Jeff Bainter, of Ronald, who graduated from West Valley High School in 1981, was inducted in November for his 35-year career in racing and building monster trucks.
YAKIMA — The Yakima native who built and raced the monster Jeep known as Hot Stuff — then rebuilt it after it was reduced to parts — is celebrating an extra special holiday season this year.
Jeff Bainter, of Ronald, Kittitas County, who graduated from West Valley High School in 1981, was inducted into the International Monster Truck Museum Hall of Fame in November for his 35-year career in racing and building monster trucks.
He still races Captain USA, the monster truck he built as Captain America in 1997 and renamed in 2003. As an independent driver, Bainter solely owns his monster trucks, which he has also designed, built, transported and maintained.
Bainter and four others, chosen from 20 nominees, were inducted in November during the seventh annual hall-of-fame-induction ceremony and reunion in Auburn, Indiana. It was his second nomination.
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“It’s definitely a highlight of my career,” said Bainter, 55, noting that inductees have included owners, announcers and others in the monster-truck industry along with drivers.
He gladly accepted a massive plaque detailing his accomplishment but wasn’t keen on speaking in front of several hundred people. “I spent so much of my speech thanking people,” he said.
Most of all, Bainter wanted to thank the fans.
“And finally, from the bottom of my heart, a big thank-you to the monster-truck fans themselves,” he said in his speech. “The fans of all ages have played such a big part in helping create our sport and allow the sport to grow to what it is today.”
Known as the World’s Largest Jeep, the towering red truck Bainter rebuilt with the bones of an earlier Jeep known as Hot Stuff was on display during the induction and reunion weekend, thanks to a friend who hauled it in his semi trailer.
Bainter’s career in monster trucks began with Hot Stuff, which made its public debut in the 1986 Sunfair Parade in Yakima and launched his professional driving career in Southern California’s Anaheim Stadium in 1987.
Hot Stuff later crushed cars alongside its partner, a bright-yellow monster Jeep known as High Voltage, which Bainter built in 1989. Hot Stuff even took on Bigfoot, the granddaddy of all monster trucks, and won several times.
In 2003, Bainter sold Hot Stuff and High Voltage. Then in 2010, a fan found the remains of Hot Stuff for sale on eBay. He and Bainter each paid $2,000; Bainter later bought him out and started rebuilding the World’s Largest Jeep in 2014. And that’s the version that thousands saw in the 2016 Sunfair Parade.
More recently, he drove the big red Jeep — decorated with icicle lights, a snowman and candy canes — in the Christmas in Cle Elum parade. Bainter plans other events and appearances as a way to give back to his fans, who he said blessed him with a career he relishes.
He considers himself semiretired these days.
“I think we did about 17 events this year, nothing like the 45 weeks a year I did in the past,” he said.
He’s glad he got into the monster-truck industry when he did.
“Our industry has changed so much in the last three years,” Bainter said, moving from an industry made up of independent drivers and owners to one dominated by a single company.
“I have been very lucky to have had such a great job for the last 30-plus years,” he said in his speech. “I was not sure if I could support myself racing monster trucks, and never would have guessed I would still be racing the trucks well into my 50s.”