In the early 1980's, the motorsports world would be rocked by something huge - literally. The first monster truck, Big Foot, had just started to be seen by Americans. Its car crushing capabilities captivated gear-heads and children from coast to coast. Fairmonts, Chevettes, Pacers and Gremlins were terrified.
Michael Vaters and the Black Stallion Monster Truck
Michael Vaters' Ford F250 Pickup Truck
If you are a fan of monster trucks, or a frequent visitor to our website, then you may recall hearing their names. They both have been around for a while. But have you ever wondered just how somebody starts racing monster trucks? There may be as many answers to that as there are monster trucks but this is just one story.
Michael Vaters of Hagerstown, MD had no idea in 1981 that he would soon be a part of the evolution of one of the most popular forms of motorsports in the country when he decided to purchase a brand new Ford F250 with an inline 6 cylinder. In no time, the wheels began turning. Not so much the wheels of the truck, but the little tiny wheels of the brain. The tiny wheels that make us think of big things, the wheels that spur our imagination, our creativity, and our dreams.
Back then, customizing trucks was nowhere near what it is now. You could not walk into a shop and readily order custom parts. Some say necessity is the mother of invention and Michael Vaters would agree. Since nobody at the time had a lift kit available Mike designed and built his own and added it to the F250 which he would call Black Stallion. 40" tires which previously did not exist had just become available so naturally, that was next. The very next year, Black Stallion was upgraded with 44" tires, a 12" suspension lift, an Alpine stereo with Bose amplifiers, and a 12 speaker system that would announce to all within 3 city blocks that Black Stallion would soon be upon them. In addition, Mike designed and built a rear steering system and added an in-dash television for kicks. But it was not done yet. Again, in 1983, Mike Vaters wanted more. Realizing the need for more power, he yanked the strait six and exchanged it for a Ford 460ci motor. Adding a hydraulic tilt front end helped showcase the efforts he had put in. Adding a few inches of lift can't hurt either but when Maryland bumper height laws became stricter, Mike had a problem. Or, maybe it was a solution. Whatever the case, Mike wasn't going to bring the Stallion down. The realization set in that Mike would eventually be the proud father of a monster truck. "I knew that Black Stallion would become a monster truck when the police told me that I couldn't drive it on the street with the modifications that I had made and I was relieved because I knew that I would not be seeing flashing lights in my rear view mirror anymore." With the help of some good friends, about a year and a half of time, new chrome parts, 2 5-ton military axles, a sunroof, and surely some busted knuckles, the monster truck was a reality. In the fall season of 1985, Black Stallion, the monster truck, entered this world at 12 feet high and 12 feet wide, weighing 13,000 pounds.
Things now began to get interesting. Within a few months, Mike would ink a sponsorship deal that got him 110 shows in the span of one year. It was 1986 and monster trucks had progressed to a point where they were now racing side by side over cars and obstacles. Mike knew what the future held so he went back to work. He started experimenting with different leaf springs, shocks and other suspension components to find a superior combination. In addition, he built another motor, this time a 477ci (Ford of course) with an 871 super charger. Black Stallion could hang with the best monster trucks around. In the spring of 1987, Black Stallion was the very first monster truck to visit the Bahamas. Then again in 1988, Black Stallion went into the shop for a makeover. It was updated with a new 1988 Ford Body. This time, the TV was removed along with the stereo and speakers to lighten the truck up. You see, monster trucks were not just riding over cars, now they were jumping completely over them with room to spare. Mike joined the fracas with Black Stallion and of course, took it a step further with his signature stunt, jumping cars in reverse. The latest version of Black Stallion debuted in 2007. "I think it handles and performs better than any other monster truck in competition. It was fabricated a little differently with the motor sitting lower in the chassis for an optimal center of gravity." Knowing what the truck will and will not do is essential. "As an independent team, we have to be able to push our trucks to the limit without breaking parts. Broken parts equal money, and you have to have enough money left over after one show to get to the next."
Being on the road constantly is not easy either. "Traveling is bittersweet, I like to see new places and meet new people but I miss being home as well but monster truck competition is our livelihood; it's a full time job for us." November and December are easier due to winter and a lack of booked events but that time is spent maintaining equipment, planning upcoming races, and attending trade shows or other industry related events.
In addition to all this, Mike is also a board member of the MTRA (Monster Truck Racing Association) whose mission it is to improve the safety of the drivers, crew members, and spectators. "The MTRA is continuously identifying problems or potential problems and addressing those issues by collaboratively working with the drivers and promoters to come up with solutions."
Michael Vaters has had many projects besides Black Stallion. There was Black Stallion Jr., a slightly smaller version of the original in which he won the 1988 Mini Monster Nationals in Indy. The Battle Cat was another hellacious creation, this time a Ford Econoline van body adorned a 1940 M5 armored personnel carrier powered by a 477ci Ford that not only crushed the cars but shredded them as the tracks gained speed. And who could forget the Boogie Van, a 1992 Ford Aerostar (yes, Aerostar) that was possessed with a 557ci blown, alcohol injected Ford.
To this day, Mike is out racing the Black Stallion and 2010 will mark 28 years of jumping cars, forward and backward. Mike has been a regular in the monster truck scene all of these years and he wouldn't have it any other way. "I believe I will be involved in the monster truck industry for a long time to come and I hope that someday my kids will take an interest and want to get involved and drive the trucks." Look for Mike at these future events.
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