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Monster Trucks Fight A Monster Battle Over Bragging Rights
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Monster Trucks Fight A Monster Battle Over Bragging Rights

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Monster Trucks Fight A Monster Battle Over Bragging Rights

Monster Trucks Fight A Monster Battle Over Bragging Rights
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Bigfoot 4X4 holds credit as the first monster truck to mount and crush a car. But a former driver says his monster truck, King Kong, was the first — a big deal in a multi-billion dollar industry.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Let's talk monster trucks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.

CORNISH: Next month marks the 40th anniversary of Bigfoot 4X4. In case you didn't know, it's arguably the most famous monster truck. The boxy blue Ford with enormous tires is celebrated as the pioneer in the world of car crunching competitions. As Joseph Leahy of St. Louis Public Radio reports, Bigfoot's claim to fame may actually belong to another truck.

JOSEPH LEAHY, BYLINE: Bigfoot 4X4 was born in Bob Chandler's auto shop in Ferguson, Missouri, in 1975, but what truly branded his factory Ford F250 into a monster truck took place six years later in a farmer's field outside of St. Louis. In this video taken in April 1981, Chandler lurches Bigfoot's cartoonishly large tires on top of two abandoned cars. Some nearby kids are heard giggling as the cars crunch and shatter under the weight.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: He's doing it (laughter).

BOB CHANDLER: It just amazed me that people laughed and then thought it was the neatest thing in the world, but nobody had done it back then.

LEAHY: That video led to an appearance at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, where, according to lore, an event promoter first coined the term monster truck.

CHANDLER: That was 68,000 people and just going crazy. And from that point on, no matter where we went, we had to crush cars, so...

LEAHY: And from that point on, a legion of other monster trucks and, eventually, a billion-dollar industry followed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Battle of the monster truck challenge series with Bigfoot, Giant and Excalibur, taking on...

LEAHY: But many in the monster truck industry believe Bigfoot's first car crush is more legend than actual fact.

JEFF DANE: When it comes down to nuts and bolts, my tires were on the roof of a car a year before Bob Chandler was.

LEAHY: Jeff Dane is a fellow monster truck Hall of Famer and claims that his truck, called King Kong, was first to publicly crush a car, doing so six months earlier at the Great Lakes Dragway in Union, Wisconsin.

DANE: I swear on a Bible and on my family's life, Bob Chandler talked to me when I lived in Colgate, Wisconsin, and he said we're going to start running over cars at shows. How do you do it? Do you chain them together? Do you go side to side, door to door? And we talked and he said, well, I'm a King Kong copy.

LEAHY: Bob Chandler won't concede that he copied Dane, but he does contend that his truck was the first to be called a monster truck.

CHANDLER: Jeff and I are friends. And, you know, he says, well, he was the first one - fine. Let him say that. That's fine. I didn't copy him to do it.

LEAHY: But Dane still wants to correct the history. He retired from monster truck driving in 2005 and today lives in Texas, where he and his wife have bred Yorkshire terriers. Bob Chandler is still in charge here at Bigfoot headquarters, where his mechanics maintain a hulking fleet of modern Bigfoots. Their 21st version of the truck runs on alcohol and more closely resembles a NASCAR on steroids.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE)

LEAHY: Many who've watched the industry transform feel that the story of Bigfoot's first car crunch is worth holding onto. Rich Schaefer is a former monster truck event promoter and producer and has known Chandler since he was 8 years old. He says sometimes legend is the more important thing.

RICH SCHAEFER: The whole birth of the industry and how it's worked out is the way it should be. You know, I don't really think it benefits anybody to try to rewrite the story and say that Bigfoot wasn't the first.

LEAHY: Regardless of which truck was first to mount and crush a car decades ago, Bigfoot was the first monster truck to get the attention of millions of Americans and launch a new motorsport. For NPR News, I'm Joseph Leahy in St. Louis.

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