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Dawn is still an hour away in the empty mega-church parking lot in Forest Lake. A huge metal cross looms overhead, pointing to a distant white semi-truck that boasts, "Everett Jasmer's USA-1: 1988 Monster Truck Challenge Champion."
"You know the most amazing thing about this?" says Chris Daniels, one of the organizers of the day's car-crushing event. "That guy right there? He built all this in his garage."
He's pointing to Everett Jasmer, a solidly built man in a white cowboy hat, his long white beard spilling over a denim shirt with the sleeves cut off.
"I watched him when I was a little kid," says Daniels.
In the 1980s, it used to take at least $2,500 to get Everett Jasmer to crush a row of cars like the gutted junkers lined up in the west end of the parking lot, and even more to get USA-1 to race.
In those days, USA-1 was competing against the other superstar monster trucks—Bigfoot, King Kong, and Bear Foot—at the biggest stadiums across the country. There were USA-1 toys and comics, a series of Chevrolet ads, television specials, and movie cameos.
But today, Jasmer has agreed to do the car crush for the cost of his fuel. Gigs like this are part of his motorsports ministry. Where the truck once wore a sponsorship sticker from Chevrolet, there is now a cross with an American flag draped across it.
"I'll do any event where they'll have me, but I'm not taking the mission off the truck," Jasmer says.
Randy Kron begins to unload the semi. A garage door repairman, Kron volunteered to help Jasmer just for the thrill of it. "I can live vicariously through him."
Kron rolls a tire to the edge of the hauler, then lets it fall to the pavement with a heavy plonk sound before Jasmer gets it under control and rolls it into place.
Watching Jasmer, Kron asks good-naturedly, "When do you figure you'll be too old to be doing this?"
Jasmer doesn't look up. "I've been wondering that myself," he says. "I hadn't planned on doing it 'til this age."
The sun begins to warm the day, and Jasmer removes his cowboy hat momentarily, revealing an almost completely bald head. In the daylight it's possible to see all the places his denim vest has been patched.
Things haven't been good for Jasmer since 1990. That was the year his favorite promoter, TNT Motorsports, was bought out and the drag-style races that USA-1 dominated were canceled.
Jasmer didn't take to the new owner's pro wrestling-style marketing tactics. He resented being told to pretend to hate the other drivers for added drama.
So against the advice of his peers, he brought USA-1 home to his shop in Ham Lake. Jasmer believed that as soon as he could start up a racing series that he deemed legit, USA-1 would make its comeback to the delight of monster truck fans everywhere.
It didn't work out that way. USA-1's sponsors pulled out. The phones rang less.One by one he let his 15 employees go.
Now his Ham Lake office is full of empty desks and memorabilia. A loop of highlights from the '80s echoes in the lobby. A photo of Jasmer from a 1988 exhibition stands in one corner—he's dressed in the exact same denim shirt and cowboy hat.
"I thought I could bring it back in my own way. And I could've," Jasmer says. "I thought I had a good plan."
By noon, families are beginning to arrive at the church parking lot. Children seem especially susceptible to USA-1's gravitational pull. The crumbs of windshield glass stuck in the truck's tire treads don't stop parents from hoisting bewildered toddlers up for photos.
Jasmer changes into his blue-and-white uniform, the same one he wore throughout the '80s. The only difference is the "America Needs the Spirit of Christ!" patch on the back. He signs glossy photos of the truck for kids too young to know who he is.
"I love this," says a father as he snaps photos of the "Spirit of Christ" logo.
"It's been the most rewarding seven years of my life, except financially," Jasmer shrugs. "It's almost wiped me out."
"I'll pray for you," the man says.
"Have you seen my latest YouTube video?"
The man shakes his head no.
"It's a hard hitting, ultra-conservative message to voters to turn the country around November 2," he says. "It's really important to true Christians."
"Yeah, I'm sick of these guys pussy-footin' around," the man grumbles.
The video was Jasmer's last effort to support the Tea Party before Election Day.
When GM, the owner of his beloved Chevrolet, took a buyout from the government, Jasmer was heartbroken. He'd always been a hard-line conservative—he considers everything from seatbelt laws to gay marriage evidence of America's decline—and a federal takeover of the industry to which he'd devoted his life felt like a personal attack.
"It hurt me deeply," he says.
Further infuriated by the Cash for Clunkers program, he approached the TV show Fox & Friends, asking if they'd air a car crush with USA-1 smashing hybrid cars. They declined.
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