In Focus: Randy Barton

Having seen many monster truck shows through the lens of a still camera or videocamera, I know how important it is to properly capture the subject in focus. Thus, TMB’s new feature article series, In Focus, will take a look at the people in the industry that make it happen in detail. We’ll be doing this through detailed interviews as we try to bring you the perspective of the men and women behind the machines.

For our premiere In Focus feature article we’re talking with Randy Barton, a life long fan making the dream a reality. Randy is a very talented racing chassis builder from Guilford, Indiana who is preparing his own unique monster and getting ready to tackle monster truck competition full force.

“I started on Bugzilla, a VW Beetle show truck on a modified ’75 Chevy Blazer frame, when I was 15yrs old. That got me involved in the Jamborees, I really liked the atmosphere. After that I went mud racing for a few years, class V and VI rear-engine cars. I had my fill of that and looked to monster trucks.” – Randy Barton

CP: When did you begin to follow monsters trucks?

RB: I had liked monster trucks as a little kid, I saw Spiker’s Eagle and Stomper Bully, if you remember, those were the coolest trucks ever! As a little kid I always said, “One day, I’m going to have a monster truck.” That’s probably a lot of the reason that as a teenager in high school I got into welding. I guess I looked at it as, “By welding I can make a living and learn how to do stuff that it is going to take to assist with my hobbies.” Luckily, I guess I’m pretty decent at it, that’s how I’ve made my living ever since I graduated high school. That’s led to a teaching job for a while, with welding. Now I’m back to pipefitting, which I really enjoy. I can honestly say that I like my job welding. Because of that, it is fairly easy to do chassis work and stuff like that. That’s kind of how I got into the 4wd scene, the monster trucks. I was a little kid that liked monster as most of the readers do.

CP: Do you remember your first live show?

RB: It had to have been the mid 80’s, ’85ish maybe, at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. I can’t remember if it was a tractor pull or a mud bog, but monster trucks were the side act as they often were in those days. I remember that Bigfoot, Lon Ranger, Samson 1, the Blue Thunder Camaro and Stomper Bully were all there. Definitely a stacked lineup.

CP: You built the Abuzer tank and have already sold it. What happened to that?

RB: I actually sold it to Ryan Rice and his dad, who have the General Hazard ride truck. They actually bought the Incinerator truck that used to be the old Sniper truck of Rob French’s years ago. They’re a really cool group and they have a nice ride truck, a race truck, and, I think, a pretty decent tank now.

CP: Do you miss the tank?

RB: I am yet to miss any metal object that I’ve ever sold. It also freed up a little bit of money for me to put better parts in the monster truck.

CP: That brings up another point, you are running the notoriously more costly Hemi instead of the cheaper and more common Chevy blocks, why?

RB: When I was mud racing, I ran a Hemi in that and I really liked the power that it made. Now though, as I’m buying parts for the Hemi now, I’m almost wishing that I had gone with a big block Chevy engine. It would have been a lot cheaper. The Hemi is also known to be less reliable, so that is an issue as well. If reliability really becomes an issue, I’ll just take the Hemi out and drop a Chevy in. I really like the power of the Hemi, but I am regretting it a little as the costs stack up.

CP: Bugzilla looks wild compared to some of the more standardized designs, tell us what is different.

RB: It is a variation of a Willman chassis. It has one main tube for the main frame rail. It is bellied out in the middle and then tapers in and down on each end. That’s because I’ve got the Hemi behind me, which is a lot wider than a big block Chevy and it is really deep in the chassis, so I really needed to make that chassis wider to get it that low. It has a 3.5in main tube. A lot of the subframe, the cradle area, is 2.5in diameter on the bottom. If you notice in the cage and the bottom of it, there is a little bit less material. I did that because I went with stronger materials. All of the cage, all of the upper part of it, instead of .120 or .125, like others use, I went with .188 wall DOM.

I gave my tubing bender a workout, but it is SO strong, I can’t believe it! I figure the thing is going to be upside down and when it hits hard, I don’t want to replace 10 bars that are .120 wall, I want to replace one or two bars that are .188 wall. It is also very light, actually. I’m not a very big guy, but you and I could probably actually pick the frame up off the ground. So it is strong and it is light and it is bobbed off at the end. It is a 150in wheelbase and the frame is no longer than a 150in. People have asked “What is it, like 120in or like one of Bill Payne’s trucks?” With the axles and the four-link bars underneath of it, you can see the wheels are on the far corners.

CP: No one wants to thrash needlessly on a truck, talk about the convenience built into the truck.

RB: The pan that the seat actually sits on, it is actually pinned in there with four pins to adjust so that you can move the seat back and forth. So if somebody else got in to drive it, you just slide the seat forward. You can also pull that whole assembly out, because the floor is only bolted in with maybe 8 or 10 bolts. There is also a flanged bar around the door area, so with a couple of pins and bolts in a flange you can change a tranny in a really short amount of time. Also, if you notice the suspension mounts, everything is adjustable. Up on the hoops, where there would typically be a hoop, there is a flat bar with 12-14 holes in it. The good thing about that, if I ever decide to change shocks or anything like that, I don’t have to change anything on the chassis. I can make taller mounts, shorter mounts, angled mounts, so changing shocks, changing the angle on the shocks easily. It is no more difficult than sliding a mount up or down and you’re good to go. Same thing with the limiting straps. I tried to make stuff as adjustable as possible on the chassis and the housings. I’ve got good bump stops for the rear because the motor does fit so low. I don’t want the four bars coming in contact with the oil pump or anything like that. I don’t want to replace busted Hemi parts.

CP: The housings are custom and look huge, what are they?

RB: I’ve got Pettibone knuckles on the end and 106s in the center. Some pretty standard stuff, but I built some real nice diamond shaped housings. They are built out of quarter inch. They have a 4.5in. tube on the inside that is a quarter inch thick. There are also block-off plates on the inside. We’re going to keep the oil in the third member area. I always figure that there is no need to have a couple of extra gallons of oil sloshin’ around in the tubes, or when you go into a corner, all of the oil runs to one side. I’ll put some seals inside and won’t have the drips all over the floor like a lot of other guys. There is caster and camber built into each one of the housings, so it should handle pretty good, and I believe we’re going to be pretty strong.

CP: The frame is bellied, but skinny, how do you climb in?

RB: It is somewhere in the 40in wide range in the center of it. Luckily, I’m fairly skinny and pretty nimble, so, I can actually climb in, but the door is going to swing open and I’ll actually climb in through the window. It is slim, but it’s mounted straight to the main frame rail. I figure that is going to be a little more ridged than mounting bars to outriggers that come off the main frame.

CP: What kind of body style are you using?

RB: This will be a glass version of a Baja Volkswagen. Convertible top, Baja front end, Baja fenders in the rear, not a whole lot in the rear. It is really going to look like an open class Baja car, but with a little bit bigger tires. It’s going to be called Bugzilla just like my old show truck.

CP: A VW isn’t a common fiberglass mold. What’s the story?

I knew the guy that started the Cincinnati Off-Road Center and he had a bunch of old VW parts scattered across his property. I went out there and wondered around the woods until I found a front clip for a VW Beetle convertible. You can see it wasn’t stored for preservation, but it would serve well for our mold for Bugzilla. I already had some doors and stuff laying around and bought a Baja front clip. We’ll have to stretch some of the parts to keep everything in proportion, so the body should look pretty authentic from a distance, just scaled up when close up.

CP: Racing or Freestyle emphasis? Mentally and technically.

RB: Looking at it, you can tell it is built really strong. If you look at some things, the adjustable shock mounts, the big Hemi, and the Abruzzi Powerglide, it is going to be a heck of a racer, but I built it so solid that I think I could just beat it to death and I’m not going to have a whole lot of issues. I enjoy freestyle, I LOVE freestyle, who doesn’t? I like racing too, though. I mud raced, I flat dragged for years, so I’ve got the racer mentality; I still like that stuff. I believe with the Hemi in it, it is going to have plenty of power to race anybody that I come against. If you look at the suspension, the rear ends, the shocks that I got for it, I think it will hang tough with about any freestyle course. I think I’ve built a pretty good all around machine. Time will tell.

CP: You have a full-time job. How do you plan on scheduling Bugzilla? Will you race full-time or maintain your pipefitting job?

RB: I’ve been at my job for a long time, it is a great job, I like it, I don’t think I’d give it up, no matter how great things got with this. Luckily, I’ve been there so long, if I need to take off an extended weekend, no problem. Obviously, I couldn’t do it every weekend. I don’t know that I’d want to do it every weekend. If I could run this thing 15 or 20 times the first year, that will tell me more what I want to do with it. Hopefully, I put good enough parts in it that I’m not going to be replacing parts, because if I’m replacing parts, spending money, that is going to put a sour taste in my mouth. I figure, if I build a good solid machine and I have a lot of fun with it, that will keep me more interested in it and make me want to run it more

CP: What is your favorite monster moment as a fan?

RB: I don’t know if I have a favorite moment, but I remember standing next to Spiker’s All-American with the 73’s and polished aluminum wheels. That was really cool.

CP: If you could change one thing in the industry, what would it be?

RB: I really hate the stereotypes that have been placed on the industry. The idea that the sport is comprised of a bunch of rednecks with primitive vehicles crushing things annoys me. There is a bit of the redneck stereotype in all motorsports, but it seems to be especially prevalent in monster trucks. These vehicles are sophisticated pieces of engineering specifically designed for their purpose. There are also many well spoken people participating in the industry and hopefully that will begin to counter the stereotypes.

CP: What is your biggest fear about the industry?

RB: I suppose my biggest fear is unknowingly getting involved with some of the dishonest people in the industry. There are a lot of good people in the industry, but there are some bad ones as well.

CP: How do you see the industry developing in the future?

RB: I see the sport continuing to become more sophisticated, hopefully with more participation from sponsors. Bigfoot 8, Equalizer and perhaps Taurus 3 were really the last big jump from one level to the next. There has been a lot of progress, but those trucks were a big jump for their time. I think something will happen at some point that will be another big leap like that. I think a big A-frame, independent suspension monster truck is possible, and will come along at some point and will probably be the next big leap in monster technology. Scott Bryant and I have some ideas, it isn’t something we are working on anytime soon, but we talk about it regularly and believe the possibility is out there.

CP: When will you debut?

RB: Soon hopefully, but I’ve got a project that has placed Bugzilla on a backburner, I’m also waiting on my Hemi to be done, but as soon as that project is completely, I’ll put the finishing touches on and test it. Hopefully, The Monster Blog can come out when I test it and I don’t make a fool out of myself or it doesn’t make a fool out of me.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the premiere article of TMB’s In Focus, stay tuned each month as we bring you another detailed interview with one of the monster truck industry’s newsmakers.