Imposing in appearance even when they are not in motion, monster trucks have cemented their status as thrilling, high-octane mechanisms of mayhem. The evolution of these arena-filling creations garners great interest within the auto culture, given today’s formidable monster trucks’ capacity for performance. Modified trucks emerged as sideshow entertainment for off-road events, but these days, the industry’s grandest machines fill some of the nation’s most sizable venues and showcase gravity-defying feats, as families marvel at the bedlam on display when truck capabilities are put to the test.

History of Monster Trucks

Adapted trucks surfaced in the 1970s when they served as halftime exhibitions at tractor pulls and mud-bogging events. From this, a biggest truck competition came into existence, as owners were motivated to employ new concepts to alter their vehicles to make them more commanding. Bob Chandler’s Bigfoot, a modded 1975 Ford F-250, amassed an impressive following and a fair amount of national attention. In April 1981, Chandler drove Bigfoot over a series of parked cars, during what is believed to be the first such accomplishment. However, this is a source of contention, as there are arguments that Jeff Dane’s King Kong had first tried and succeeded with this in the late-70s.

Since Chandler’s efforts in ’81 were filmed to be used in a promotional video for his auto performance shop, most in the industry credit Bigfoot as being the first official monster truck developed. Bob George, co-owner of motorsport promotion company Truck-a-Rama, is believed to have coined the phrase monster truck when referring to Bigfoot. The truck’s rise to fame came when a promoter saw the car-crushing footage in ’81 and subsequently asked Chandler to repeat the undertaking in front of a crowd.

After a few smaller shows, Bigfoot performed the feat in front of 72,000 fans inside the Pontiac Silverdome. Instead of running 48-inch terra tires at this event, Bigfoot publicly debuted 66-inch tires, which is the size that became standard, and still is today. Since 1985, prominent promoters, such as TNT Motorsports and the United States Hot Rod Association (USHRA), have backed monster truck racing events, in the form of single-elimination drag races on obstacle courses.

Revolutionizing Design Concepts

The shift to racing influenced alterations in design to make trucks lighter, but more powerful. The 1988 creation of TNT’s points championship, the Motorsports Monster Truck Challenge, compelled ambitious race teams to reduce weight and speed through the use of straight-rail frames, lighter axle components and fiberglass bodies. With the inception of the championship series, industry authorities forged the Monster Truck Racing Association (MTRA) to establish a set of standardized rules written to govern truck construction and safety.

During the notable mechanical changes in the late-80s, the most revolutionary breakthroughs put into practice were from the following teams:

Equalizer David Morris and Gary Cook introduced Equalizer, a monster truck with a combination of shock absorbers and coil springs as the central source of suspension, rather than customary leaf springs and shock absorbers.

Taurus Jack Willman debuted Taurus, a 9000-pound truck, which used a four-link suspension system and large coil-over shock absorbers.

Bigfoot Not surprisingly, the most impactful development was courtesy of Chandler’s pioneering Bigfoot. Bigfoot VIII featured a full tubular chassis and a long-travel suspension using cantilevers and nitrogen-filled shock absorbers to control the suspension. This, the eighth version of Bigfoot, revolutionized how monster trucks were constructed.

Advancement of Safety Protocols

With the marked progress in design, there was a need for improvements in security. The use of nitrogen-filled shock absorbers enabled trucks to jump high over obstacles at increased rates of speed without falling apart on the descent. This newfound capability influenced the birth of freestyle competitions, meaning safety standards were more important than ever before. The Remote Ignition Interrupter (RII) was one of the first significant improvements. RIIs are radio-controlled mechanisms that can kill the engine instantly in the event of an uncontrollable circumstance.

Most truck cabs are shielded with the polycarbonate Lexan, which shields drivers from track debris and provides increased visibility. Racers are mandated to wear fire suits, helmets, safety harnesses, and neck and head restraints. Seat belts employ a five-point harness to restrain the body. Most moving parts on the truck are also shielded, and high-pressure components have restraining straps, in case of an explosion.

Anatomy of Today’s Monster Trucks

Modern monster trucks stand 12 feet tall and are 12 feet wide, and weigh in at approximately 10,000 pounds. Because technology has facilitated the production of such lightweight bodies, more strength and weight can be put into the frame without sacrificing safety, maneuverability or speed. Trucks are capable of reaching up to 80 miles per hour and can fly through the air at a distance of about 130 feet.

Notable characteristics of these present-day four-wheeled powerhouses include:

Body Unique monster truck bodies are created using fiberglass molds, advanced computer technology and precise hand-carving.

Exterior Artwork Most mainstream competitive monster trucks feature elaborate airbrushed artwork or highly intricate computer-illustrated decals.

Engines Methanol-injected monster truck engines burn up to 2.5 gallons of methanol per run, which is around 250 feet. Motor size is limited to 575” and delivers approximately 1,500 horsepower.

Suspension System Extra-long 76 cm shock absorbers enable operators to better withstand the impact of landing during jumps and crashes.

Tires Truck tires are custom-made and are a standard 66 inches high and 43 inches wide. Tires are hand-carved to accommodate driver preference and track conditions. Carving just one of these monstrous tires can take up to 50 hours.

Drivers’ Seat Seats, installed in the center of the truck for enhanced visibility and equal weight distribution, are custom-molded to each racer’s individual physique.

Monster Truck Racing’s Grandest Series

Production company Feld Entertainment operates Monster Jam, a live motorsports entertainment tour featuring the most technologically advanced monster trucks in existence. The series is sanctioned under the umbrella of USHRA and is the result of continual evolution within the sport. Monster Jam’s marketing efforts have created a huge following, subsequently propelling it into a beloved family event for many supporters.

Each year, 350 Monster Jam performances are topped off with the invite-only Monster Jam World Finals, a marquee event which features 32 drivers competing in the racing and freestyle categories. Since March 2000, Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium has been home to the World Finals, and the event attracts over 37,000 fans from all over the world.

Monster Jam Events by the Numbers
  • 61.7% of attendees are male
  • 35% of attendees are under the age of 12
  • 7,500 tons of dirt, or 300 truckloads, are used in track construction
  • 1,500 man hours are required to build and tear down the field
  • 500 man hours are required to install and remove the 100,000 square feet of plastic and 6000 sheets of plywood covering the field
  • 1,500 gallons of fuel per performance are necessary to power needed construction equipment
  • 175 countries, including territories in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, broadcast Monster Jam events
  • $600,000 per year is required, per truck, to build, repair, tour, staff and transport from city to city