As a fan of the monster truck industry for now 28 years, there have been a lot of events that can stand out. It is different among every fan, but it usually involves some basic principles that every individual can recall. First…their first-ever event. Second, the first time they saw what became a “modern” truck, and for some there’s a third, which is when they become part of the business and come to an event because they requested to be there, instead of buying a ticket.
Through all those years, it can be a fairground, a stadium, speedway, or even just a small dealership, it’s that first moment that brings us into the business, and we simply don’t leave.
Times may change, the trucks may look a lot different, and how an event is portrayed has gone through transformations over a 43-year existence. Yet, all the while, that one memory of that first moment lingers, and it becomes part of us. Just like the moment one first meets the one they ultimately marry, the moment they purchase their first house, or the exact time one becomes a mother or father, it’s a moment never to be forgotten.
For monster truck fans, the one thing they have lacked up until eight years ago was a way to bring back those memories.
Enter Auburn, Indiana, and a vision among a former driver who just built a truck the classic way, a current driver that was in the process of rebuilding his past beauty, and a fan who built a modern empire for coverage. Jeff Cook, Alan Pezo, and Ross Bonar, along with many others, it began to take shape. Then, thanks to the Kruse Automotive and Carriage Museum, it became a reality. Enter the one item, the one big item, the industry was missing. Some thing to honor the past, and introduce the current fan to years gone by.
The International Monster Truck Hall of Fame and Museum.
After eight years, the opportunity to finally make the drive to such an event finally arrived. It had been talked about for many years prior, and after two consecutive years with major truck reveals that brought back the inner kid in me, sitting on my dad’s shoulders while walking around the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds, I went all-in. With the first part of the festivities moved into a different part of the building to accommodate not just we as participants/fans, but also the locals who come out for a night of bingo, it was a new experience for everyone.
The mere moment I walked in the door, nostalgia became real. Men who I grew up watching both live and also thanks to ESPN and TNN, they recognized me for what I do now, both with this computer and with a Canon camera.
Sitting in such a small area, an old-school feeling with so many nostalgic trucks either resurrected from weeds, or tribute trucks almost exactly like their original predecessors. At the back, right to left, Cook’s first build that saw his vision become real, Shotgun Harry. Up next, Pezo’s original Predator Chevrolet, light blue and yellow in all it’s glory. The King Kong clone, an exact match to Jeff Dane’s truck from long ago, stood proud on it’s full-cleat Goodyears. Alan Tura would be proud seeing Goliath displayed, with the second engine still in the bed. The last two in line, the two that have been revealed the last two years.
The creation of Gary Cook, driven by both David Morris and Greg Holbrook, and the 1989 World Champion, Equalizer, resurrected and reborn exactly as she looked in 1990. This truck up until that Friday night, I had never laid eyes on. Emotion began to overcome me.
Right at the end of the line, a truck that almost was barking when it rolled through the doors a year ago. Right down to the last detail, the original Taurus Racer, a truck that truly began a new direction in design for the industry, stood proud.
All around the building, classic and original pieces from years past, from the original Monster Mash hood, to the original 48″ terra tire that Bigfoot used before upgrading to the 66-inch tire we know today. Displays of models, cards, and collectibles adorned every available space. The newest reveals at the venue, the Lon Ranger clone, and the returning Terminator.
In the back, as you walked through seeing the old war memories and vehicles along with some classic movie/television cars like the Fonz’ motorcycle or the Batmobile from “Batman Returns”, and even the expected General Lee exhibit, the Monster Truck Racing Association had their tech school, allowing for the chance to possibly become an inspector, ensuring their competing trucks are safe, and up to standard.
In this school, men who I grew up wanting to meet suddenly turned the tables and instead wanted to meet me, or have not seen me in a while. The list included Bob Chandler, the man behind the entire monster truck industry, saw me for the first time in two years, and shook my hand. At the other end, Everett Jasmer, who not only wanted to meet me, but also ask for help for part of the weekend that he had planned.
That night, the RC monster show became a highlight when on a smaller scale, a modern event was taking place. It was a day and a night to remember.
But that was only the first part. Day two meant a lot more happening, and even more fun opportunities.
The morning didn’t even begin at the venue, it was at the hotel. Folks that I knew were coming got to chatting in the lobby over biscuits, eggs, waffles and sausage. Enter a Hall of Fame driver himself, Mike Welch, who simply wanted to tag along with someone to the venue, and share the ride. I figured why not, it’s the man behind Monster Mash and Super Pete, let him ride shotgun. So, he loaded up, I fired up, and away we went to start the day.
Up first, the discussion session with the newest inductees. Mike Nickel of Excaliber, Gary Bauer of Lon Ranger, Marty Garza of Team Overkill, and Jack Koberna of Cyborg, all took the stage and listened as people asked questions, and gave comments on the sport. Some got emotional as they hoped to see other past figures join them in the honor. Jack Wilman, who last year had tears of joy when his Taurus Racer ran in the door with his son at the wheel, teared up when he mentioned John Moore, who drove the No Problem Bronco back in the day.
John and his wife, Heidi, brought their original crew shirts from the early 1990’s, but John did not appear to be the same man he was in years past.
It was revealed that it was unclear how long he had in life, as he was battling terminal illness. But at that moment, no one was thinking of what he was going through, but instead saw the smile he had on his face all weekend long. Moore even took a seat to my left later in the day for another part of the weekend, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Moore was also involved in another part of the weekend, one that Jasmer finally got to make real. This year marked 30 years since the first monster truck racing series, the TNT Monster Truck Challenge, and he wanted to honor that in the biggest way he could think of.
So, at that point, it was reunion time. A few of the past members of that season came out for adoring fans to see, shake hands, and say thank you. But, what exactly was my part?
I was the one to unveil the banner and poster that was made in honor of the occasion. With a great touch of the original TNT Monster Truck Challenge look, the top-10 trucks from that season had their picture placed, with the other two key components also honored. One part, Billy Joe Miles, who started the series and saw it be a great success. The other, possibly the most famous voice of the industry, Army Armstrong.
One hundred posters were made for purchase, with two banners to match. One banner was to go up for auction later that night, the other was given to the museum to hang. The posters, according to Jasmer, were important, because he wanted the first few saved to be given as a gift later, and he was panicking that it’d be forgotten. Every poster sold, as those that came to see the reunion between drivers like Moore, Mike Wine, Steve Hess, and others, stood up and purchased one. The possibility of the saving of some posters seemed to disappear.
Little did he know a surprise was coming.
After the reunion, it was time for business. The MTRA held its annual meeting during the weekend to save time for those who normally wouldn’t make it’s original date in December. The focus: event safety.
After what seemed to be an eternity, which in reality was only a few hours, it became clear that the focus was preventive measures not just on trucks, but also communication, and analysis. The best idea actually came from a non-MTRA member, but rather a promoter just learning his way in. The idea: a track grading system, like what is used in IndyCar. The panel of officers at the front seemed to have seen something that maybe they never considered, and looking in each pair of eyes, they felt it was a perfect idea, even if it would take a bit of time to get right.
During that discussion, Jasmer came in to my left, and tapped my shoulder. He said three simple words, “A miracle happened.”
The surprise, the first 11 posters that he and everyone else at the reunion, had signed, were the ones he wanted kept. He wasn’t sure if they were saved or not. But, I wanted to ensure his request was not only met, but not lost in translation. Those 11 posters were placed inside the pair of banners, then the banners were folded, and kept at the closest table.
When he opened the banners, his eyes lit up according to his words, and he simply wanted to say, “Thank you.” For that, Mr. Jasmer, you are welcome.
Back to the MTRA Meeting, because the second need that was agreed on between the officers and the members was probably the one thing the association wasn’t using enough, and only when a negative incident came about. Thanks to long-time Bigfoot employee, who has become the go-to crewman on the team, Brian Bertoletti, it was time for the MTRA to really use social media in a much different way.
So what will come of this? Expect the MTRA to be more vocal on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Plus, there will be more discussion between the members and the officers, thanks to some other social media additions.
Once the meeting adjourned, it was time to move into the big room, where the biggest part of the entire weekend was set to take place.
A catered meal, a cash bar for those that wanted it, four individuals worthy of an induction, and over 400 guests that spent their hard-earned money to come to Indiana on what became a very cold, snowy, and sometimes icy weekend were about to see some individuals that built this industry into what it is now, and now we all honor them as part of history.
The acceptance speeches, from the video of Bauer, to the passion and tears coming from Garza, it was a night that everyone was proud to have been in attendance.
At the end of the night, it was about having some fun, because up came an auctioneer who was overseeing sales of some monster merchandise, with all the money going back to the museum to keep it functioning. From the small raffles to the four-figure bids, it was a fun time, with even some having a laugh during the bidding wars.
When the night came to an end, Welch and I rode back to the hotel, still feeling a monster high from an amazing night. While he went to bed, I ultimately joined friends in the lobby, just sharing stories and laughs. Quite a way to end a weekend where not one truck had to be repaired for the next week, at least not initially. Am I right about that Mr. Alan Fenstermaker?
No cars were crushed, or hills flown over. Trucks remained stationary, until they were tired down, and loaded on the haulers.
At the very end, I sat back in my hotel room, reflecting back on the entire weekend, and realizing how great of an industry this is, and all the connections I have made. Sure, I outright admit I am not the most knowledgeable individual involved with monster trucks, but I never claimed to be. I am just a fan who found a niche, and decided to follow where it took me. It took me back to the place that Garza spoke of in his acceptance speech. He asked those in attendance to close their eyes, and go back to that first moment we saw a monster truck, stood near it, touched it, heard it run.
I suddenly went from being 33 years old…to being five. I was standing next to Bigfoot 4 on a Friday afternoon in Bloomsburg, dad with his video camera filming.
The next day, my sister stood beside me while we sat at the wheel of Bigfoot 9, the first-ever tubular truck I saw with my own two eyes. It took me back to being innocent, with nothing but dreams and wonder. Now, 28 years later, a driver who was at that event with his then-first edition truck, now stood in front of me accepting his place in the Hall of Fame as a driver, and current team owner.
One line from Garza’s speech stood out, even now, seven days later. It reminds me of all I’ve gone through not only in the last few years, but in life as a whole.
He said, “…to quote C.S. Lewis, ‘Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny.'”
I’m just an ordinary person, and I have an extraordinary destiny. The journey has just begun.
I’ll be at the Hall of Fame in 2019. The question is…will you be there too?