Monster Family

SEMA News—September 2019

HERITAGE

By Drew Hardin

Monster Family

Photo Courtesy Jim Brown, Petersen Publishing Company Archive

  Bob Chandler
   
It would be nearly impossible to pinpoint the one person who invented, say, drag racing or road racing or most of our popular motorsports, which typically evolved with input from many “fathers” over long periods of time. Not so monster truck racing. That entire phenomenon—part competition, part spectacle, part thrill show—can be laid at the feet of one man: Bob Chandler. And one truck: a blue ’74 Ford F-250.
 
Chandler and his wife, Marilyn, bought the pickup as a means to enjoy the camping and off-roading they loved. A year after its purchase, the Ford became a research-and-development platform to design products for their brand-new 4x4 shop, the Midwest Four Wheel Drive Center in Ferguson and, later, Hazelwood, Missouri.
 
That’s actually a fancy way of saying that Chandler’s off-road driving style often broke the truck, requiring him to find bigger and stronger components to augment the Ford’s factory running gear. It was Chandler’s general manager, Ron Magurder, who nicknamed him “Bigfoot” for his heavy right foot.

“I liked the way it sounded, and since I had big tires on the truck, I put it on the side of my truck,” Chandler explained.

Yes, those tires.

Among the earliest upgrades Chandler made to the F-250 were larger tires, including tractor tires and, eventually, 48-in. (and later 66-in.) turf tires that Goodyear and Firestone made for fertilizer spreaders. But the bigger tires broke axles, which led Chandler to use military axles. Heavy axles and big tires taxed the F-250s big-block V8, forcing Chandler to upgrade the engine. And so the cycle began.

Chandler started entering the pickup in local sled-pulling and mud-bog events as a way to promote the shop. Word spread about the powerful truck, and his first paid public appearance was in Denver in 1979, the same year he and the truck got their first exposure in the national press, a write-up in Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine.

But Chandler’s world really changed two years later. In an empty Missouri cornfield, in front of just a few people, he drove Bigfoot over two junk cars. Effortlessly.

The feat was videotaped, the tape played at the shop, and a local promoter tried to talk Chandler into performing the stunt in front of a paying audience.

At first he was reluctant, thinking it was “too destructive. But the kids loved the video, so we decided to do it in front of a crowd in Jefferson City [Missouri] a few months later. I was shocked at the reaction from the crowd. They went nuts.”

Here’s how “nuts” they went: This photo, of the multi-truck Bigfoot family, Chandler (in the khaki pants) and his extended Bigfoot crew, was taken on the occasion of Bigfoot’s 5,000th show at the Four Wheel & Off-Road Jamboree in Indianapolis, in 1989, just 10 years after Chandler and Bigfoot went pro.

For those accomplishments and many more in the advancement of monster truck racing, as well as his influence in the truck industry as a whole, Bob Chandler was inducted into SEMA’s Hall of Fame in 2019.

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