Monster Jam. It’s all about high-flying trucks with shouty, methanol alcohol burning supercharged V8s and suspension that could cushion a planet’s collision with a another, um, planet. They are the culmination of Americanism. They are brash, they are loud, they are, in the grand scheme of things, daft, but man alive are they awesome.
But where the hell did they come from? Did a Dodge have sex with with a tyre factory and monster trucks were the resultant offspring? Fun though that image is, the reality is a bit more grounded. They were created by a man. A man called Bob.
We’re something of a nerd when it comes to monster trucks. Ever since we were knee high to a grasshopper, we have been obsessed with these wheeled behemoths. Our aunt had Screen Sport (remember that?) and she would tape the monster truck coverage for us back in the early ’90s. With big eyes and amazement, we would watch Monster ‘Vette, Grave Digger, Bearfoot, The Carolina Crusher, and USA 1 et al lumber their heavy, metal frames over the equally metal, heavy frames of old American iron. The power of these trucks, driving over anything, crushing cars with ease… it was captivating. Back then, it wasn’t the firework-filled, high-power, high-flying motorsport it is today. It was a much more cumbersome and frankly, slow, affair. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, monster trucks were still in their infancy.
The first time a big-wheeled pickup truck mounted cars was in 1982. The truck, known as Bigfoot, was owned by that Bob fella we mentioned earlier. That first car crush is what you’re looking at above. It was Bob Chandler behind the wheel, and when his view went skyward with creaking metal and shattering glass as the soundtrack, he had little idea what he had created. That picture you’re looking at is monster truck genesis.
Bob and Marilyn Chandler loved their 1974 Ford F250. What they didn’t love, however, was the legwork that went into finding parts for it. Whether it had been wrecked in the pursuit of going off-road, or whether it was just time for an upgrade, the couple from St. Louis, Missouri, found it near impossible to get the parts they needed. So, to remedy the situation, they created the Midwest Four Wheel Drive and Performance Centre.
We’re talking about the late ’70s here, so going viral was the reserve of medial professionals. As such, it was word of mouth that would get the new company known in what was and still is a very competitive market in the US. The truck gained the name ‘Bigfoot’ as well as a whole host of modifications including a bigger V8 engine, military-grade axles that allowed for front and rear steering (thus making the truck, as Bob called it, 4x4x4), suspension lifts and of course, huge tyres. Though not as huge as what you’ll find on a Monster today.
In 1981, with business doing well, Bob had the silly idea of trying to drive Bigfoot over some cars. It was a feat that brought with it many unknowns. Bob had no idea if it was even possible, but he wanted to have a go. And have a go he did. Handily, he filmed it too.
Bob played the video in his shop, and in 1982 an events promoter asked him to do it in front of a crowd. So he did. And because Americans are simple beasts, they loved it. We are talking about the nation that gave us – and lauded – the work of people like Michael ‘blow everything up’ Bay after all. Yanks love destruction. They also like pickup trucks. This was always destined to be a success.
Word got out and Bob’s business exploded. He had to build more Bigfoot trucks to satisfy the countrywide appetite for seeing cars fall victim to big tyres. And big they were. Bigfoot 1, as it become known, was soon the baby of the Chandler fleet. Bob’s discover and utilisation of agricultural flotation tyres made the trucks even bigger, giving them the look they still have today.
Soon though, the appearances weren’t enough. Monster trucks, or more specifically Bigfoot, was part of American pop culture. It starred in films like Police Academy, Road House and Cannonball Run II. And with it, people wanted more.
There was a demand for a competition, and thanks to Bob’s booming business selling the parts to build monster trucks, there were soon other trucks with which the Bigfoot trucks could compete. In 1988, the first championship took place, seeing trucks like Bigfoot, USA 1, Grave Digger, Bearfoot and more battle it out in stadiums filed to brim with fans hungry for bent metal, high-revving V8s and thanks to the addition of courses incorporating varying terrain, big jumps.
These trucks were slow to start with, with many of them built for the novelty (looking at you, Monster ‘Vette) despite being ingratiated into this new championship. Some lumbered over the courses and the cars like lethargic elephants. It was still a spectacle, but it was hardly high octane.
Thankfully, the competition served to heat things up. The trucks got faster, despite basically being road-going trucks on a big steel chassis. Though that soon changed thanks to Bob. He employed CAD to build trucks with tubular frames – very much the early incarnation of what we have today – which allowed for big weight savings and greater suspension travel. Engines moved from gasoline to methanol alcohol (and they also moved to be mid-mounted in most cases) with forced induction via the addition of supercharges, too, further pushing the boundaries of what could be done.
Through the ’90s the development continued and the trucks reached new heights, both literally and figuratively. Now they’re two or three thousand horsepower animals that can fly through air with ease, they have enough grunt to back-flip, front-flip and even ‘cyclone’ themselves out of trouble. Or they can just do nose stands. No, really.
The bodies are now fibreglass, the racing is incredibly fast, the championship now includes a freestyle round in which trucks are encouraged to perform and fly until they destroy themselves. It’s all just brilliant.
And to think, this all happened because a man called Bob. A man who drove a ’75 F250 over some scrap cars as a, and this his word, “joke”. Unbelievable.