History Stories

In the early 1980s, there was no such thing as a monster truck. This is the story of two friends turned rivals who created a billion-dollar industry by accident.

In the late 1970s, Bob Chandler was just another car guy, the owner of Midwest Four Wheel Drive Center in St. Louis, Missouri. “I had a pickup truck that I put product on,” he recalls. “Big tires, big axles. I always wanted it bigger. It was a vicious cycle.” Friends joked that Chandler liked to press hard on the accelerator. They called him Bigfoot, so he painted the name on the side of his truck, a 1974 Ford F-250 he had purchased new. One day a promoter called, offering to pay Chandler if he would bring Bigfoot to a local event.

“I thought, God,” he recalls, “it’d be great to get paid for a change.”

In the summer of 1979, Chandler, then 38 years old, met Everett Jasmer, a former drag racer and fellow truck fan, at a four-wheeling event in Minnesota. They hit it off. Both had four-wheel-drive shops, and both were trying to build the biggest and best truck, so they could promote aftermarket truck parts for their small businesses. One difference: Chandler’s truck was a Ford, while Jasmer, then 27, was a hardcore Chevy guy. His ride was a 1970 Chevy K-10 that he bought used in 1974.

Bigfoot #1 was a modified 1974 Ford F-250 that began its career at local mud runs and truck and tractor pulls. (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

Bigfoot #1 was a modified 1974 Ford F-250 that began its career at local mud runs and truck and tractor pulls. (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

Like Chandler, Jasmer had named his truck. He recalls having “a vision” while mowing his lawn. In the 1960s, Chevrolet had created red, white and blue license plates for their pickup trucks as a marketing campaign, with “USA-1” on them. Jasmer had one hanging on the wall in his den. He put the plate on his 1970 truck and from then on, that was its name.

At the time, there was no such thing as a monster truck. All that was about to change. The friendship between Chandler and Jasmer was about to spawn a national phenomenon and a billion-dollar industry. It all started with a phone ringing in Chandler’s shop in 1979.

Take This Job and Shove It

Chandler: I got a call from Greg Blackwell, a movie producer. He saw a picture of my truck in a magazine. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in putting my truck in his movie. It was Take This Job and Shove It [a comedy starring Robert Hays and Barbara Hershey]. I said, sure. When he hung up he didn’t leave me a phone number and I didn’t hear from him for a year. Then I got a call and he says, “We need you in Dubuque, Iowa, in two weeks.” I had to get everything ready. I got ahold of Everett, and he brought two trucks.

Jasmer: Bob had a much bigger operation than me and he had people working on promotional and media types of things. The first opportunity he brought to me was an involvement in the movie Take This Job and Shove It.

USA-1 on 48-inch Terra tires, 1982. (Image courtesy of Everett Jasmer)

USA-1 on 48-inch Terra tires, 1982. (Image courtesy of Everett Jasmer)

Jasmer: It was an incredible opportunity, and after that, we were getting a lot of invitations to events around the country. We continued to build our trucks bigger and bigger. It was like evolution, I like to joke. We both crawled out of the mud and became monster truckers in the early 1980s.

Chandler: Once I started getting paid to bring Bigfoot to events, it changed things completely. One promoter at an event at the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit called Bigfoot a monster truck, and that’s where the name comes from. There were 68,000 people there, all going crazy.

That’s Incredible!

Chandler: One Saturday morning [one year after filming Take This Job and Shove It] I was watching “Wide World of Sports” on TV when I saw trucks driving around a muddy area. There was a body of a car in the mud, sticking up six inches out of the ground, and this Toyota put its front tires on it. My employee Jim Kramer was with me and I says, “You know, Bigfoot would drive clean over a car.” So he set it up with one of his friends on a farm. We took the truck there and I drove over cars without a problem. I came around and parked on top of them. We videotaped that.

Chandler: A promoter saw this video and he says, “I want you to do that in front of a crowd.” My wife Marilyn and I thought, well, that’s destructive. We’ve tried to put a good clean name on our truck, a family-oriented kind of thing. The promoter kept bugging me and I says, “Okay, we’ll try it one time.” It was in Jefferson City, Missouri. The crowd went crazy. It stunned me. From that point on, whenever I went anywhere, people wanted to see the truck drive over cars.

Jasmer: By 1983 Bob had another opportunity—to do the “That’s Incredible!” show. He already had 66-inch tires. I was getting ready to put them on my truck. He called me one day and told me about the TV show and I wasn’t ready. I had just a few weeks to get the truck rebuilt and get the 66-inch tires on so we could compete on the show.

Chandler: We had just stepped up to the 66-inch tires and our trucks weren’t really set up for that size tire. They’re massive things—thousand-pound tires. For the show, there was going to be 50-something cars in a row for us to each drive over. They wanted a race that would be somewhat competitive.

Everett Jasmer, left, and Bob Chandler, far right, after their 1983 appearance on the TV show 'That's Incredible!', where they raced to crush some 50 cars.  The project came up so fast, Jasmer put 1,000-lb., 66-in. tires on USA-1 for first time ever at the track right before the event. 'I was having a difficult time steering the truck during that competition,' he says.  (Image courtesy of Everett Jasmer)

Everett Jasmer, left, and Bob Chandler, far right, after their 1983 appearance on the TV show ‘That’s Incredible!’, where they raced to crush some 50 cars. The project came up so fast, Jasmer put 1,000-lb., 66-in. tires on USA-1 for first time ever at the track right before the event. ‘I was having a difficult time steering the truck during that competition,’ he says.(Image courtesy of Everett Jasmer)

Jasmer: I was out of time. We literally didn’t have time to put the 66-inch tires on the truck and try it out. We were down to the last seconds so we loaded the truck on a trailer and loaded the tires and went to St. Louis. We unloaded and put the tires on for the first time at the race track. I discovered in the process that the steering wasn’t working very well with those big tires so I was having a difficult time steering the truck during that competition. I’ve never said this to anyone before, but I think Bob knew I was having steering problems, and I think he slowed down to make me look less bad.

Chandler: As I remember it, I had a speaker phone in the truck and the producers were yelling at me to let Everett catch up to me to keep it interesting.

Jasmer: It was a fantastic time. Of course, we got a lot of exposure out of it. There were a few other guys building trucks at that time. We were 3 or 4 years into what people were calling monster trucks. But “That’s Incredible!” was a trigger and people started building trucks all over the place. The promoters made hay out of it. That was a major step in promoting the whole monster-truck sport.

In addition to car crushing, monster-truck events often include mud-bogging competitions. (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

In addition to car crushing, monster-truck events often include mud-bogging competitions. (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

Monster Trucks Go Racing

By the mid-1980s, the monster-truck phenomenon was for real. Bob Chandler and Bigfoot had become celebrities of the car world, packing arenas nationwide. “I can’t believe how the crowd loves to see destruction,” Chandler told The Los Angeles Times, which reported in 1984 that Chandler earned $10,000 “every time he destroys a few cars.” By 1985, Chandler had built more Bigfoot trucks, all Fords, and was sending them to events in some of the nation’s biggest stadiums. These exhibitions now featured swarms of other trucks, like King Kong out of Wisconsin (whose owner Jeff Dane would later claim that his truck was the first to crush cars) and the 1,500-horsepower Bear Foot from Illinois, which appeared in a ZZ Top video and in an episode of “Knight Rider.” (Its builder, Fred Shafer, traveled with two actual black bears, Sugar and Spice.) But Chandler’s Bigfoot 1 remained monster trucking’s Muhammad Ali—the biggest name in the business, the one everyone wanted to beat.

Chandler remembers conversations with his wife Marilyn—how exhausted they were, but how they felt they needed to hit every show they could. “Because it’s not going to last,” he told her. He recalls sending trucks to about 675 events in 1985 alone.

But like the trucks themselves, the craze kept getting bigger. In the mid-1980s, promoters began evolving shows from car crushing and mud bogging exhibitions to races. In 1988, TNT Motorsports announced the Monster Truck Challenge, marketed as “the most powerful sport on earth.” This new racing series would get big-time television exposure on ESPN, and it promised fans something very special: a rivalry between the original monster trucks. Bob Chandler vs. Everett Jasmer. Bigfoot vs. USA-1. Ford vs. Chevrolet.

The rivalry between Bigfoot and USA-1 came to a head in the first TNT Monster Truck Challenge,  in 1988.  After missing the first three months of the season-long competition, USA-1's Chevy truck, above, pulled off a last-second win. (Image courtesy of Everett Jasmer)

The rivalry between Bigfoot and USA-1 came to a head in the first TNT Monster Truck Challenge,in 1988. After missing the first three months of the season-long competition, USA-1’s Chevy truck, above, pulled off a last-second win. (Image courtesy of Everett Jasmer)

Jasmer: Late in 1987, Chevrolet was debuting the new 1988 pickup and they wanted me to build a new ’88 USA-1 truck. As the new truck was being completed, I committed to Chevrolet to attend a series of auto shows around the country for the first quarter of 1988. Then TNT Motorsports announced the Monster Truck Challenge racing series. This was a dream come true for me because I came out of drag racing and motorsports. But I had committed the new truck to auto shows for the first three months. Of course, I probably got sick to my stomach. I had to sit back and watch the TNT Monster Truck Challenge for the first three months. Everyone was running in it, including Bigfoot. I told my crew that we would have to get in in April and do the best we could.

Chandler: I think I had Bigfoot 4 as part of that series. There were quite a few trucks competing. I had a driver named Rich Hooser in that series.

Jasmer: I made a very difficult decision, which ended up being probably the best business decision I made since I started in the monster-truck business. I put the driving into the hands of one of my younger crew named Rod Litzau. We proceeded to go from nowhere in April to second place behind Bigfoot by the end of the season—and we were right on his tail. It came down to the last weekend.

Bigfoot #5 featured 10-ft.-tall tires originally used by the U.S. Army on an Alaskan land train in the 1950s.  (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

Bigfoot #5 featured 10-ft.-tall tires originally used by the U.S. Army on an Alaskan land train in the 1950s. (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

National Champion Crowned

Fans turned out in droves to see the Monster Truck Challenge final—10,000-pound-plus trucks pouncing over cars, crashing into each other and tomahawking end-over-end in the dirt. A final heat put the two rivals head-to-head in a quest for a first TNT National Championship. Both trucks motored at high speed over rows of cars and USA-1 lost control as the finish line neared. Everett Jasmer’s truck nosed forward and crossed the line first just as it flipped on its side, smoke pouring out of its engine. The driver Rod Litzau jumped out and a frenzied crowd immediately circled him.

ESPN announcer, circa 1988: Well, the Renegade TNT National Championship has been decided… It’s been a phenomenal season. It’s been a long year. One that saw Rich Hooser in Bigfoot get off to a big early points lead, then along comes a rookie driver, Rod Litzau, in USA-1. They made up a lot of ground and they clinched the national driving championship… Chevrolet is the official number-one monster truck in the country.

Chandler: Everett and I were very competitive but we were really the best of friends, and still are. He always brags about how he won that series.

As monster trucks grew bigger, heavier and ever more cumbersome, the Bigfoot team experimented with a new  tubular-steel chassis with a cantilever suspension system. (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

As monster trucks grew bigger, heavier and ever more cumbersome, the Bigfoot team experimented with a new tubular-steel chassis with a cantilever suspension system. (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

Nearly 30 years after Bob Chandler and Everett Jasmer met at a small four-wheeling event in Minnesota, the monster-truck industry is a billion-dollar business. On any given weekend, fans can catch Monster Jam shows in arenas around the nation. Bigfoot trucks sometimes appear at more than 20 different monster-truck events monthly. Everett Jasmer’s USA-1 trucks are still crushing cars. Both Chandler and Jasmer are still close friends.

Jasmer: I still have the original USA-1 on display at the USA-1 headquarters here in Minnesota. I don’t use that one for much other than nostalgia events. It’s irreplaceable. I am getting old and I don’t have any sons to take over. I’m among the last of the original of the first generation still driving these things. I still love the relationship with the fans. I still love doing the exhibition car crushes and so I’m still out there until I find someone to carry on my legacy.

Chandler: I still come into work every day, and I’m 76 years old. The first Bigfoot is currently on display at an Albuquerque, New Mexico, Ford dealership. But it goes out quite a bit. It’s 42 years old, the original monster truck. It amazes me that I’m still getting recognition today. I’m in the International Monster Truck Hall of Fame and the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. I never planned any of it that way, never in my wildest dreams.

Over time, monster truck owners engaged in an escalating 'arms war' to see who could fabricate the biggest and baddest truck. In 1986, the Guinness Book of World Records named the 38,000-lb., 15-1/2-ft.-tall Bigfoot #5 the world's largest monster truck. (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

Over time, monster truck owners engaged in an escalating ‘arms war’ to see who could fabricate the biggest and baddest truck. In 1986, the Guinness Book of World Records named the 38,000-lb., 15-1/2-ft.-tall Bigfoot #5 the world’s largest monster truck. (Image courtesy of Bob Chandler)

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