Tonganoxie couple compete on national truck circuit
These days, it's not the big truck that thrills monster truck driver Jimmy Creten, also known as Bounty Hunter.
To Creten and his wife, better known in monster truck circles as the Scarlet Bandit, it's the fans who make it worthwhile.
Especially one fan in particular -- a 3-year-old boy in Hollister, Mo., who dressed up as the Bounty Hunter monster truck for Halloween. And, for his birthday, the child blew out his candles on a Bounty Hunter cake.
Jimmy and Dawn Creten, who live in rural Tonganoxie, were so impressed with the photos the boy gave them that they added them to their Web site.
"We have a lot of fans," Dawn said during a recent interview at their shop south of Tonganoxie. "I think our fan base has come up tons this year -- that's probably the one thing that keeps me wanting to do this."
Like her husband, Dawn, who is 29, drives a monster truck.
A gradual start
Jimmy, who is 37, said his start in the business came about gradually, beginning in the 1980s. He was a four-wheel-drive enthusiast who was fascinated with big tires.
"They kept coming out with the bigger tires available for street trucks," Jimmy said. "Every time a new tire came out, everybody would rush out and get the new tires just to be more visible."
It didn't occur to this engineer with 10 years of college and four degrees that this could lead him to a new career.
"I never dreamed I would go into monster trucks," Jimmy said.
From street trucks, he progressed to mud racing.
When one of the men he used to mud race with offered to sell him a monster truck, Jimmy agreed.
"It started as a hobby," Jimmy said.
About eight years ago when the company he worked for downsized and forced him to take a buyout, Jimmy, who is the grandson of Pete and Mildred McMillon, decided that from then on, he wanted a job that no one could take away.
He was already leasing out his monster truck to another driver.
"I built my second truck and decided to race it myself," Jimmy said.
Rooting for Mommy and Daddy
In July 1997, he met Dawn.
"It was during the summertime that I met her, during one of those shows," Jimmy said. "She was off for summer break."
At the time, Dawn, who was in her seventh year as a medic in the Army Reserves, was in college, studying to become a physical therapist.
"I had two classes left to finish my degree," Dawn said.
The two hit it off.
"She told me if I came back that she would go with me for a couple of weeks," Jimmy said. "August came and she stayed out on the road with me."
Dawn, who was from Bismark, N.D., said she told her parents she'd be back home in time to return to college.
She laughs as she refers to what is now a legendary joke in her family: "My parents are still waiting for me to go back to college."
But seriously, she said, her parents are enthusiastic about the career she's fallen into, even though it's likely they never dreamed their daughter would end up driving monster trucks.
And, gradually, the new additions to their family -- Faith and Hope, are warming to the fact that Mommy and Daddy drive Monster Trucks.
"They'll say, 'Stay home with me, I don't want you to drive the truck,'" Dawn said.
But once they get accustomed to the fact that Mom, as well as Dad, are the ones driving the trucks in the arena, things change.
"They root for us," Dawn said of their daughters.
The family travels to meets across the country, riding in comfort in their extra long semi-trailer cab custom-built into a motor home.
Top of the business
In their early days together, Dawn didn't aspire to become a monster truck driver.
That came about when their driver decided that traveling wasn't for him, and Jimmy needed a quick replacement. He asked Dawn if she could drive.
"He showed me how to drive it," Dawn said. "He gave me a lesson in the parking lot."
"She was a natural," Jimmy said. "She wasn't afraid of it at all."
Dawn's first competition was a little rough.
"Her belts came loose and she hit her head on the roll bar," Jimmy said.
But Dawn had just assumed that was par for the course with monster truck competitions.
"I didn't even know it had come loose," she said.
Since then, Dawn, as well as Jimmy, have come a long way.
In the 2002 and the 2003 Monster Jam World Finals, Jimmy placed second.
"We're in the top of the business," Jimmy said, pointing to the plaques and trophies that line his office walls. "It's kind of hard to go much farther than what we've done."
Aside from hoping to take first in world competition next year, Jimmy has other goals in mind.
"I have plans to reinvent the wheel and build the first independent suspension monster truck out there," he said. "The wheels will work independently of each other."
Jimmy said with his crew, they have the technology to make that happen.
"We're just in the process of trying to get the funds together," he said.
Hard to watch
Jimmy Creten likes to do things right. That's why he's been able to attract a major national corporation, Checker Schuck's Kragen Auto Parts, as a sponsor.
But when he makes a mistake, he's pretty hard on himself.
For instance, somewhere in his rural Tonganoxie shop he has a video of the recent world competition. But it's a video he'll probably never watch.
Jimmy blushes as he laughs at himself and says: "I can't watch myself lose -- it would just ruin my day."
The race is so firmly embedded in his mind that it might as well have happened yesterday.
"I spun out in the corner, it's sickening," Jimmy said. "I can't even watch myself race."
He recalls seeing a camera crew approach at the end of the championship.
"I'm over there kicking the tires," Jimmy said. "They took one look and decided to go interview somebody else."
Dawn flashes an understanding smile at her husband. "Jimmy probably takes losing worse than anybody else," she said.
Jimmy agreed, and added: "Especially when it's driver error. I had the best truck over there."
Of the four trucks the Cretens own, Bounty Hunter is the best.
"It's probably the flagship of the four," Creten said. "I can pretty much give anybody a run for their money."
Dawn's truck, he said, doesn't take the abuse that his takes.
"Dawn doesn't tear up a truck as bad as I do," Jimmy said.
Dawn winks at her husband, and says there's a reason for that:
"To keep peace in the family I have to keep letting him win," she said.
Because the couple compete in the same shows, they do end up facing off with the other.
"There's only six trucks so you're bound to get paired up against each other," Dawn said.
The Bounty Hunter and Scarlet Bandit action has been physically grueling for the Cretens.
"The X-rays of our necks all look alike," Dawn said.
The most common problem, Jimmy said, are torn and stretched tendons in their necks.
Drivers wear typical race car suits that are fireproof and have helmets.
One difference between Dawn and Jimmy is how their parents react to the monster truck competitions.
"My mom used to not be able to watch," Jimmy said. "Now she has her eyes closed most of the time."
But Dawn's family has a different response.
"His mom would be saying, 'That's high enough, that's high enough' and my mom would be saying, 'Higher, higher,'" Dawn said.
Brian Manson, office manager at the Tonganoxie shop, said Jimmy, or Bounty Hunter, holds the family record for the longest and highest jump.
"It's 130 feet long and about 25 to 30 feet in the air," Manson said.
What's the secret?
"You just hold on real tight," Manson said.
Dawn enjoys the social aspect of monster truck driving.
"The fans keep you going," she said. "It's that, and it's kind of my identity."
Jimmy's Tonganoxie grandmother, Mildred McMillon, said she's grown to enjoy the sport.
"I think it's very interesting, having watched it since the time Jimmy started," McMillon said. "It's such a family-oriented thing -- they stress no drugs, no alcohol, those types of things. ... It's one of the few sports where they still fill the stands, so that tells you something about families being together."