Dan Runte has seen plenty of changes in the 22 years he's been behind the wheel of Bigfoot.
Those early incarnations of the monster truck weighed about 15,000 pounds. Bigfoot #18 weighs about 11,000 pounds. Instead of 7 to 8 inches of suspension travel on all four corners, today's monster trucks have 26 inches of travel in the front and nearly 30 inches in the rear.
Runte said drivers used to run courses and get "big air" while strapped onto a factory-issue bench seat.
Photos by Bigfoot 4 X 4 Inc.
LEFT:?Bigfoot #18, driven by Dan Runte, will be one of six monster trucks competing this weekend at the Covelli Centre for the Toughest Monster Truck Tour.
"Now the drivers all have custom seats built specifically for him, for his weight and his height," he said. "The motor used to be in the front. Now they put the motors in the rear for better balance, which enabled us to put the driver in the center of the truck and build a better roll cage."
All those innovations, in addition to making the drivers safer, make it possible for the trucks to go faster, jump farther and get more air when the Toughest Monster Truck Tour comes to the Covelli Centre for two shows this weekend.
Runte knows something about going faster and jumping farther. He is in the Guinness Book of World Records for "Longest ramp jump in a monster truck." He also holds the record for the fastest speed in a monster truck at 86.56 miles per hour.
WHAT: Toughest Monster Truck Tour
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Covelli Centre, 229 E. Front St., Youngstown
HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $10-$27 in advance at $12-$29 day of show.
Perhaps even more impressive than his world records and 10 monster truck championships is that he's never suffered a significant injury in all of his years of competitions and exhibitions.
"I've never broke a bone, never been to the emergency room," Runte said.
He got his start working as a mechanic on the crew for a monster truck, and it was an injury to a driver that earned him his first chance behind the wheel.
"I was scared to death," he said. "It was just a little exhibition thing at a county fair. The other guy driving pulled some muscles, and the suspension wasn't what it is today, so I filled in. What worried me is the most experienced driver rolled his car over right before me. The guy I was working with kept saying, 'Do what he does, do what he does.' Then he rolled over and it was, 'No, don't do that'."
Bigfoot is one of six vehicles that will be part of Friday's and Saturday's events in Youngstown. Also on the show is Tailgator, Toxic, Equalizer, Red Solo Truck and the Youngstown debut of the brand new truck, Smashosaurus.
"The show's content, what they're doing, makes it the best indoor show they will ever see," Runte said. "The competition is very tough."
The vehicle will be featured in three events.
First up is the vertical wheelie as each driver compete to see who can get his monster truck the most-vertical. Then they will compete in side-by-side racing on the all-dirt track with different heats until the top two compete in the finals.
The last event is the freestyle.
"Each truck goes out separately and freestyles, do wheelies, big air, just show the crowd who's got the better piece of equipment," Runte said. "It's an exciting show."
And Runte boasted that no other truck gets more lift and "big air" than Bigfoot.
"It's starting to aggravate the other guys," he said.
And the 49-year-old driver has no plans to rest on his laurels.
"I'm not getting any younger, but I'd like to do another long jump," he said. "We're at 214.8 feet. With a couple of minor changes, I think we could go 240 feet. And we're at 86.7 miles per hour. I'd like to break the 100 miles per hour mark. Those are the two things I'd like to accomplish."