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TRUCK DYNASTY: The First Deacon in the World of Monster Trucks


Courtesy of XDP

John Burger - published on 05/19/14

Bishop David M. O'Connell Ordains a Candidate with a most XTREME career.

Crowds of people fill the stands, many sporting sunglasses and baseball caps and patriotic t-shirts. The sun beats down, the beer flows, and the cheers go up when the next “extreme diesel” pickup truck, souped-up so much that you’d probably need a ladder to get into the cab, enters the dirt field.

A man in the crowd is part-owner of the truck. He’s responsible for many of the folks who are here. But most of them don’t know he has another life—a life of prayer and service.

He’s a Catholic deacon. 

If Hemingway were still alive, he might write about this show the way he wrote about bullfights. Only, the bull at the center of everyone’s attention is charging without any provocation of a matador. And there’s no likelihood that it will die when it’s all over.

Up next is a 2010 Ford with a 1400+ horsepower turbo Cummins engine. Its four tires are almost six feet in diameter and a good yard wide. With its huge suspension springs, the vehicle climbs over a set of four junkers parked fender to fender, crushing roofs and smashing windshields, bouncing down and aiming for the next set. Spewing fire from its exhaust stack, its thick black diesel fumes obscure the stadium lights. Like some kind of lunar rover, it pops wheelies and spins around and around at the end of the field and revs up for another run over the vehicles before helmeted driver Dave Radzierez leans out the window and throws his arms out to the cheers of a very appreciative crowd.

This is the monster truck of XDP, or Xtreme Diesel Performance, the showcaser for a small, family-owned business in central New Jersey. The company has been supplying parts for diesel-truck enthusiasts for years, and one of the firm’s partners, Philip T. Craft, marvels at what diesel, combined with new technologies, can do—not just for entertainment like this but to enhance people’s lives and livelihoods.

“Electronics changed the whole face of how diesel runs and what you can do,” he explained in a recent interview. People “basically started to hot-rod trucks, not only to get a lot of power, but also more mileage. A lot of our customers were people who pulled motorhomes, practical uses, landscapers… people who cross the country in RVs. These trucks are much more efficient on fuel—50% better fuel mileage than a comparable gas truck…. You can pull a bigger trailer much easier and much more safely than a gas truck. You can get out in traffic and pass somebody with a trailer. With a gas truck it would be a struggle to do that.”

Craft says he’s always been a “gear head,” beginning in the 7th grade, when he loved to rebuild minibike engines and repair lawnmowers. After a series of jobs in auto and engine repair, he and a friend opened a diesel rebuilding service, and later started XDP. It has branches in Wall, N.J., Waynesport, Pa., and Las Vegas.

But there’s another side to the 51-year-old Craft. Last Saturday, May 11, Trenton, N.J., Bishop David M. O’Connell ordained him and 12 other men as permanent deacons at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in New Jersey’s capital city. Now he’ll be assisting at the altar, giving homilies and announcing, “Let us offer one another the sign of peace.”

Call Craft the “Extreme Deacon.” He’s one of seven—count ‘em: seven—active permanent deacons (and one retired) at St. Pius X parish in Forked River, N.J., along with newly-ordained Deacon Joseph F. Gili. St. Pius serves 4,500 families under the leadership of its pastor, Father Richard Basznianin.

“Over the past 10-15 years, the diaconate has been more and more appealing: to help people in my parish, to be called to something bigger in life than just me,” Craft said. “My ambitions are not for myself alone, they’re for others also.”

He was inspired, in part, by his wife of 30 years, Cynthia, who is a certified lay ecclesial minister. When she went through the program for lay ministry 15 years ago, “it opened my eyes to a whole different world,” he said. “Being a deacon is not just at church but at work too…. There are no boundaries to where a deacon can work. While a priest is more confined to a church setting, a deacon is in the world, dealing with people on a daily basis.”

‘I Want What He Has’

Craft may just be the first permanent deacon in the world of monster trucks, and although he works on the business side of things, he also has ample opportunity to rub elbows with fans. For one thing, the company sponsors show trucks—including its own—at monster truck events, and holds an open house at its New Jersey facility the same September weekend of the U.S. Diesel Truckin’ Nationals at nearby Raceway Park in Englishtown.

“It’s usually a huge event,” Craft said. “We sponsor the event, and then we have an open house where over 1500 people show up from all over the country. It’s one of the premier East Coast diesel shows…. The event is for large Class 8 trucks all the way down to diesel pick-up trucks.”

But don’t try to stereotype the people who come to such events. “I’ve seen all different kinds of people, from accountants and lawyers to kids who grew up on a farm. I don’t think it’s a type of demographic as much as an interest in how things work,” Craft said. And, fascination with the ability to “take a pick-up truck and with modifications get 300-400 horsepower out of it with no problem at all.”

Craft believes his “people skills” will help in evangelization.

“I like to deal with people. I want people to see me and say ‘I want what he has,’ that sense that there’s something bigger in life than just things. Which is kind of a paradox, when you think about it, because we sell products that enhance vehicles, which can be a very prideful type of situation. But on the other hand, sometimes it’s not about pride, it’s about self-worth, and people enjoy that. People are social; they like to be around other people who like similar things—whether it’s a pickup truck or a car or a motorcycle.”

And there’s another world in which Craft can make a difference as well: youth ministry.
Says Deacon Joseph Donadieu, associate director of the diocesan office for the diaconate. “He seems to be gifted in youth ministry. He has quite a track record in working with the youth in his parish. He seems passionately devoted to it.”

“The thing that really changed my life was youth ministry, the youth group,” said Craft. “Youth ministry is one of the most important things a teenager can do, to help you keep the faith and prepare you for the world when you get into your early 20s. That’s where faith is made or broken. It’s a tough age.”

The Crafts have three grown children, ages 24, 27 and 29, and three grandchildren.

A Catholic in Business

Then there’s the aspect of being a businessman—an area where a Catholic can make a difference, whether he’s a deacon or a layman. XDP’s website has a mission and values statement that speaks, in part, about a “commitment to conduct ourselves in a responsible and ethical manner with a focus on personal pride, mutual respect and always giving our best effort.”

“I believe you can’t separate” one’s occupation and one’s religion, Craft said. “I treat customers the way I would want to be treated. I want to be told the right thing. When I deal with someone I want to know he’s speaking from the heart, not just saying something he thinks I want to hear. For someone to give you his hard-earned money, they want to be able to know that they feel safe, that you are doing for them what they expect to be done on their vehicles. I give people the honest opinion. Some people come in and want all this wild, crazy stuff done to their vehicle, and I ask, ‘What do you do with it?’ ‘Oh, I just drive it back and forth to work.’ I tell them, ‘Can I be honest with you? You don’t need all that. You can get what you want and you can have something really customized, but you can do it in a much more economical way without damaging your vehicle in the long term.’”

These days, being in business also means having to deal with government regulations, and that can be burdensome, Craft says. The Affordable Care Act—Obamacare—is a source of conflict for him. XDP, he says, has “always supplied healthcare” but “dealing with the HHS mandate, which requires coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, elicits this reaction from him: “I’m really sick over that…. I’m watching the Hobby Lobby case very closely…. I don’t agree with being forced to do that.”

If he could line up the HHS mandate like a few junkers and drive a monster truck over it, he would.

In the meantime, he brings his deacon-school education about Catholic social teaching to XDP. “Social justice, for an American businessman, is very difficult,” Craft said. “There’s a very thin line between what is good for the greater and what is good for yourself. It’s a line I’m very conscious of, and I think about it quite often. Am I doing this for me or am I doing this for all, or am I doing this for the world? You’re constantly thinking about what you’re doing for the greater good. I agree that everybody should have healthcare but it’s the way it’s being done. It comes down to self-responsibility.”

Deacon Donadieu says Craft is far from being alone in his being a deacon/businessman—or in needing to learn how to balance a number of different concerns.

“In this class there are a number who have their own business—consulting, engineering, environmental,” Donadieu said. “One of the things they have to do is learn how to balance their time. Over the period of formation they have time to work at that. They learn from the very beginning, when we’re having classes two nights a week…. Some drive an hour and 15 minutes to get here. You have to be able to work out your time with family and work responsibilities. We make it clear from the very beginning what our priorities are: God, family, job, then the diaconate.”

Why? Because it reflects the order of sacraments. Baptism came first, then matrimony, than orders.

“We make it a point to tell wives they have a responsibility to tell him when he’s doing too much,” said Donadieu. “And he has an obligation to listen.”

That’s one thing Craft is good at, and it should be useful in his work of evangelization. "I love to hang out with our customers,” he said. “I love to interact and talk about trucks; I understand many times what they really want and need. I think we all can spread the Gospel just how we talk to people. I truly speak to people as friends, not as a customer and salesperson. I don’t look at people as a sale; I look always as a friend that has a need."

John Burger is News Editor for He has worked as a reporter and editor at the National Catholic Register and Catholic New York, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, and his articles have appeared in Human Life Review, Legatus and Family Foundations, as well as online at Fathers for Good and Catholic World Report.

IMAGES BY Jeffrey Bruno and XDP/ Used with permission

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