Everett Jasmer and USA-1: The First Monster Truck Champion
There is always something to be said about being the first in anything. The Green Bay Packers were the first to win the Super Bowl. Tim Flock won the first NASCAR Cup championship. Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500.
In monster truck racing, one team and truck has the honor of being the first monster truck world champion. That team is USA-1 4x4, led by Everett Jasmer.
Recently, by chance, Jasmer got in contact with me regarding another one of my monster truck articles that I wrote on Bleacher Report. Jasmer has been out of the spotlight in today's monster truck industry because of his views on the sport. Despite having that first title, he says shortly after, the industry began going in a different direction. One that he didn't agree with.
That lack of exposure has put him in a bind financially; he may look to selling all or part of the business. Jasmer still does display and exhibition work in his home state of Minnesota, but has not raced since the early 1990s.
Jasmer was kind enough to recently take some time out of his schedule to sit down and do an interview. We discussed the beginning of monster truck racing, the championship in 1988, the struggles that followed, and his view of the industry today.
Dustin Parks: Let's go back to the first ever side-by-side monster truck competition at the Louisiana Superdome in 1985. What do you think that meant to the monster truck industry at the time?
Everett Jasmer: Well, keep in mind at the time it was still a promoter-run exhibition event. But, it was the first time they would let us compete, so to say. It was a stepping stone to me. It was a chance, on a one shot basis, to compete, and it was exciting.
I looked at it as a movement in the right direction. I came from a racing background and I pushed really hard for anything competitive for monster trucks since early on.
It was a unique feel. The promoter just took a sampling of what we did up to that point and made it into one competition.
DP: Soon after, that led into the first official points series, the Monster Truck Challenge, in 1988. You got into the racing a bit later into the season.
EJ: That was the ultimate irony. I had been working on the new truck during the summer and fall of 1987 to complete the truck for Chevrolet, hoping there was a racing series. As I got into December and was completing the truck, there still was no announced racing series.
Chevrolet approached me about hiring me to do the auto shows in January, February and March across the country. Without an announced racing series, I was willing to accept that. Then, shortly after I signed the contract with Chevrolet, the TNT series was announced.
I was in utter shock as my dream had come true and I couldn't take part.
I fulfilled my commitment to Chevrolet, which took us through the first quarter, and I think it was early April when I was able to jump on board with the racing series and TNT. Much to my dismay, the season was probably a fourth or a fifth of the way over with.
I entered the truck immediately with the objective to just go out and do as well as I could and shoot for the next season. It was about mid-summer we found ourselves winning so much we were in second place chasing Bigfoot.
DP: If I remember right, the first event you entered in was Hampton, Virginia, and was the debut of the new USA-1 truck. You made the choice to step out of the driving duties, which I know was tough for you to do.
EJ: I came from a drag racing background, and I was always a motorsports fan, and of course I wanted a racing series, so this was all a dream come true. Two races in, I drove the truck. The truck was extremely good and responsive, but after two races I discovered after all those years of waiting, I was no longer the driver I thought I was going to be.
The business had grown so big and I had so many other responsibilities, when I got behind the wheel, as much as I loved it, and loved the new truck, I recognized I wasn't being a good driver.
I couldn't just concentrate on driving, I had everything from building to maintainence to promoting on my mind. I was making silly errors. So, before the third race, I asked Rod (Litzau) to drive. He didn't ask any questions, and it was the best move I made as he went out and won that championship for us.
DP: What did it mean, especially after starting late in the season, to have the championship come down to the final event of the year? And against the one truck everyone recognized, Rich Hoosier and Bigfoot team?
EJ: It was the ultimate ending to a season, you couldn't have asked for a better ending. It was the final round of that night. We were already ahead in points at that time, but if Rod had won that round, we locked in the championship and Rich couldn't catch us the next night, no matter what happened.
Rich had left on Rod, which was rare in a small stadium in Louisville. Rich left very hard on Rod, but the truck was so quick he caught him in the air.
That was the most exciting day I could remember in a long time. But one thing I emphasized over the last 25 years was as exciting as it was to win that championship for Chevrolet, and all our sponsors (True Value, which was our corporate sponsor), the more exciting part of it to me was the thought that we had started a new form of motorsports.
DP: I wanted to touch on the 1989 season. Obviously, a lot of expectations for the team. I read that you wanted to run two trucks, and had a lot of set backs. It seemed like right from the get-go, you couldn't get ahead. Was it a matter of the competition getting that close, you had to run harder?
EJ: That was absolutely the situation. As much as the truck was the most advanced design truck in 1988. I still watch videos from the beginning of the '88 season and then watch videos from the end of the '88 season; there's no comparison. We picked up the pace so much during that year.
All we were doing in the beginning was similar to exhibition, running at cars, slowing up and jumping up on cars. But by mid-season and late-season, we were running hard and flying over the cars.
As advanced as that truck was in '88, by the end of '88 it was already getting outdated. I started a new design I anticipated debuting sometime during the 1989 season. My intent was to have a newer-designed truck to take the place of the '88 truck. I still planned on running the '88 truck as a second truck, or if need be as a backup.
By early '89, we were running that truck, in my opinion, too fast for it's suspension design. It's easy to make a truck go fast, but it's not as easy to make them handle properly under high-speed, especially for the old leaf-spring design.
But, because of the trend of the promoters, I stopped working on that new truck because I felt "racing" was in jeopardy and put my efforts toward keeping the promoters in a racing direction.
In the meantime, I had made up my mind that I wasn't going to complete that third truck until I knew we would be racing. In fact, it still sits here in my shop half done. I figured I'd finish it as an exhibition truck if I needed it. Never needed it, as everything went backwards instead of forwards for me.
When I look back, I'm glad I didn't finish that new truck, as in my opinion, racing died.
DP: The wreck that comes to mind for a lot of the fans was in Flint, Michigan, late in the '89 season. It had to have been one of the most violent crashes ever in the industry. When did you find out that Rod was really hurt from that accident?
EJ: It definitely was the most violent wreck for the industry at that time.
They checked him out in the ambulance, but for sometime after that he was complaining about stiffness and soreness, which you would expect. Eventually, he went to a doctor or chiropractor and kinda nursed his back for a while, but was never out of commission completely.
He must've twisted his back or something, but he was very sore for some period of time. At that point, he decided that he wasn't going to drive anymore, and then Steve (Wilke) took over.
DP: The one thing I found interesting was that when the Equalizer debuted in 1989, it had a different suspension than the trucks had before. It was interesting: obviously it was a different design and people thought it wouldn't work. Then, Bigfoot 8 comes out and it's a whole new ballgame.
Why do you think people were not as skeptical when the Equalizer came out than when Bob Chandler brings out Andy Brass and the Bigfoot 8 tube chassis?
EJ: I admit, the first time I saw the truck, I thought the Equalizer would never work.
By that time we had another year under our belt, Bigfoot 8 had already debut. It was a high-tech, high-dollar truck. My opposition wasn't because I was scared of the truck, it was a fantastic piece of equipment. My opposition was that it wasn't of the same class of truck as we were running.
I've been accused of being afraid of the truck, but I'm not afraid of technology. I had a lot of new concepts for my third truck, and at the time they would've been surprising, but were still based on the conventional design and conventional suspension.
It was my belief that the sport should advance more slowly. I thought it would be easier for the fans to follow, and better for the competitors. But, it had nothing to do with my feelings towards Bob or the truck, it had to do with my feelings for the advancement of the sport.
DP: After the 1990 season, TNT Motorsports faded and on came the Penda Points Series. The '88 design truck ran one year and then you ran the USA-1 body on some of the other teams that had the newly-designed truck.
At that point, did you realize the idea of a real race series was nonexistent?
EJ: My fight through '89, '90 and into '91 was knowing that things were changing, and not in the direction I wanted them to be. But, when USHRA bought out TNT, that was the death nail in my opinion to racing. Even the TNT series was not 100 percent about legitimate races, they were still run by a promoter, but at least they let us run a series of races for points. It's the closest we've ever come.
I always felt we should build upon that. In fact I've encouraged the MTRA (Monster Truck Racing Association)to sanction our own events, but no one wanted to stick out their necks to do that.
The Penda Series was marginal, but I knew it wasn't what I was looking for. But, it was my only option. I decided the '88 truck wouldn't race again, so we completely refurbished the truck and brought it back to new again. Well then, for the first race in 1992, I didn't have a truck to run and I had a commitment to try and be there.
I swallowed hard, and didn't want to bring the truck out for two reasons: 1). I didn't want to wreck it again, and 2). I knew it wouldn't be competitive. But, I had a commitment. But between just not being competitive and some other things that happened, I felt that was it and pulled out for the rest of the season.
Then, True Value decided corporately to get out of motorsports, and told me they would be stepping down over a period of time. So, on my limited budget, I put a USA-1 body to be run in 1992 with the Hall Brothers and then in 1993 with Kirk Dabney.
DP: In 2000, the ProMT Series debuted. The series wanted to get back to the old-school racing perspective of the TNT series. What did you think of the series when it started?
EJ: My first reaction was disappointment because they didn't tell me about it. I always hoped a series would come about to bring back real racing, but I didn't know about it until it was set to debut early that year.
But, I liked the structure of how they were doing the races. Unfortunately I was so far out, I couldn't sell myself to sponsors to get a truck out there to compete.
The series was very good, although a number of things were done wrong or differently than I would have done. But, I called up Bob and others to wish them luck. I never wish any ill will on an attempt to get real racing back into the series, and felt that it was a strong attempt at bringing that back.
DP: In 2001 you were able to put a one-race deal together to have a USA-1 body run on Randy Brown's truck. When Brown ran the truck, he went out and won the race. What did it mean to see the USA-1 name in the winner's circle?
EJ: That deal was almost two seasons in the making. I was watching the series closely and began putting feelers out to get the name into the series. At the same time, from mid-2000 through 2001, I was working on a new relationship with Chevrolet and General Motors. I wasn't expecting a major sponsorship, but enough to put a deal together.
I saw Randy bring his truck out, and at the time he wasn't racing his truck as he didn't have the license to race the truck. Shortly after, I saw him begin driving and he proved to be a great driver.
So, I got in touch with him and he was extremely excited. He mentioned as a kid he was a fan of the USA-1 and then I put the idea in his mind of actually running the name on his truck. He quickly accepted, but because of my budget I couldn't put the name out right away.
It went on for a better part of those two seasons: he would call me asking, "How about now?" and I'd say "No, not yet," and this went on for a while. Then, I think it was about a month after the 9/11 attacks that he called asking to do it again, stating it would be perfect timing with all the patriotism going around.
I felt the if we got some good publicity, it could spur the deal with General Motors. The body was low-budget, obviously, but Brown borrowed the body, painted it at his shop and we surprised everyone when the truck came out at Darlington that fall. No one expected it but it was quite a reaction.
Then, of course, the first day of the event he goes out and wins the race. So, it was very exciting.
DP: I'd like to do a little word association with you. Just say what comes to mind.
EJ: Never got to know him real close, but he seemed like a nice guy. Really good driver.
DP: Bob Chandler
EJ: He's the founder. We've had a lot of differences, but a good man.
DP: Gary Porter
EJ: Mellow and easy-going.
DP: Army Armstrong
EJ: (laughs) the voice of monster truck racing.
DP: Dennis Anderson
EJ: Do I really have to answer that!? Wildest and craziest guy I knew back then.
DP: The Louisville Figure-8 track
EJ: Wasn't in favor of it, but not all bad.
DP: One of the last things I wanted to touch on was the new mission of the USA-1, America Needs the Spirit of Christ. Since that mission has been taken on, how has it been accepted by those that are close to you and by the fans of USA-1?
EJ: I'm going to go two ways on this. The response from the people that I have met during events has been overwhelming. If I had a nickel for every time I was praised for doing these events, I wouldn't need sponsors. It has been the most rewarding six years of my life, other than financially.
The response from the fans, the old fans of USA-1 and the ones I've been in contact with, has been positive. No one has criticized me personally. I'm sure there are some people out there that think it's foolish and don't believe in it, and that's fine, everyone can have their own opinion.
On a personal level, I've had no one criticize what I've been doing. I know there are some fans that want to see the USA-1 back on the circuit doing the promoter shows, but I've never had anyone express anything negative about this new mission of mine.
I hope that whatever happens, I can find the financial support necessary to continue the mission.
DP: What are your future intentions or hopes for the USA-1?
EJ: My intent is, at this point, to find someone interested in bringing the USA-1 name back to the fans.
In turn, it would keep this new mission of mine, while also exposing the USA-1 name to a new generation of fans.
DP: What do you want the USA-1 legacy to be?
EJ: From the monster truck sport specifically, I hope everybody remembers the USA-1 for being not only the first national champion but one of the first generation monster trucks.
I hope they respect the decisions I've made in pulling away from the sport because of the direction it went. It has cost me my livelihood beyond what I can measure either financially or other ways, but I can't do what I don't believe in. I have to follow my principles and beliefs.
So, I hope they remember what we did. I just hope that they remember I made a decision to keep the sport in the direction of racing and not the direction of "professional wrestling on wheels" that we see today.
I'm not opposed to that, I've always said openly that I'm a free-market guy and the promoters can do what they want. I know the big promoter (Feld Motorsports) and some others have made millions of dollars doing what they're doing, and we have one or two new generations of fans that know nothing else and love it.
I just always believed we could have legitimate racing and exhibition events, and for the most part, the promoters have controlled the business, and the racing has failed. I believe the two types of events would complement each other. Sadly I couldn't do it by myself.
On a personal note, I want to thank Everett for taking the time to not only do this interview, but to also get in contact with me about my monster truck articles. He is a very easy-going and classy individual who stuck to his beliefs, no matter the cost.
There are many videos on YouTube of the USA-1 truck during it's heyday in racing. Visit www.usa-14x4.com to read more about the history of the first monster truck champion and the new mission of the truck.
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