His first Bigfoot encounter struck deeply, leaving a humongous, infectious impression on Roger Gauger.
He was still in high school when the Evansville native first glimpsed Bigfoot, the original monster truck, smashing cars with its 48-inch tires at Chandler Motorsport Park in Chandler, Ind.
“I was 17 years old, and seeing a guy in a pickup driving over cars, that was pretty amazing,” recalled Gauger. “He just totally smashed those cars, and I just kind of got the fever, I guess you could say.”
Gauger nursed his fever through his 20s until 1991, when he bought his own monster, a 1989 Chevrolet he picked out on his honeymoon.
His bride, Kathy, didn’t mind planning their Gatlinburg, Tenn., honeymoon, in part, around a visit to Kingsport, Tenn., where he bought Bad News, his first monster truck, insisted Gauger. “She knew I was going to get involved with (monster trucks) before we ever got married.”
Twenty-one years and a couple of oversized, overpowered trucks later, his wife still understands and supports his monster fever, accompanying her husband to competitions all around the region.
Gauger, 50, is on his third truck now, after two decades of competing on weekends and on vacations from his job as a pipe fitter. Quadzilla, his latest monster, is a custom-designed, 1,200-H.P. behemoth that pops wheelies, spins donuts and flattens lesser cars on tires that stand 5 1/2 feet tall and weigh 650 pounds each.
Gauger will fire up Quadzilla in the Ford Center this weekend, competing with other USHRA monster trucks including Get Er Done, Robo Machine, Samson, Stomper and Bad News Travels Fast.
The four-wheel-drive truck, which he designed and built himself, stands more than 11 feet tall and weighs a little over 10,600 pounds. It sports a fiberglass body and a transparent Lexan floor that allows Gauger to see what he’s crashing down onto from a near-vertical wheelie, steering both front and rear wheels.
Don’t ask how fast the vehicle can move or how far a gallon of gas gets him. Quadzilla has neither speedometer nor odometer. Gauger only knows he can accelerate fast enough to make the five-ton monster fly, and that he burns through 10 to 15 gallons of methanol alcohol per show. “It’s not miles per gallon,” he said, “it’s gallons per mile.”
He regularly goes vertical in the wheelie competition, and his truck launches completely off the ground, sailing over and onto rows of sacrificial sedans, but he has never yet tumbled backward or rolled any of his vehicles, he said.
His vehicle is designed to protect him, if that did happen, however. Gauger wears a helmet, fire suit and NASCAR-type restraint system in his steel-reinforced cab. His seat “is almost like a fighter cockpit,” he said. “You’re surrounded by seat.”
After more than 20 years piloting monsters, it’s still a feverish thrill for Gauger. “It’s definitely an adrenaline rush,” he said, whether he’s tearing up donuts with four steerable wheels “or whether I’m trying to do the best wheelie I can, it’s a rush.”