Eric Steinberg is set to graduate later this month from State Tech with his second degree, but more importantly, he’s been able to live his dream as a driver of the famous BIGFOOT monster …
Eric Steinberg is set to graduate later this month from State Tech with his second degree, but more importantly, he’s been able to live his dream as a driver of the famous BIGFOOT monster truck.
“I saw my first monster truck when I was three years old,” said Steinberg, who will graduate with an Associate of Science in the Automotive Technology High-Performance Program. “I remember how I felt and that helped me transition to being a cool driver. I want to have more personal interaction with the fans.”
Steinberg enrolled at State Tech for the first time in 2018 and finished in 2020 with a Heavy and Medium Truck Technology degree. However, he wanted to expand his knowledge of high-performance vehicles and thus enrolled in his second course of study.
While working in Villa Ridge, the Washington native met a coworker that had been involved with BIGFOOT during the early 2000s. Their friendship led to a meeting with legendary BIGFOOT pioneer Dan Runte.
“He knew I was going to school and wanted me to continue,” said Steinberg.
However, he was hired in May 2021. “I did whatever I could to help out,” said Steinberg, who built his reputation over the summer before returning to State Tech in August of that year.
The Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live Tour was short one driver, with Team BIGFOOT having two trucks and only one driver at the time for the US tour, one that is the legendary BIGFOOT monster truck and one monster truck that is called RACE ACE, which is the truck Steinberg is piloting.
In December 2021, Steinberg said he was approached one day after school to drive, and he agreed to do it.
“I found that I had a passion for it and wanted to give it a shot,” he said.
It took two days of prep between fittings for the fire suit and getting the truck ready. “It didn’t seem real,” said Steinberg. “Here I was at 22 doing my dream job.”
Steinberg is the youngest driver to ever pilot BIGFOOT in the 47 years since its introduction.
All told, Steinberg said he had about an hour of training on how to drive BIGFOOT before the show. “That first time, I did terribly, but I was still learning,” he added.
Because of his understanding of the vehicle and the training he’s received at State Tech, it didn’t take long for Steinberg to excel.
“I’m single with no kids, so it was easy to go to school and still have this incredible job on the weekends,” said Steinberg.
Last year was challenging because of COVID, with lockdowns and limitations on interactions with fans taking a toll.
“I couldn’t meet with fans the way I wanted to,” said Steinberg. “Things gradually changed and then finally opened up. It was challenging, but it’s great now. Kids come up for autographs, and I’m trying to do what I would have liked when I was their age.”
To that end, Steinberg has purchased small BIGFOOT vehicles out of his own pocket to give away at shows to younger fans. “I want them to have a great experience,” he added.
“That’s why he was voted the ‘Peoples’ Champion,’” said Automotive Technology Instructor Mitch Branson, who has been with the college since 2012 and was recently named the first-ever State Tech Champion faculty member. “He is one of the most driven students I’ve seen in 10 years. My biggest regret is that I didn’t explore getting to know him before last May.”
State Tech President Dr. Strong said Branson’s involvement and encouragement are part of the reason he was recognized as a State Tech Champion.
“The State Tech Champion recognition is about going the extra mile,” said Dr. Strong. “Mitch is definitely all about our students and their success. He and Department Chair Chris Cox came by my office to tell me about Eric and driving for BIGFOOT 4x4 Inc. In disbelief, I said, ‘No way, the Bigfoot!’ The pride I could see on Mitch’s face is what makes this a special place.”
Branson encouraged Steinberg to apply for the BIGFOOT driver’s position though the latter had already done so.
Still, it was nice to have that encouragement, Steinberg noted. “Mitch and I talked to Chris (Cox), and they were both very supportive,” he said.
Cox, the Automotive Collision Technology and Automotive Technology Department Chair/Instructor, is quite familiar with high-performance vehicles as his son, Tucker, races the State Tech car.
Steinberg said that he has benefitted greatly from his courses at State Tech. “Almost every class has helped with monster trucks, like problem-solving,” he added. “You have to understand general mechanics before you can really get into high-performance vehicles.”
One of the best aspects of training at State Tech is methodology. “It’s 70 percent hands-on, and I learn better that way,” Steinberg said.
Though he didn’t grow up with a family of mechanics, Steinberg said he learned a lot from his grandfather on the family farm. His Grandma Miller was originally from Cooper Hill and married his Grandpa Sprenger, who was originally from Westphalia and later moved to Linn. His Grandpa Sprenger passed when Steinberg was young and he has picked up some mechanical knowledge from his Grandpa Diermann on his farm. Both Grandma Sprenger and Grandpa Diermann have been incredibly supportive, Steinberg added.
“My grandma is one of the most influential people in my life,” Steinberg said, noting he has a lot of family in Linn and Osage County. “She had no doubt I could do it, and she’s so happy for me as for the rest of my family.”
Branson has taken a particular interest in Steinberg’s success, taking his family to a few events to watch him drive.
“It’s unique to me,” said Branson, adding that he, too, developed a passion for monster trucks at an early age. “I can see myself in him. He’s doing something I wish I had gotten out of my comfort zone to do, but it’s more rewarding to see him doing this than if I had done it myself.”
Branson sees a difference between Steinberg and other drivers. “I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, and for Eric to have the Peoples’ Champion mentality is awesome. I’m excited to see his progress.”
After graduation, Steinberg will continue to drive BIGFOOT, moving from part-time to full-time.
“I’ve learned a lot, but with a full-time job, I’ll be able to travel, work on the truck and get it ready for each show,” he said. “I’m very excited to be working for the BIGFOOT family because that’s what we are, a family. Everyone does a little bit of everything to make sure the truck is ready. We work very well together.”
The Hot Wheels Tour wraps up this month, and over the summer, there will be several outdoor events, with Hot Wheels returning in August. Steinberg said he might be in St. Charles this fall and encouraged everyone to watch for a show schedule on the BIGFOOT 4x4 website (www.bigfoot4x4.com).
For now, Steinberg is looking forward to receiving his second diploma as he counts his blessings.
“I’m lucky to have my dream job, and I want to do it right,” he said, offering advice applicable to everyone. “You have to follow your dreams. Don’t just have a job. There’s nothing stopping you. Follow your passion, and don’t let others decide your fate.”
Branson agreed. “His advice to follow your dreams impacts me,” he said. “My job is to help students get the education they need to enter the workforce, and he’s done it in a very special way.”