But for a select few, there have been monster returns. Bigfoot-related items—toys, T-shirts, caps—grossed $37 million in 1991, of which Chandler realized a handsome 1%. Anderson, who in 1981 built his first Grave Digger in a chicken shed in Chesapeake, Va., now owns eight Diggers and has also tapped into the lucrative toy market. His two children play with Grave Digger trucks in the backyard of their home in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., which, according to Rand McNally, does exist.
There are some 325 monsters roaming the world now. The Japanese have bought a few and will soon be producing monster trucks as surely as they do monster movies. But for now America is still on top in one grease-slicked area of the automotive industry. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and the Grave Digger Chevrolet.
"Americans have always had a love affair with cars and trucks," says Mancuso, whose predecessor at SRO, the late promoter Bob George, is often credited with coining the term monster truck. "By 1989, light trucks accounted for nearly one third of U.S. automotive sales. Look outside here." Interstate 88 flows sluggishly past the window of Mancuso's office in Lombard, Ill. Afternoon commuters are crawling out of Chicago.
"You see traffic stopped on I-88 at five o'clock," he says. "Then you see a Ford Explorer with tires six feet tall on it. The average guy thinks, Oh, what a feeling it would be to have a monster truck and ride across the top of all these cars in front of me. Assuming there weren't any people in the cars, of course."
Of course. All of monster truckdom was sobered last year when an 82-year-old man was struck and killed by a truck at a show in Niagara Falls. The man was standing on the floor as a guest of a member of the towing crew. On the Camel tour the first few rows of seats are not sold. The 80-member Monster Truck Racing Association exists primarily to promote safety awareness among drivers.
"In all of motor sports," says Bargo, "more people die in the stands choking on hot dogs than die in competition."
Bargo offers up some more delightful demifacts. "The monster truck tires are like Nerf balls," he says. "I've seen them run over guys, and the guys were O.K. There was a guy who was lying in the mud and got run over by a monster truck, and he was fine—maybe had a couple of cracked ribs. There's only eight or 10 pounds of air pressure in the tires, plus they have those really wide footprints."
Be that as it may, I decide against testing this theory at the Horizon when the top six monsters on the Camel tour gather to determine the 1992 world champion. I pass on the hot dogs as well.
It is the Oscar Night of the monster world. There are no limousines pulling up outside the Rosemont Horizon, but there is a flatbed tractor-trailer piled high with Christmas trees octuple-parked diagonally, so I am fairly certain I have come to the right place.
The arena is atingle with the buzz of nicotine. Elizabeth Twohy, the fabulous Miss Camel, is on the floor, distributing cartons of cigarettes from a duffel bag to drivers and crew alike. Spectators filing into the arena are registering to win a Camel jacket, to be awarded to one lucky "adult smoker."