In every sport, there is one individual that no matter when their name is mentioned, it is met with praise, honor, and ultimately respect. There’s many in all sports. The NFL has individuals like John Madden, Franco Harris, and Peyton Manning that stand out for their contributions to the game. Basketball has Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and in the modern era Lebron James and Stephan Curry.
Baseball has Babe Ruth, Derek Jeter, Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken.
In racing, it goes all across the board, from John Force to Richard Petty, Mario Andretti to Michael Schumacher, and many more.
When it comes to the monster truck industry, for the last near quarter of a century, one man has earned a lot of respect over the course of his career. He’s done it with one team, sporting many different looks, different chassis, and has seen the industry change in many ways. He’s earned the respect of his crew, his competition, sponsors, and his infinite amount of fans.
He is Dan Runte, the lead man at the wheel of Bigfoot.
Having been with the team since 1989, Runte has been the one wrenching on the trucks, which he still does today, and has set records at the wheel. He’s seen leaf-sprung trucks, the introduction of tubular chassis and gas shocks, to the all-new chassis designs that make today’s machines seem nearly indestructible. He has done it all in the industry, except one thing: walk away from the sport.
That one thing seems to finally be happening. Some sources and pictures that were being shown on social media seem to have revealed something that many knew was coming, but didn’t want to believe.
It is official: 2016 is the final time that “Dan the Man” suits up to drive the Original Monster Truck.
It marks the end of a remarkable career at the wheel. Runte began doing his driving duties in 1989 at the wheel of some of the team’s older trucks, but when he finally got behind the wheel of his first tubular truck, Bigfoot 8, he was a natural. He would beat out in his first event win some of the top trucks in the sport at the time, including Grave Digger, Taurus and Carolina Crusher.
He really started to showcase his ability at the wheel in the 1993 Penda Points Series. Although in doing so, he had to hide under a mask, because he would be at the wheel of Snake Bite, taking on the role as Ricky Rattler. In doing so, some of his biggest wins came that season including a victory at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on a day where the rain made conditions nearly unfit for racing.
It wasn’t until the following season where Runte started to stand out, as he would take over the then-new Bigfoot 14, showcasing the Power Wheels sponsorship in a black, orange and yellow scheme. He would nearly come away a champion, falling short to teammate Andy Brass, who was retiring himself at the conclusion of the year.
Runte would make good on a championship the following year, coming from behind all year to take the title over teammate Eric Meagher.
In 1996, Runte ultimately would see his greatest season at the wheel. His driving of Bigfoot that season would see him take wins in the first nine events, padding a points lead where no one would catch him.
He would move onto Bigfoot 15 beginning in 2004, and then in 2007 took over the new #16 chassis, one he immediately took to a championship in the inaugural Major League of Monster Trucks tour. He would take home his third championship while touring alongside the 4-Wheel Jamboree series in 2011 with the #16 truck.
The entire time he saw changes in the chassis design of trucks, improvements in suspension, and new innovations in safety. Beginning in 2012, Runte was tabbed as the driver of the team’s newest truck, Bigfoot 18, a truck that was set up unlike any truck in the past, with a lower center of gravity, better suspension, longer wheelbase, and a very radical new body.
Runte would pilot that truck to a championship in the Toughest Monster Truck Tour, something he did in the truck another two seasons.
His biggest accomplishment in that truck came later that year, when at the Indiana State Fairgrounds he would launch the truck back into the record books. Runte would reclaim a record that was broken a few years prior by putting #18 in the Guinness Book of World Records with a 214′ 8″ ramp jump, a record that he at one time said he felt would never go after again.
He’s held the speed record in the 1/8th mile, topping Bigfoot at nearly 87 mph. He has been voted MTRA Driver of the Year on six different occasions, and is responsible for 13 championships for the Bigfoot team.
Yet through it all, Runte’s biggest accomplishment is being able to enjoy his time with the fans, the ones who continue to come out and draw to the Bigfoot team like a magnet to steel. Runte enjoys every moment he spends alongside the people, and wants to give them the best show possible.
Now in his second year behind the wheel of Bigfoot #21, he is going for a fifth consecutive title on the Toughest Monster Truck Tour, and is quite possibly on his way to doing so.
He also is more than likely going to be finishing his career competing at the 4-Wheel Jamborees in Lima, OH, then Bloomsburg, PA, and finally at Indianapolis, IN. That tour was what gave him his first championship, and has been the source of many of his great rivalries. Whether it was competing against the likes of Gary Porter, Mark Hall, or even his teammates like Andy Brass, Eric Meagher, or Larry Swim, he competed to the best of his ability, the ability that has only gotten better with experience and equipment.
When that final race, and final freestyle, conclude for Runte, and he steps out of the truck the final time, that is when it will sink in. The helmet, the HANS device, the fire suit; once they are put away, the realization is there. This is the final ride for Runte.
So what can be said to someone who has gotten to live a dream for over a quarter century? Someone who has seen so many changes in the sport, and so many changes within one team, what words can be spoken? What has not been said about a man that simply drives a truck, and has a favorite quote of “It’s all about the t-shirts”?
All of us that follow the sport, whether it’s done as a writer, photographer, announcer, driver, crew, or a fan, all can sum it up with one statement.
THANK YOU, DAN!