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Monster drivers born to the wheel

July 14, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

When you take the wheel of a 10,000-pound monster named Grave Digger, certain things are expected of you.

Fans are not only attracted to the unique look of this famous truck, but to "our keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat driving style," says Paul Huffaker, who's been driving Grave Digger for seven years.

[cont. from lifestyle]

That style can't be taught. It's inherent in the people chosen to drive the eerie black truck made from the body of a 1950 Chevrolet panel wagon, he says.

For driver Tom Meents, maneuvering a four-wheeled giant was a childhood dream.

"Ever since I was about 10 years old, this is what I wanted to do," says Meents, 31, one of the drivers of Bulldozer, which will compete along with Grave Digger and four other trucks this weekend at Hagerstown Speedway.

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Huffaker, 36, has been in the monster truck business for 17 years, during which he's also been at the helm of Purina Mainstay and Just Showin' Off.

When he was new to the job, drivers took baby steps in the learning process and didn't have to worry about making jumps of 120 to 140 feet.

Today, the truck bodies weigh less and are better equipped for rugged driving.

"I'd hate to be a newcomer to the sport," says Huffaker during a telephone interview from Houston.

Grave Digger holds the record for the most rollovers, but it's not intentional, Huffaker says. Repairs are labor-intensive and can cost up to $8,000.

Even though the monstrous vehicles take a beating, especially in a high-speed rollover, the drivers usually come out OK.

Drivers wear harnesses, multilayer fireproof suits, fireproof gloves, shoes and helmets, and neck braces. In addition, the trucks are equipped with roll cages, which keep the drivers from being thrown.

Before entering the monster truck arena, Huffaker accessorized four-wheel-drive trucks. For the last 13 years or so, he and his wife, Tina, have run a business called Race Source, doing custom fabrication for the racing industry.

Meents was a professional mud racer for eight years before setting his sights on mammoth trucks. He drove Monster Patrol for 4 1/2 years before climbing into Bulldozer in late February.

Meents is confident his truck will plow through the competition this weekend.

"They can expect it's going to be in the finals," Meents said in a telephone interview from Paxton, Ill.

related story:

Monster trucks at Speedway this weekend

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