteries. Truckstar Festival is out of this world.

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