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IMTHOF Grand Opening: Permanent Memories from a Permanent Home

How it all started is now preserved in Butler, Indiana.

The 2020 season for monster trucks in general was one that got erased when the pandemic struck.  Shows canceled, trucks sat idle, and some single-truck operations ended up selling equipment and found something new to do with no certain future in the industry.  But one positive that came about was the fact the industry’s past was still being honored.

A new class of inductees into the International Monster Truck Hall of Fame was enshrined, but was done on the internet rather than face-to-face.  However, their chance would come thanks to a new adventure and undertaking that began in November.

The time the Hall of Fame spent at the Kruze Plaza was welcoming, and different, because of the museum’s unique additions.  Alongside the likes of King Kong and Equalizer were vehicles like the Fonz’ motorcycle, the Batmobile, and Gulf War memorabilia.  Although the venue was welcoming to the industry, much like a lot of other events across the country, monster trucks and their historical value were simply guests.  The industry longed for a place to call it’s own, exclusive to monster trucks, and preserving what was, and continues to be, valued pieces of history.

In November, an old Elks Lodge in Butler, Indiana, suddenly became a focus.  It wasn’t much to look at initially, sandwiched between a Dollar General store and a Marathon gas station.  But, the building had space, and a lot of people had a vision.

With the help of donations from many in the industry, including myself, the down payment was made, and it was time to begin the remodel.

Six months later, a warm day in Indiana would conclude all that hard work.  Monsters both older and new traveled to the venue, unloading and getting their larger tires put on.  Show trucks then began to roll in, then mega trucks.  A softball team from the Butler area came down ready to volunteer their time in handing out tickets, parking cars, and selling 50-50 tickets.  Over 500 tickets were sold between the “Invasion of Butler” in mid-April to the Thursday before the main event at the new building.  People were still walking up buying tickets, showing how major of a moment it was.

It was time to conclude six months of hard work, dedication, early mornings and late nights.  For about 10 months of 2020, monsters were either idle, or had sporadic shows.  No consistent tours were happening, at least on a weekly basis.  Fans, teams, and drivers were longing for an event where the industry could be celebrated.

It finally came on May 22, 2021, when the International Monster Truck Hall of Fame officially debuted their new building.

Let’s take a view from the writer of this piece, so you all can envision the happiness I had from start to finish.

From the moment the venue was acquired to the moment the ribbon was cut, no one except workers and employees of the museum were allowed in.  The workers even had to ensure no preview pics were to be taken, otherwise they would likely be taken off the job.  But everyone honored that request, and as the trucks began rolling in, still no one was allowed in except for a short list of people.  The show vehicles already had their spots by the roadway, and as I walked into the lot, a pair of mega trucks rolled in, ready to unload and park for the event.

A hard-working crew along with a list of donors brought the new Monster Museum to life, in only six months.
A hard-working crew along with a list of donors brought the new Monster Museum to life, in only six months.

More and more individuals began coming in, picking up tickets or purchasing.  Some even signed up for the monthly newsletter, while others did what most wanted to do…look at trucks, anticipating some major reveals.

As the day progressed, I got eager, and walked around the makeshift performance area behind the building, which was leased from the farmer behind the venue.  The 25 acres available wasn’t fully used, as the farmer had just planted bean crops, so a perimeter limit was set up to allow for parking, and viewing, while also having enough space for all the available trucks to show off later in the day.

Hours passed, and familiar faces showed up.  Jerry Richmond was riding around in a golf cart, while his restored Terminator was out front.  Jeff Cook, the president of the Hall of Fame, had three trucks on display, from his “Silly Willy” fire truck, to his Hot Rod Harry race vehicle, and the truck that started the old-school movement, Shotgun Harry.  The original and recently restored Hercules, Predator, and Showtime all shined up like diamonds, while High Roller and the competition Bigfoot 19 all gleamed in the sunlight.

Walking around handing out sheets to the show truck attendees, Scott Hess paused to receive an artwork I did for his Bear Foot racer machine.  Although his voice raspy due to battling throat cancer, the smile he had made it worth every effort to get it done before the event.

The sun broke through the clouds, and the anticipation came near.  Attendees gathered around the doorway, where out front a golden ribbon went across, ready for the rush of people ready to see the inside for the very first time.

The Butler City Council was honored, it’s mayor spoke, those on the construction crew got photo opportunities, as did all the donors to the building.  Cook said his piece before taking a walk inside the doorway to grab a pair of scissors.

With one motion, the ribbon was cut, and I was among the very first individuals to walk through the doors to see the inside for the first time.

I could go on and on about the trucks inside the building, the memorabilia, and the iconic pieces that were saved and now displayed on the walls and in display cases.  But at the same time, that takes away from the look one would get when walking through the doors like I did.  It eliminates the surprise of seeing historical trucks parked inside, showing how much they have changed over the years.  It also takes away from the curator of the museum, because it’s his job to give visitors the tour of the building and the trucks.  And last I checked, as much knowledge that I have about this industry, there’s always someone with more.

But, what I can say about the layout and the building itself is that everything flows together, and gives enough space to walk around to admire all the memorabilia.

Even with all the welcoming sights inside the building, the fun part was outside in the field.  On the hour between 1 and 5, it was a history lesson in monster truck performances.  It started at 1 when it was simply rolling up and over the cars, not about getting air, but instead breaking glass and hearing metal collapse.  Trucks using anything from the original 48-inch terras, to the now “standard” 66×43-25 terra tires, and even a pair showing off the massive 73×44-32 tires that a few trucks back in the day were utilizing.

The enormous 73-in tires were not common, run on trucks like Samson, Lon Ranger, and Showtime, the latter of which was at the show, a tribute clone to the original truck.  Their weight made it hard to utilize them in a competitive fashion, but seeing the massive tires crush some old iron was nostalgia in it’s finest.

An old-school wheelstand certainly was a moment to remember at the grand-opening event.
An old-school wheelstand certainly was a moment to remember at the grand-opening event.

An hour later, some more intense action, as the Stage 2 era was represented.  Trucks like Predator and Red Dog, which was the original machine named Alien back in the 80’s, showed the next progression, hitting the cars harder and getting wheelstands on each hit.

When 4 p.m. came around, the tubular chassis era had come in, showing that trucks were now able to fly, but be lighter and safer for competition.  Cook’s son, J.J. Cook, performed in his dad’s race truck, a true monster hot rod named Hot Rod Harry, and did well, at least until he pulled back into the parking lot area when the one header caught fire, and caused all the pearl green paint on the body to become black, scarred, and burnt.

No real harm came about as many fellow teams came over to put the fire out, and things calmed down as the even drew closer to a close.

Finally, the final hour, was all about where we have come in the last 45 years.  The progression from slow and smashing concluded with soaring and sailing.  It was time for the modern-era trucks to give the fans some true freestyle, after being outside for a majority of the day, and enduring all the heat and humidity.  And they got just that.

From Andy Hoffman finishing his run by getting stuck on one of the stacks, to Mark Pederson showing why the new Reptoid is going to be a strong runner.

Darron Schnell honored the Bigfoot name with his Raptor-bodied truck, that was appropriate for the event thanks to its retro-style stripes, and then Michael Vaters II came out in his dad’s truck, Black Stallion, trying to close it out with a performance one may see when he pilots Overkill Evolution.  But, after flattening two tires, and also losing his brakes, the afternoon came to a close.

As fans made their way back to their own vehicles to either head home, or back to the hotel, many stayed around, soaking in what they witnessed.  Hands were shaken, smiles on every face, people were socializing with one another, taking in everything just a little while longer.

The event has since ended.  The field of cars has been cleared, hotels that were once filled now have vacancies, but fans continue to speak of their experiences, from the older gentleman with the grey hair to the tiniest of kids in awe of the trucks.  What remains are moments, conversations, and happiness.

What also remains is work.

The museum is officially open for all fans to visit, but just like the efforts to acquire the building and the materials to make it go from a former Elks Lodge to a museum, it is all based around donations.  The International Monster Truck Museum and Hall of Fame has always been not-for-profit, and everyone from the curator, president, secretaries, and anyone else is getting no income by the hour for making this continue to be successful.  It all comes from faithful fans who continue to donate to the museum so the lights stay on, and the trucks stay secured.

For anyone wanting to make a donation to the museum, visit MonsterMuseum.org and donate, either by subscribing to the newsletter or making a monetary donation.  All donations are tax deductible, and every penny gets used exclusively for the museum’s purpose of preserving monster truck history.

In 10 years, the Kruse Plaza was a great home for the history of the monster truck industry, but much like any home buyer, what the industry needed was a place exclusively for them, to ensure it’s history would not be forgotten.

Now, after a very short time, the monster truck industry has a permanent home, one that will forever link today’s fans with those from the very beginning.  Butler, Indiana, is ready to become a tourist destination.

And I, for one, am ready for another visit.

About Dustin Parks

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