ALEDO, Ill. - Early last month, a giant machine rumbled through dirt and mud for a place in the history books. Rural Aledo resident Larry Quick was behind the wheel of this mechanical animal, better known as Ghost Ryder.
Quick steered Ghost Ryder, a 10,000-pound monster truck, into a specially designed dirt wall at the Vermonster 4 by 4 Event in Bradford, Vt. He held tight to the steering wheel, bracing himself as he literally hit the wall and climbed. In a brief moment, he would know if he was the first to backflip a monster truck successfully at a public event.
Seconds seemed like hours as he rotated in the air, seeing a blur of brown dirt and blue skies.
Then he landed.
"Yeah, you get a little bit of fear," Quick said of his truck and his feats of daring. "The fear is right before I run. I always respect the truck."
The crowd of about 3,000 cheered, whistled and yelled after Quick's backflip. Monster truck fans knew they had witnessed history.
For Quick, a small-town man with a lifelong dream of driving big trucks for a living, it was a reward of sorts for all the broken bones, the days of little money on the truck circuit, the people who doubted his convictions.
Like the race to the moon or the quest to be the first to run a four-minute mile, monster truckers have tried for years to reach their goal: to coax their behemoth machines to backflip successfully. Now, the Ghost Ryder sits atop the mountain.
Quick also is the No. 1 freestyle trucker in the country, and he has become an Internet sensation with his jump.
The backflip took a year's worth of planning and now Quick is reaping the rewards.
"I've gotten more responses, more letters, more e-mails in the last few days than I got in the last few years," said Quick, 31. "The night it (video) hit the Internet a few hours after the stunt, we were absolutely swamped."
Quick has experienced many highs and lows in his professional life. He has been knocked out, broken three vertebrae, a collarbone, a tailbone. He drives as hard as he can. He takes chances, backflipping his monster on its lid some 45 times.
He travels around the country 38 weeks a year, taking his act to arenas and thousands of cheering, screaming fans. The Ghost Ryder confronts other monster trucks with names like "Barbarian," and "Bounty Hunter."
He travels to South America, where fans line up for autographs and pictures. He hires an interpreter to understand what his followers are saying. With success comes more travel; he is tentatively scheduled to perform in China later this year. Wherever he goes, the Ghost Ryder soars into the air, rearing over cars and smashing metal beneath it. He spins doughnuts, crashes into hills, shifts and steers as he pops giant wheelies.
"When you're done with freestyle, you're tired, you're out of breath, you're working your ass off," he said. "You really are. You go out there. You just do your job, you know.
"It has always come naturally to me to drive."
Quick admits to being a life-long 4 x 4 junkie. Recently he was at his home in the country where he lives with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Sidney.
His friend, Dave Richardson, was welding on the Ghost Ryder, preparing it for a show in New Mexico.
Quick was in the garage, surrounded by parts and tools.
"The really cool part of it is, you can put your finger anywhere on the map of the United States right now, and there's a good chance I know somebody," he said. "That's the really cool part."