It looks like a school bus.
It’s the color of a school bus.
It’s Higher Education — the latest vehicle designed and engineered by Hagerstown resident Michael Vaters, a long-time veteran in the world of monster truck entertainment.
Fans who love the thunderous roar of supercharged engines or the sight of 5.5-foot-high tires stampeding over wrecked cars, will have a chance to see Vaters’ newest creation when the flat-nosed, three-quarter-scale bus appears at the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam from Friday, July 22, through Sunday, July 24, at the Hagerstown Speedway.
Higher Education will be driven by long-time crew member and family friend, Jimmy Tracey Sr.
A second truck, Black Stallion, driven by Vaters, also will be featured in the show.
Other monster trucks that will be on hand include Spiderman, Monster Mutt Dalmatian, Ironman, Gravedigger and Gunslinger.
Vaters has been part of the monster truck industry for about 30 years, he said.
He can trace his interest back to the early 1980s, when he bought a black Ford F-250 pickup truck at a local dealership. At that time, lift kits weren’t available, he said, so he designed and built his own.
“I continued with modifications on the Ford, including larger tires and more lift until they outlawed lifted trucks in Maryland,” he said. “I was forced to make a decision to either lower the street truck or make it bigger and get into monster truck competition, which, at that time, was becoming an organized sport.”
He chose monster trucks.
Since then, Vaters has turned a hobby into a full-time job. “And that’s putting it mildly,” Vaters said. “We work every day, including holidays and weekends, and haven’t had a vacation in a long time. We put in long days getting ready for a show and sometimes drive all night to get to the next show.”
But it’s a labor of love, he said.
“We try to do the best job we can for our fans,” he said. “We do whatever it takes to get out there and put on a good show.”
Vaters said his business has grown to include a team of family and friends, including his long-time pal, Jimmy Tracey Sr., who is crew chief and driver for Higher Education; his stepson, David Rhinecker, who works full time in the shop and on the road as a general mechanic and crew member; and his son Mikey Jr., who helps in the shop and also performs freestyle motocross at the summer shows.
His wife, Denise, runs the office and does everything from contracting the trucks and bookkeeping to promotional work and managing Vader’s website. She also is the event director at shows produced during the summer, takes care of novelty sales “and whatever else needs to be done,” he said.
On average, Vaters’ team competes in about 75 to 80 shows each year.
“Many events at a venue will have one to four shows in a weekend,” he noted. “In 2010, we competed in 77 separate shows at 50 different venues and were on display to promote upcoming shows 43 times.”