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He's the original Mr. Big

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2000


ST. LOUIS -- Decades before the Rams came to town, this city on the Mississippi was the birthplace of another great spectator sport.

"Yes, it all started here," Bob Chandler confessed. "All because I couldn't find anybody to fix my truck."

When Chandler opened Midwest Four Wheel Drive 25 years ago, he had no idea that this act would inadvertently put his hometown on the map. The young carpenter just wanted to build a bigger, badder pickup truck, and as a result, made St. Louis the Holy Land for Motorheads.

"I had a brand new Ford F-250 and put a big set of tires on it," he recalled. "I got to talking to a friend and we started wondering if we could drive the thing over a car."

So Chandler and his buddies got a couple of old junkers and dragged them out into the middle of a farmer's field.

"Well the truck went right over them," he said. "We started showing the videotape to people who came by the shop and somebody said, "You know, you ought to do that for an audience and charge admission.' "

The idea seemed preposterous. But hey, if people were willing to pay to see grown men fight over a pigskin, they should pay to see big trucks smash cars.

So Chandler took his truck to town and let it rip. The rest is sporting history.

"We never anticipated the crowds," Chandler said. "We drew 68,000 to the Pontiac Silverdome and the people mobbed the truck. I had to lock the windows and stop the show."

Chandler, 58, continued to put on shows throughout the Midwest, but more often than not, he would return home with a broken vehicle.

"My shop manager told me that I shouldn't be so heavy on the accelerator," Chandler said. "He started calling me Bigfoot and the name stuck."

Eventually, Chandler grew tired of trampling cars. So he started racing, then jumping BIGFOOT and various other monster trucks.

"You keep trying to go further and higher," he said. "You get bigger tires, so you break the axle. You get a bigger axle, then you want a bigger motor. You get a bigger motor, then you want bigger tires ... it is a vicious cycle."

In 1981, the first BIGFOOT vehicle made its big-screen debut in Take This Job and Shove It. Other film roles followed, including the Burt Reynolds-Dom DeLuise classic Cannonball 2 and, of course, the critically ignored Police Academy (2 and 6), which by the way also featured former NFL great Bubba Smith in one of his more demanding roles. Perhaps BIGFOOT's finest hour came in 1985 when a tiny toy replica earned the highly-coveted spot in a McDonald's Happy Meal.

BIGFOOT has pleased crowds and packed stadiums from Anaheim to Tampa, including the Trans World Dome, site of today's NFC Championship Game. A monster truck show took place Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. No stunt seemed too dangerous for Chandler and his daredevil driver, Dan Runte.

Last year, Runte jumped over a 727 airplane, a distance of 202 feet. Just a few days ago, I Dare You, the Ultimate Challenge premiered on the UPN network and featured Runte and BIGFOOT 14 flying over seven cars and a tractor-trailer.

But even Chandler has his limits.

"It is too dangerous," he said. "They will run me out of town."

I pleaded with Chandler to attempt the stunt, but he flat refused.

"Give me the keys," I said. "And I'll do it."

Chandler said he wasn't sure he could find them. Then he said he wasn't sure the truck had oil.

I dangled the tiny blue and yellow teddy bear that wore Kurt Warner's No. 13 in front of his face. "I don't want to jump it," I said. "I want to crush it."

We negotiated for a while, but Chandler did not become the Messiah of Monster Trucks by being weak of heart.

"Okay," I said. "You can have my Bucs hat."

He took it and said I would be better off convincing Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer to buy his own monster truck, which he could paint red and pewter, "the colors of a dead dog," as one member of Chandler's team put it.

"You'll need a monster truck if you want to get past the Rams," Chandler said.

I told him Tampa Bay already had its own BIGFOOT.

"His name is Mike Alstott," I said.

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