Mike Ryan's interest in the hill climb, as well as the allure of super truck racing, led him to attend some of the big races in Europe. "It was an incredible thing, it was outselling the Formula One," Ryan said of the crowds attending the super truck races.
He said most people here and in Europe could relate to the trucks, they saw them every day, while the Formula One cars were more like spaceships. That familiar allure, melded with the alien idea of a fast truck appealed to most people. "I mean, I go to Pikes Peak (with my team and truck) and it's like I have star power. I mean I'm a fat 52-year-old guy driving a truck -- that's not star power, but that's the power of the truck," he said.
In 2001, the power of the truck racing idea in the United States grew and he became involved with the emerging Super Truck Racing Association of North America, or STRANA. STRANA organizers brought together Class 8 trucks -- big rigs without trailers -- and competed in races as the Tonka Super Truck Celebrity Challenge. The races fell under the American Le Mans Series sanction, rather like European race trucks fall under the FIA. Races were held at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and Road Atlanta in Ga. Demonstration races were also held at Mosport International Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario Canada and at Laguna Seca in Salinas, Calif.
Ryan said the trucks were essentially built from the ground up and were as similar to road-going trucks as passenger cars were to NASCAR race machines. And it was this factor, plus several others, that led to the death of the sport in the U.S. "I think it would have survived if the organizers hadn't built from the top down," Ryan said of starting a series from custom machines rather than evolving a custom machine from stock. "The fans loved it, but it was too expensive to get into races, something like $600,000 for a truck and a lot to just get on the circuit. Sponsors couldn't afford it."
He added, the sport may have had staying power if it started like NASCAR, from drivers with little money and big dreams -- growing the sport in a natural way like they did in Europe and Britain. "But it was just too much too fast," Ryan said.