Inside Monster Truck BIGFOOT’s lair
Pacific, Mo.—Bob Chandler, creator of the original Monster Truck BIGFOOT, has some advice for today’s 4x4 shop owners.
“Plan ahead and know what you are getting into. Building 4x4s bigger and stronger is a growing industry, and it doesn’t take a genius to build something stronger and bigger, but it does take planning. It also will put you into a dangerous liability risk. When you change an OEMs vehicle design you are responsible for that vehicle until it’s junked.”
Before he created BIGFOOT, he ran a successful 4x4 customization, parts, and repair shop in St. Louis. Midwest Four Wheel Drive was opened in 1975 along with business partner and Chandler’s longtime friend, Jim Kramer.
“It all started when my wife, Marilyn, and I ordered a new Ford F-250 pickup truck in 1974 to enhance our cargo capacity and off-road capabilities for outdoor activities. It wasn’t long before we became frustrated with the lack of available parts and services in the St. Louis area for 4×4 owners — so Midwest Four Wheel Drive was born,” Chandler said.
The truck and Midwest Four Wheel Drive began to gain a local following and a strong customer base, helped in part by Chandler and his family who spent many weekends at local off-road events and running the gravel-bottom rivers of southern Missouri. Chandler saw his truck as the best method to prove the quality of the shop and the products they sold. Accordingly, Chandler drove the truck hard.
As the parts bills increased and the F-250 grew bigger and bigger, Chandler soon got the nickname “BIGFOOT” by one of his shop employees due to his heavy right-foot driving style. The nickname stuck, and soon the truck itself was christened “BIGFOOT.”
The shop was getting bigger, the trucks getting worked on in the shop were getting bigger, and of course BIGFOOT was getting bigger, he said. Bigger tires demanded bigger axles, which in turn dictated a bigger motor, and so on. From 4x4 shop and a delivery truck, to global phenomenon and a creation of an entirely new motorsport, BIGFOOT gained growing popularity in the 1980s and 1990s.
What it takes to service Monster Trucks
Chandler had this to say to 4x4 shops that might be thinking of taking that next step into something bigger.
“If the next level is Monster Trucks, take heed. Monster Trucks are very, very expensive, especially when you want to compete with the ultra-competitive ones. A competitive engine can cost over $50,000, and Monster Trucks’ upkeep, repairs, and general maintenance are a continual major cost of doing business.”
One would think that such a high cost, high maintenance sport would necessitate a “NASCAR” type facility where there is constant testing and multiple layers of security to protect proprietary information. This could not be any further from the reality of BIGFOOT’s home base.
The facility, which for many years was based right off Interstate 270 in Hazelwood, Mo., was moved to a more rural locale in Pacific, Mo., in 2015.
The repair and maintenance facility also houses the corporate headquarters and retail fan store, and has three open work bays, one outdoor area for staging, an engine repair room, a machine shop, and a paint bay. Former driver of BIGFOOT and Snake Bite, Bryan Bertoletti, is now the shop foreman and takes pride in that they can stay competitive and maintain BIGFOOT in a surprisingly organic facility.
“What we use to keep BIGFOOT up and running isn’t that different from what guys are using in your everyday 4x4 repair facility,” Bertoletti said. “What we do is just on bigger trucks and takes bigger customizable parts. We have very basic machine shop equipment, basic hand tools, and a very compact area to complete our work in, and we must get our repairs done in a timely manner to be able to get our trucks ready for the next show. We just happen to work on BIGFOOT instead of ‘Average Joe’s’ vehicle every day.”
Since the early days of Chandler and BIGFOOT 1, the success of the trucks can be attributed to modifying parts to meet their needs.
“What a lot of people think is that we sit here and spend a lot of time in R&D to come up with some new state-of-the-art Monster Truck parts. In reality, we take engines, heavy-duty steering and suspension parts and we tear them apart to make them work. Our biggest modification is probably with shocks. We use an existing shock and gut it out. Every component on the inside is replaced with our own combination of parts which are only used by BIGFOOT.”
He added that just like any 4x4 repair facility, they source aftermarket parts and sub-out machine and fabrication work.
“We let other local entities work on BIGFOOT components just as other shops sub-out work. We use Planet Tool and GMI, both in the St. Louis area, for fabrication and machine work when we need to go that route.”
When replacement parts and tires are needed, the BIGFOOT team sources mostly from Summit Racing and Firestone because of sponsor partnerships, but will order shop materials and smaller items from local parts stores as needed.
When the trucks come back from a weekend show, the crew works four 10-hour days to ensure they are ready to roll by Thursday. Right now, there are currently five active BIGFOOT trucks running every week.
“From the time the truck gets back to us and depending how hard it was run, we usually anticipate that it will take 10-12 hours per truck to get it ready for the next show. In the 40-year history of BIGFOOT we have never missed an obligation to have a truck ready,” Bertoletti said.
Visit to Kuwait, industry accomplishments
When asked about what moments stand out for Team BIGFOOT, Dan Runte, the longest tenured driver of BIGFOOT and now vice president of the company, had this to say.
“We were asked to come out and put on an exhibition for U.S. soldiers stationed in Kuwait. These guys came in droves to see BIGFOOT with me behind the wheel. They were bussing in soldiers from all over just to see us. I still get chills just thinking about how honored I was to be a part of that.”
Chandler added, “My rewards first are the faces of the kids. I believe my first accomplishment would be the establishment of an entirely new motorsport and the establishment of MTRA (The Monster Truck Racing Association). George Carpenter and I started this safety association to put rules into what was a dangerous sport, and it established guidelines and rules on the construction and their performances.
“Me and George Carpenter also designed and built the RII (Remote Ignition Interrupt), which is now required on all Monster Trucks around the world. We also adopted Planetary gears to relieve overstressed axles. I owe all these accomplishments to all my employees, especially Jim Kramer and many others that made this industry what it is today.”