In the realm of motorsports, many established organizations come to mind, such as NASCAR, NHRA, Formula 1, and Indy Car. However, there is one other form of motorsports that millions of people watch year-round. What I am speaking about are monster trucks.
These massive machines weigh in at approximately 10,000 pounds, have engines that can make nearly 2,000 horsepower, and run on tires that are 66-inches tall. These trucks have been in existence since 1974, and have gone through many different changes and improvements.
Despite all these improvements, there has been one downfall that seems to keep monster trucks from becoming a huge main-stream motorsport: they do not have a full-on, racing series.
Yes, many different promoters put on shows year-round for monster trucks. Organizations such as Feld Motorsports, Monster Nationals, and Special Events all have a points series for monster truck competition, but there is currently no official monster truck racing series.
To understand what happened leading up to this point, we must first go back to the first official monster truck competition.
In 1985, after years of monster trucks performing exhibition car crushes, the United States Hot Rod Association, or USHRA, decided to hold the first ever sanctioned side by side monster truck competition in New Orleans, La., in the famed Superdome.
This event combined many of the exhibition events the trucks performed in. The first leg was pulling a sled down a track, then after unhooking, they made a complete u-turn, then they climbed up a hill. Following this, the trucks then crushed a row of cars, which is the trademark of monster trucks, and finally a quick run through a mud pit to the finish.
Eight trucks were invited to perform at such an event, and in the tournament-style eliminations, it was the original monster truck, Bigfoot, winning the event over Awesome Kong.
What happened on that night was something completely different than what had ever been done before, and soon after the USHRA held many side-by-side competitions throughout the course of the year.
It was not until 1988 that the first official monster truck points series was created in the form of the TNT Monster Truck Challenge. This included multiple events over the course of several weeks on many different courses.
Over the course of several weeks, the trucks and drivers would battle for points and victories. After a long season of 20-plus events, it was driver Rod Litzau in USA-1 who beat out Bigfoot for the first world championship of monster truck racing.
Over the next two seasons, TNT crowned two new champions in David Morris, driving Equalizer, and Andy Brass, driving Bigfoot. The series dissolved after 1990, leaving there no established monster truck racing series.
This was a major setback because the new generation of monster trucks were being showcased, with tube-frame chassis and nitrogen-charged shocks, and the teams had no official series to race in.
That changed in 1991 as Penda stepped up to the plate and established the PENDA Points Series, which ran outdoors at many of the 4 Wheel Jamboree events during the summer. This points series ran until 1997, and was dominated by the Bigfoot racing team every year. In route to the championship in 1996, Bigfoot driver Dan Runte won 8 of the 12 events.
The series dissolved in 1998 after Penda's sponsorship expired. At this time, the monster truck industry was taking a new direction with the new aspect of freestyle, where drivers would perform stunts with their trucks, such as wheel stands and donuts.
This soon became one of the biggest reasons the fans would come out to the shows.
Over the course of about a decade, some promoters put out a competition for freestyle, which judged based on performance and fan response. This competition has been taken to the extreme in recent years in the USHRA with huge obstacles and drivers taking their trucks to the breaking point and beyond.
Freestyle was taken to a new level this year at the USHRA Monster Jam World Finals when, after the competition on the track concluded, driver Tom Meents took his Maximum Destruction truck and performed a back flip. Yes, a 10,000-pound monster truck, doing a complete back flip. It showed that the freestyle aspect of the sport has become the big competition in monster trucks.
But, what happened to the racing aspect? The last true monster truck racing series ran from 2000-02, the ProMT Truxpo Truck Tour. These races were held at many NASCAR race tracks and used the same timing as the NHRA, including the "Christmas Tree" starting system.
Team Bigfoot won the first two championships with Eric Tack and Runte, while Mark Hall, driver of Raminator, won the final championship in 2002. Unfortunately, like the Penda Points Series, the series lost sponsorship following the 2002 campaign and never regained footing to continue.
There is still great monster truck racing put on in arenas and outdoor shows across the country, but there seems to be so much more emphasis now on freestyle that racing has not gotten as much emphasis as before.
Everett Jasmer, the owner of the 1988 World Champion USA-1 monster truck, refuses to get back into the industry because of it. He considers industry today as "professional wrestling on wheels" due to the freestyle competition.
The monster truck industry needs to have an all-racing points series. It created great competition between drivers, teams, and brands. TNT Motorsports and Penda put on some of the greatest racing events in the history of monster trucks, and the industry today needs to get back to that kind of event.
Will this happen, possibly not, but more emphasis needs to be put on the racing aspect, then maybe monster truck racing will get the recognition it deserves.