The pandemic caused a lot of chaos in the sports world. Leagues were having to create bubbles so they could compete safely, and control who was coming in and out of facilities. Others had to put forth extreme restrictions since the kind of sport had to involve outside factors. When it came to motorsports, the outside factors were just involving those one would consider family.
Unfortunately, it meant a lot of those familiar family outings had to be avoided, and it meant no reunion to see people we get used to being around.
The monster truck community got effected by this the most, as we could not get together and celebrate what the sport has meant to us all over the years. Last year’s induction ceremony for the Monster Truck Museum and Hall of Fame was done over a screen, as the annual event was cancelled due to the pandemic. What little funding was still saved up went towards production of the virtual ceremony, but during that time the staff managed to land getting a permanent home in Butler, Indiana, giving refuge to an industry that has seen many changes and advancements in the last 46 years.
What needed to change after the chaos of last year was ensuring that the true family reunion of the monster truck community needed to take place.
Not only did it take place, but what I witnessed over the course of two days was true, raw, and moving.
Walking into the new home, which opened officially in May, it had a different vibe and look. Everything was opened up, minus the roll-up door that the trucks would usually enter through for the simple fact…the chill of the air outside would not be comfortable.
A lot of people were already in the building, while others were making the 15-minute drive from Auburn, Indiana, where the MTRA meeting and school were taking place. Familiar faces that had been there in May returned to enjoy the weekend festivities. Iconic names were in attendance, like Mike Wine of Jersey Outlaw fame, and Mike Vaters of Black Stallion. Mike Welch made the trip all the way from Washington once again to see his friends and competitors, and 2018 inductee Marty Garza was mingling with familiar faces, discussing the future of the industry from a competition standpoint.
Then there were new faces that had not seen what the Hall of Fame, such as 2021 inductees Mark and Tim Hall, along with Mark Bendler of the Kodiak, who was inducted a year ago virtually, now had a chance to accept in front of his competitors and friends.
However, the greatest moment for everyone was getting to mingle and talk with John and Heidi Moore, as John was also an inductee for 2021. The thing was, everyone that had seen John just three years prior saw someone who looked frail, and weak. It was revealed that he was suffering from cancer, and they were not sure exactly how long he was going to be with us. It was enough to bring tears to the toughest individuals, including me.
Yet, this year, he was there, smiling, proud and happy. There was complexion to is skin, more hair on his head, and a grin that brought happiness to everyone. He was beating his health crisis, and that was a major boost to everyone in the building.
Friday night was not about anything more except treating the night as a family reunion. Folks from every aspect of the industry were in attendance, from owners and drivers, to crew members, current media, and even folks currently in the process of rebuilding some of the past trucks.
Chris Mormanis, the one behind the rebuild of the original Thunder Chicken, was showing off his collection to many, while Fred Repp of JConcepts RC was there as well, as he was currently resurrecting Bigfoot IV.
This night had no real schedule, just a time to open doors and a time to close, as it was only a reception, but it was one that everyone was enjoying, including myself. At night’s end, a few of us just relaxed in the hotel, sharing a drink or two, getting ready for Saturday’s schedule.
Having already made a donation to the auction that was taking place in the evening, Saturday morning began with a history discussion with the inductees of the last two years. With Bob Chandler himself presiding, the Halls, Moore, Bendler, plus Scott Hess and Mike Nickell all took questions from the crowd. Folks like Christopher Allen, the resident monster truck encyclopedia and curator of the hall of fame, Daniel Agosh, and others all asking questions about their careers and how some of the trucks came to reality. Me, I had the first question on the day, after first saying to everyone in attendance, “After all the chaos that 2020 gave us, it sure feels good to be back together, doesn’t it?”
The biggest question I gave was one that got a common answer, “Is there a glass ceiling in monster trucks?” Everyone at the table said there wasn’t, especially with new technology coming out to make the sport better, and maybe more cost-effective.
But, it was the last man to take the microphone that got the reaction that no one anticipated. Gene Patterson, himself a hall of fame inductee, took the microphone to first note that last year, we were kept apart, because Covid was winning. He then looked at the room, pointing at all the people at the tables, or standing in the background. He pointed to the table up front of the new inductees, calling them his heroes, his competitors and friends. A crack in his voice from the emotion became evident, as him seeing the industry have a permanent home hit the former Bigfoot driver hard, and the crackle in his voice suddenly led to eyes welled up with tears.
As he finished his statement, Patterson embraced his former boss, as everyone in the room gave a standing ovation to him, and to the newest class of inductees.
I was so proud to be among people I first admired as a kid, but now consider friends in the business.
As the main event approached, the casual wear from the day was replaced with business-casual attire for the night. While most put on the usual black jacket or blue blazer, here I come walking in with an all-white look complete with a Penn State jacket and matching socks. Mingling with familiar faces, like the Bad News Travels Fast team, and the people that first gave me a break in the business, The Monster Blog’s Colby Marshall, Danny Maass, Chris Parrish, and Ross Bonar.
This year’s inductees, the Halls, Bobby Holman (who wasn’t in attendance due to being at a Hot Wheels event), and Moore, were joined by 2020 inductees Hess, Bendler, and Dave Marquart (accepted by fellow Excaliber driver Mike Nickell), in earning the sport’s highest honor.
Once the induction was over, the folks that helped fund the new building all got their recognition before the crowd, and then it was time to have a little fun. The night was late, but the attendees always were ready to have some fun, especially when it came to donating money to the museum. The end of the night festivities were always the most popular, the memorabilia auction.
At this point, the president of the Hall of Fame, Jeff Cook, got on the microphone and asked, “Is anyone here a really good, fast talker, that could be our auctioneer?”
Well, no one was exactly raising their hands, and the 2019 auctioneer, Jeff Bursey, was unable to make the trip as he was still dealing with the after effects of Covid, and blood clots in his lungs. So, sensing the need, I waved to Mr. Cook and he welcomed me to the stage. Nerves were there, for sure, but also anticipation. Bonar and Cook gave me their support, and once the first item was shown, a poster of Moore’s second No Problem Bronco, I was running with it.
Not one person said for me to slow down, or try to keep up. With eyes on the crowd to catch bids, I suddenly was in a new environment, but felt comfortable. No different than giving a speech to a classroom of potential writers or journalists, being on stage just felt right.
Everyone came up afterwards shaking my hand, giving congrats and praise for my efforts; an overwhelming feeling that no words can describe.
For certain, that part of the event I will do again as long as my voice holds out, and people want to hear it.
An event that drew a sell out crowd meant not everyone was going to attend, and maybe in a way that’s a good thing. The last event in 2019, the Friday night reception was open to the public for a small fee, but at the same time there was more happening on that night than there was this year. For one, the event was in a larger building, the Kruse Plaza in Auburn. That allowed a lot more room for people to walk around, and also have more trucks on display. It also allowed for a memorabilia area that not only had models shown off, and displays, but also available for purchase.
It gave enough room to not do one reveal, but two, a moment no one in the crowd will ever forget.
That wasn’t really available at the new building in Butler, at least for it’s first year hosting the event. The current setup has a single roll-up door to bring trucks in that are on the large 66-inch tires, but at the same time where it is located is very close to the stagnant displays, such as Goliath, King Kong, Taurus and Equalizer. For those wanting to watch a reveal, it makes for a tight fit.
At the same time, limiting it to just attendees could give it a more intimate, personal, feeling once that new truck is revealed that has been restored.
Trying to keep it hidden until the time of the reveal could also be a challenge, since where the building is located doesn’t give a lot of “hiding spots.” With a field in the back, Dollar General preceding, and a Marathon gas station right across the parking lot, where exactly could a reveal be hidden?
Of course there’s the option of keeping it in the lot, under a large tarp, since most guests will be inside. The factor that can’t be controlled here…the weather. This weekend, the temperatures were cold, in the 30’s most of the time, with snow coming both nights. Alcohol motors in cold don’t lend themselves kindly to starting up, so what next?
All these are items to think about for future, and already the staff at the Hall of Fame is looking to next year, especially with two shows plus potentially a swap meet and RC show on the docket. But, the way the event happened for this year, after all the chaos that 2020 provided, was refreshing, welcoming, and most of all needed.
Was the weekend perfect…absolutely not, especially with so many outside things happening with me and a friend, who thankfully got what was needed to be better down the road. But, it was perfectly needed for the industry.
Donate to the museum, whether it is the general fund or the building fund to keep the doors open and the lights lit. Visit the museum when traveling through the Butler and Fort Wayne area, since this is a true destination for the youngest fan, or the one who has seen the industry from it’s humble beginnings. Come see Equalizer, Hercules, Bear Foot, and all the infamous memorabilia on display, and make a purchase at the gift shop.
Come 2022, it is certain the tickets for the event will sell out again. I am not missing this event at all any longer. So, why would you?