History of the Trucks
Kirk Dabney 25+ Years in the Monster Truck Business
Many of you are familiar with Kirk Dabney as the driver of the Overkill and Monster Patrol Monster Trucks for Paul Shafer Motorsports. However, you may not be aware that this man is a seasoned veteran that is celebrating his 23rd year as a Monster Truck competitor. Kirk, along with his brother Kevin, are responsible for many monster truck firsts.
Kirk began his Monster Truck career in 1984. His first monster was built to help promote his Carolina Custom Off-Road shop located in Fayetteville, NC. Kirk’s first Monster was actually not a truck, but rather a car. Kirk and Kevin built Blue Thunder, a 1968 Camaro that started on 5-ton axels and five and a half foot tall Goodyear turf tires. The Camaro body was mounted to a Dodge truck frame and powered by a Dodge 440 engine with a 727 Torque Flight Transmission. The engine featured a tunnel ram intake with dual carburetors and nitrous injection system. Soon after Blue Thunder’s public debut, the Dabney’s switched the tires over to 66”x43” Goodyear Terra tires. Blue Thunder was the first Monster Car ever built. Using a Camaro body wasn’t the only innovation that Blue Thunder Featured.
The Blue Thunder Monster Camaro was themed after the popular Blue Thunder movie that featured a high tech helicopter. As such, Kirk’s Blue Thunder had many high tech features as well. The main controller for the vehicle was actually a tiller stick from a helicopter. The stick controlled the front and rear steering, tilt front end, and activation for the Nitrous system all with one hand.
Blue Thunder also featured an innovative suspension as well. Instead of leaf springs, Blue Thunder utilized air bags with four link suspension. Although air bags had been in use prior, Blue Thunder was the first monster to utilize a four link suspension. In conjunction with airbags, the Dabney’s utilized a hydraulic shock at each wheel of the truck in order to control ride height. In fact the amazing “green knob” regulators, that other teams have taken credit for innovating, were used by the Dabney’s to control hydraulic flow to these cylinders back in 1984. Blue Thunder’s radical appearance and performance made it an instant hit on the USHRA series.
In 1986, Dabney built a new monster, Mega Force. Dabney continued to divert from popular trends as Mega Force used a 1985 Nissan extended cab pick up body. Mega Force had its own share of stunning features, most notably its size. The truck stood 14’ tall due to 80” tall Firestone tires. The body also featured a tilt bed. Another interesting feature was that Mega Force used two small block Chevy engines, one under the hood and one in the bed. The engine under the hood was basically a stock 350 and used to maneuver the truck around the pit area. The engine in the bed was a supercharged, alcohol-injected 377, with 1100 horse power which was used for performances. Mega Force was the first monster truck to utilize Clark Planetaries. Mega Force’s axels were Clark 20 ton axels from a military fork lift. Because Clark axels were a traditional pinion arrangement instead of a high pinion, like Rockwell 5-ton, the Dabney’s built a right angle drive system that used the axel turned 90 degrees with the pinion facing up. A right angle gearbox was mounted on top of each axel and transferred the transfer case outputs into the differentials.
Ultimately, The Dabney duo started using Clark planetary ends in conjunction with 5-ton Rockwell’s and were the first to do so. In fact their decision to try the combination came about by accident. Some teams had already begun to match 5-ton Rockwell’s to Rockwell planetary ends, but those setups required custom axel shafts to be made. Therefore, many teams could not afford to adapt to planetaries by going that route. Hence one day the two brothers’ were working in the shop. Kevin was working on Mega Force and Kirk was working on Blue Thunder. They both had their axle assemblies apart and parts were all over the shop floor. When they each went to put their axels back together, they found that they couldn’t tell the difference between the Clark and Rockwell inner shafts. Thus they tried mating a 5-ton center section to Clark planetaries. The first truck they did this for was for the customer who owned the Gentle Ben Monster Truck. The Dabney’s built several other axel sets for many other Monster Trucks as well. Thus the ever-popular Clark / Rockwell hybrid axel was born.
1986 brought about some changes to Blue Thunder as well. SRO the promoter behind the USHRA convinced Kirk to spruce up Blue Thunder’s image. Blue Thunder then became Thunder Beast. The Camaro body was repainted a brilliant red base coat. Fred Brumann, originator of the “Grave Yard” paint scheme on Dennis Anderson’s Grave Digger, was hired to add custom mural work and lettering. Thunder Beast was also given a set of Clark planetaries added to its 5-ton axles and was modified to run on 73” Firestones to make it even more visually impressive. The engine and transmission were also updated to a Donovan and Turbo 400 so that the drive train was a closer match to the make of the body. Kirk had teething problems with the new combination and Thunder Beast did not generate the fan following that was predicted due to the fact that the machine’s identity seemed to have been lost during the transformation from Blue Thunder to Thunder Beast. Kirk soon abandoned the concept and used the axels and tires to build a new truck, the Duraliner Giant.
Built in 1987, Duraliner Giant was perhaps the most traditional truck the Dabney’s had built to date. Duraliner Giant was indeed a giant as the 1986 Ford pickup body stood over 13 feet tall. Kirk had negotiated a sponsorship with Duraliner and promoted the truck as the Duraliner Giant for three years. Duraliner Giant received updates along the way as the body was changed to the 87’-88’ body style.
By the end of the eighties, Monster Truck competition turned into all out racing. By 1990, Kirk had decided that he needed to change to fit the needs of the industry. Kirk sold the Duraliner Giant to an individual in Kentucky who now runs the truck as a ride truck called Kentucky Thunder. Kirk then purchased Scott Hess’s Bearfoot racer leaf spring truck. Kirk rebuilt Bearfoot into the Giant. Kirk kept the drive train and built an all new chassis to the exact dimensions of Hess’s Bearfoot frame. Kirk ran a Ford body to keep the following he had generated with his Duraliner Giant fans.
In 1991 Kirk decided to expand his operation by purchasing Steve Hess’s second Nitmare Monster Truck. Nitemare was also a leaf spring truck that Kirk eventually renamed Thunder Struck. Kirk competed with Giant and Thunder Struck in the Thunder Nationals circuit in the early nineties.
In 1993, Kirk decided to enter the highly competitive Penda Series which took place at Special Events shows in spring, summer, and fall. Kirk purchased the Nitemare race truck from Steve Hess and promoted the truck as Nitemare and as USA-1 for a short time during the 93’ season.
In 1994, Kirk purchased yet another truck, Marty Garza’s Extreme Overkill. This was perhaps the most sophisticated truck ever to be built with its low center of gravity chassis and swing arm suspension. Kirk promoted Extreme Overkill for the next three years, winning many events along the way. In 1997, Extreme Overkill was updated to the new F-150 body style and given a new paint scheme.
At one point, Kirk had three different teams with himself driving Extreme Overkill, Bobby Zee driving Nitemare, and Roger Grate driving Thunder Struck. Eventually Kirk sold Nitemare and Thunder Struck. Kirk then purchased a Patrick chassis truck and ran it as a second Overkill. For a short time in 1997 Kirk promoted his Garza chassis Extreme Overkill and his Patrick chassis Overkill until the Garza chassis was sold to Paul Stender.
In 1998, Kirk teamed up with Paul Shafer Motorsports to run his truck as Monster Patrol. Kirk has worked with Paul ever since and is extremely happy with the support that Paul Shafer Motorsports gives him. That support shows in the all new state of the art ORI Monster Truck that Kirk recently built. This truck backed by Paul Shaffer Motorsports utilizes some of the best components currently available in the industry as well as many innovative chassis and suspension geometry concepts.
The ORI Monster Truck can be found on display at Kirk’s new off-road shop in Alabama, Off-Road Centers franchises. This leads us to the latest development in Kirk’s career. It would seem as though Kirk’s career has come full circle starting in off-road customizing to becoming a full time racer and now getting back into off road customizing once again.
Kirk's home base in Russellville, Alabama, also builds custom street monsters for customers. Kirk has built many customized 4x4’s and even some pro-street trucks over the years. After having to practically re-engineer an OEM frame and suspension in order to achieve the desired lift that Kirk’s customers want, Kirk decided to begin building an all tube chassis with four link suspension which use the customer’s OEM body. These chassis’s and suspensions are replicas of full size monsters in which the Street Monsters emulate. Originally, Extreme Chassis Works, now Off Road Centers, also makes competition Monster and ride truck chassis. Off Road Centers has the ability to build a turn key competition truck if you desire.
Kirk has watched the Monster Truck industry evolve from humble beginnings to what it is today, all from within the business. It is always nice to see such a talented competitor stay in the industry and the Monster Truck industry is in deed better for having Kirk Dabney involved in it. We look forward to what Kirk and his team comes up with next!