December 15, 1986 12:00 PM

The crowd is roaring, the engines an whining and suddenly a big Ford pick up with ballooning 5½-foot tires rears up and crunches down on eight junk cars. The crowd goes berserk, yelling for more. The Ford truck, all 14,000 customized pounds of it, does it again. Crunch. This is “monster trucking,” the latest craze to hit arenas and fairgrounds all across the country, and the biggest, baddest monster truck of all is Big Foot. “I’m supposed to be impartial,” says a show official in Pontiac, Mich., who sports the words Big Foot across the back of her jacket, “but I just can’t help it. Big Foot is terrific.”

It started when St. Louis construction worker Bob Chandler decided to beef up his 1974 pickup. Pretty soon he had opened a four-wheel-drive shop and begun entering truck-pull competitions. “We kept making the truck bigger and bigger and more ridiculous,” says Chandler, 45, whose monster of an idea has turned into a multimillion-dollar business. “And the bigger and bigger and more ridiculous the truck got, the more people liked it.”

Now there are six Big Feet and a powder-blue Ms. Big Foot, although the field is getting a little crowded with imitators. Still, Chandler is seen as the founding father. “There are 100 monster trucks out there that I know of,” says promoter George Carpenter, “but none has the recognition of Big Foot. He’s the guy to beat.” The most powerful Big Foot churns out 1,000 horsepower and costs $140,000 to build.

This year Chandler and his trucks will appear in about 450 shows from coast to coast, earning an estimated $2 million and hundreds of thousands more from sales of such items as Big Foot T-shirts ($9), calendars ($7) and posters ($4). One thing is for sure, though: Big Foot is not your average run-around-town truck. “If you drive real nice you get two miles per gallon,” says Jim Kramer, one of Big Foot’s drivers. “If you drive hard, you get two gallons per mile.” Must be hell at tollbooths, too.

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