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Firing Order: Remember The First Time You Saw A Monster Truck?

Posted in Features on February 15, 2019
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The other day a commercial for a monster truck race came on my television. I had the TV on, but it was just generating white noise because I was face-planted to my iPad hunting for an inexpensive 3/4-ton 4x4 pickup on Craigslist. Nonetheless, the sound of screaming engines and crashing trucks lured me away from my task. That commercial was the catalyst that forced me to wander down Monster Truck Memory Lane.

Do you remember the first time you saw a monster truck? The first time I saw one was in Rockford, Illinois. I’m guessing it was in 1979 or 1980. It was Bigfoot #1, I believe, and it was crushing a couple of junk cars on the State Street Bridge as a stunt to promote a local indoor truck and tractor pull. The whole monster truck thing was brand new in those days, and most people had never seen a pickup truck with tires that large. I recall that the noontime crowd on that bridge went wild when Bigfoot drove up on the cars, tires churning through the exploding windows, over the vinyl-clad roofs, and across the hoods.

The next few years marked a period of massive growth for monster trucks, both in popularity and number. The pages of Four Wheeler reflected the trend with monster truck race coverage, features, and even an occasional monster on the cover of the magazine. Interestingly, the monster truck craze of the time was far reaching. For a while it seemed like most people had converted their garages into monster truck assembly plants. Overnight, truck owners were installing lift kits and big tires under their daily drivers in an effort to mimic the new and mighty monster truck. Ride and function didn’t seem to matter; it was all about fitting the biggest tires, tallest suspension lift, and most shock absorbers. The result of this recipe was oftentimes a bone-jarring ride, almost non-existent suspension travel, and less-than-ideal handling characteristics.

During the ’90s, the Penda Bedliner–sponsored Penda Points Series was the crown jewel in the Special Events 4-Wheel Jamboree Series. By this time, monster truck tech had evolved substantially. Diamond P Motorsports was on hand to record almost every race, and footage of the action was broadcast on the Trucks and Tractor Power television show, which I seem to recall was on The Nashville Network (TNN) and MC’d by Army Armstrong and Gary Lee. Penda Points Series monster truck racing was serious business, and teams showed up to win.

In the mid-’90s I went to a monster truck driving school to experience what I had been watching. The power from the blown 1,200hp engine was explosive, and to this day I remember the rush of mashing the throttle. However, I soon learned that to be a monster truck driver one must have a body capable of withstanding repeated abuse, and I realized quickly that I did not have that resiliency. I was sore for a month.

Times have changed. Monster trucks, like many other vehicles in the 4x4 world, have evolved into high-tech competition machines that sport amazing durability. Expensive, state-of-the-art custom chassis are the foundation, and most are stuffed with high-horsepower engines; high-tech, long-travel suspensions; and super-heavy-duty axles. All these things are neatly wrapped in easy-to-replace fiberglass bodywork.

Monster trucks have withstood the test of time and are alive and well. There are races held all over the world, and we even see them on display at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

Now it’s your turn to take a walk down Monster Truck Memory Lane. What did you think the first time you saw a monster truck? Did monster trucks have an impact on how you built your rig either recently or back in the ’80s or ’90s? Have you ever driven one? Send your story to the email address below and tell me about it!

—Ken Brubaker

ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com

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