Monster truck driver revved up about jump to reclaim world record

According to the 2013 Guinness Book of World Records, Joe Sylvester of Canfield, Ohio, holds the record for longest ramp jump in a monster truck.

The entry mentions the 10th annual Cornfield 500 in Columbus, PA, held Sept. 5, 2010, as the setting for the record-setting flight.

That’s some pretty good advertising for the event, and for Warren County in general.

“I’ve been coming to do this event for seven years,” said Sylvester, who has been in the professional monster truck business for eight years. “I enjoy coming here. I enjoy the people.”

Blair and Sabrena Miller, who run the Cornfield 500, are happy to welcome the popular driver back to their event, not least because he’s good for publicity.

This year’s event is getting some additional hype related to the jump record.

Sylvester and his Bad Habit monster truck are in the book, but they lost the record in September.

“I went 208 (feet) before,” Sylvester said. “It was just broken by six feet.”

Bigfoot topped Bad Habit’s official 208.61-foot jump on Sept. 16, 2012, with a jump of 214 feet 8 inches. That jump was formally accepted as the new record by Guinness in February.

Sylvester arrived in Columbus on Tuesday to begin a new run at the record. After he and part-time crew member Kyle Kunkle, who was his crew chief for the record jump in 2010, checked over the modified Cadillac Escalade monster truck and Sylvester personally took care of a hole in the track, he tested the truck at speed.

For his previous record-setting jump, Sylvester got Bad Habit up to 79 miles per hour.

Using the same ramp as three years ago, he expects to need more speed for more air. “We need to go over 80 miles an hour to achieve the distance I want to go,” Sylvester said. “Hopefully we can make it happen next weekend.”

On Tuesday, Sylvester fired up Bad Habit, and ran two speed tests. He got very close to the target.

After he brought Bad Habit roaring around the last two turns in the Cornfield 500 track, he hit the throttle in the straight, giving him about a quarter mile of acceleration.

The Cornfield 500 setting is a good size for the attempt and, after seven years, it’s comfortable.

“Not everybody has this amount of land” to attempt jump distance records, he said. “They were willing to help me promote it and put the event on.”

During one of two speed runs, Bad Habit topped out at 79.8 miles per hour. There was power to spare. “It’ll go faster,” Sylvester said. “I can’t control it. The steering’s too sloppy right now.”

He and Kunkle adjusted the steering and prepared for more testing.

Monster trucks do not typically go 80 miles per hour. In fact, the 600-pound tires carry a caution to drivers not to exceed 30 miles per hour.

Sylvester explained that the trucks have to be geared low for their normal duties.

Getting ready for the jump required modification of the heavily-modified vehicle. “We did a pretty high horsepower tune-up,” he said. “We retuned the motor to turn the super-tall gears that we put in it to achieve the speed.”

While working up to the record-setting 2010 jump, Sylvester and Bad Habit crashed, causing all manner of damage to the vehicle and some to the driver. The NASCAR-like safety equipment in the vehicle is top-of-the-line. There are head and neck restraints, a five-point harness, and a heavy cage around the driver’s compartment. Sylvester wears a helmet and fire resistant gear from head to toe. “We have some of the best safety equipment in all of motorsports,” he said. “We have to.”

Kunkle explained that the repairs to Bad Habit’s frame, front axle, and various other parts, took a full week. The timing was tight. Kunkle said Sylvester was sitting in the truck ready to drive while he did the final work on the wheel that had been ripped off in the crash.

Bigfoot’s jump was ramp-to-ground, allowing a little extra distance in exchange for more risk. Bad Habit is flying ramp-to-ramp, providing a higher degree of safety for the driver and machine.

“It doesn’t say anything in the rules, but if we don’t drive away from it, it wasn’t a successful jump,” Sylvester said.

The record jump attempt is scheduled for “about” 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, at the Cornfield 500, along Route 6 in Columbus. There is a charge for admission.