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Monster trucks - even more fun in reverse

Local driver doesn't want moves to get boring

Local driver doesn't want moves to get boring

July 14, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

Jumping over cars. Done that.

Jumping over a monster truck. Done that.

Jumping over a monster truck while driving in reverse. Done that.

"There's nothing that a monster truck pretty much can't do. Won't fit in your back pocket," joked monster truck driver Michael Vaters.

Vaters, 40, who lives southwest of Hagerstown, likes to try different things in his monster truck, Black Stallion, because just seeing truck after truck jump cars might get boring.


So Vaters anticipates doing his signature move - jumping backward over cars - for the hometown crowd at this weekend's Monster Truck Nationals.

Grave Digger, driven by Dennis Anderson, as well as Maximum Destruction, Hot Wheels, Destroyer and Pastrana 199, are expected at the three-day event at Hagers-town Speedway.

Vaters is expecting plenty of support this Friday through Sunday, although he knows there will be lots of Grave Digger fans there as well.

Black Stallion first jumped over cars backward in 1986.

That's a far cry from the 1982 Ford F-250 pickup Vaters jacked up in the air in the early 1980s. Vaters said he got his truck on tires as high as 48 inches and installed rear steering. This enabled the pickup to "crab walk" or move sideways.

When it got to the point where the police would pull him over every time he drove it on the road because of bumper height laws, Vaters had to decide whether to take it off the road and transport it to shows in a trailer.

He decided to lift the pickup he'd named "Black Stallion" even higher and make it a monster truck.

He added military axles, reinforced the frame, and added 66-inch-high tires that were 43 inches wide.

Back then, monster trucks were more of a promotional tool to draw people to events or places such as a dealership, tractor pull, speedway or dragway.

At the end of the event, they'd line up cars and, with no helmet and leaning out the window, he'd drive over cars.

"No jumping or rolling over. Just drive over and mash them into the ground. Just car crushing," Vaters said.

"As the years went by, like anything in the world, that sort of got boring," Vaters said. As more monster trucks emerged, a few would compete at a tractor pull by racing over cars, going 65 mph or faster.

After some drivers got hurt, technical changes were made such as improving suspensions to absorb the rough landings.

Though Vaters has driven a monster truck for more than 20 years, monster truck racing really didn't boom until the mid-90s when corporate America started sponsoring racing events and teams.

Now he not only races Black Stallion, but he has two other monster trucks, a fourth truck under construction and a jet engine-powered all-terrain vehicle in his "toy box" - a 5,800-square-foot race shop off Downsville Pike.

In June, Vaters bought a jet-powered four-wheeler that can engulf a car in flames in four seconds. He wants to use the 9.5-foot-long jet all-terrain-vehicle called Psycho Jet as a side act at events. The ATV has a jet helicopter engine adapted so that flames shoot out when kerosene is squirted in front of the afterburner.

But his main love still is monster trucks.

In addition to Black Stallion, Vaters leases Iron Warrior, which Brunswick, Md., resident Trey Myers races. Iron Warrior will not be at this weekend's event.

Vaters is partnering with Tim Bee, of Leesburg, Va., to build a monster truck.

He also recently purchased the original four-link suspension monster truck, once called Taurus, and is rehabbing it and renaming it Weapon I. Vaters said he bought the truck, still one of the lightest in the business, for nostalgia but will enter it in competition.

So far, Vaters and Black Stallion have made it to United States Hot Rod Association's World Finals four times, including this March when he tied for third place in freestyle at Las Vegas. In freestyle, the winner is whomever hits the cars and goes the highest and wows the crowd the most.

He won the Canadian monster truck tour this year for the fifth time.

He's also won the nondirt Thunder Nationals Championship, put on by Clear Channel, six times.

Vaters has put more than 25 feet of air under the truck in his jumps.

At a Pennsylvania event last weekend, he landed so hard he almost rolled Black Stallion over. He found he'd pulled the threads out of a suspension bar. About eight people, including some from other pits, helped him fix the truck in about 15 minutes so he was able to make the next round of racing.

He won the race and advanced to the next round.

If you go ...

WHAT: Monster Truck Nationals

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, July 15, and Saturday, July 16; 2 p.m. Sunday, July 17. (Sunday is Family Day; no alcohol served.) Doors open at 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon Sunday.

WHERE: Hagerstown Speedway, 15112 National Pike, west of Hagerstown.

COST: General admission, $13 in advance; $15 at the gate; $5 for ages 2 to 12; free for ages 1 and younger. Reserved seats, $18 in advance; $20 at the gate.

DIRECTIONS: Take Interstate 81 to U.S. 40 west. Travel about six miles. Speedway is on the right.

For reservations or more information, call Hagerstown Speedway at 301-582-0640 or visit

Monster trucks roll into town

Monster truck fans will gather for the Monster Truck Nationals in Hagerstown.

Fans can get an early look at two monster trucks. Michael Vaters will be at Hagerstown Ford from 4 to 7 p.m. today with his monster truck, Black Stallion. People can meet Vaters, a Washington County resident, and get his autograph or pose for pictures next to Black Stallion.

Hagerstown Ford is at 1714 Massey Blvd. Call 301-733-3673.

Another monster truck, Grave Digger, will be at Tires Plus in Frederick, Md., from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday. Tires Plus is at 7381 Guilford Drive, across the street from Wal-Mart. Call 1-301-668-2122.

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