Monster trucks have come a long way since the days of smashing cars between tractor pull events. Over the years, Monster Jam as evolved into multiple divisions staging events at stadium and arenas in North America as well as international venues in Australia, Europe, and South America. Winning drivers from all series compete in the Monster Jam World Finals traditionally in Las Vegas.
If you’ve never actually been to Monster Jam, it’s a cacophonous cross between Mad Max and professional wrestling. Each truck has its own personality with bold graphics more like a Misfits album cover (early Misfits. You know, when they were good) and truck names like Gravedigger, Zombie (with actual bouncing zombie arms), Max-D with metal spikes, Great Clips Mohawk Warrior (it has a mohawk), and Rage with a huge anarchy sign emblazoned on the side. Punk rock sensibilities aside, there is something for everyone with other trucks such as Scooby Doo, Lucas Oil Crusader, or team Team Hot Wheels Firestorm.
Underneath all of the eye-popping graphics, though, is some serious gear. I had the opportunity to spend the morning talking with some drivers and climbing around their trucks the day before Monster Jam at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, New Jersey last week. Essentially spec trucks, most of the Monster Jam trucks are fabricated by Feld for the series. Chatting with Tom Meents, a driver in the series since 1993, I found out that the engines are ,500 horsepower. Going full throttle, a truck can burn 5 gallons of methanol– around a quarter of a tank – in 17 to 22 seconds. Any repairs, refueling, or tire changes are generally done off course within the stadium, not in a traditional motor sports pit set-up. The tires are almost 700 pounds, so it’s not a precisely orchestrated change done in seconds.
Potential drivers audition and are trained at Monster Jam U. Kayla Blood and Brianna Mahon, both with several years of Monster Jam experience, started at Monster U after previously competing in motocross and other sports. They say it is helpful to have a motorsports background, but not necessary. Looking at the driver roster, it’s obvious that there are a lot more women racing Monster Trucks than there are in most other motorsports. In fact, it was only in 2005 when the first woman – the legendary Madusa – won the Monster Jam World Finals racing championship. Blood is on the El Toro Team and has been competing since 2016, and Mahon since 2015. This is Mahon’s first year in her own truck Whiplash, with black and teal graphics and a more “country girl” personality. Both drivers say that it’s a really great atmosphere in Monster Jam, and it’s one big family. Mahon is especially conscientious of how much representation matters, and likes inspiring the little girls that love the series.
Installing the actual track is fairly intensive. MetLife Stadium is where the New York Giants and New York Jets play – it’s a football field with turf. For obvious reasons, the trucks don’t race on the football field itself, rather, planks of plywood are put down over the grass. Approximately 7,500 tons of dirt is spread on top, creating the dirt floor, ramps, and mounds for the trucks to race and perform stunts. Tear down happens fairly immediately after the end of the show, as the grass will start to die after more than a couple of days stuck under the track (in arenas with grass). The dirt is then stored locally to be reused in the following year’s Monster Jam.
The afternoon of the race, the trucks are brought out for the fan-friendly Pit Party. Fans can meet the drivers and get autographs, and sponsors have special booths out as well. It’s like Halloween party in May, really – cotton candy comes with masks for trucks such as El Toro Loco or Grave Digger. I took one of the Monster Jam truck rides – two trucks especially equipped with seats in the back – whipping around the parking lot at top speed. There’s a lot of fun things for kids like learning how to drive an ATV and BMX bike shows.
Unfortunately, because of this never-ending rain we are having, both the practice I was going to watch the day before and the private track walk before the Main Event were cancelled due to the extremely muddy track, as well as the Two-Wheel event during the show. As the trucks made their entrance for the Main Event, the rain started to pour again. However, Monster Jam happens rain or shine, and the mud ensured an interesting evening. The first half is the race – growling trucks line either side of the arena, matched according to a bracket. In New Jersey, the trucks circle the course opposite and navigate over jumps opposite of each other. The first truck to cross the finish line wins the heat. After the second round, from the starting field of fourteen, Grave Digger faced Brutus and Team Hot Wheels Firestorm raced against Whiplash in the Semi-Finals. Ultimately Grave Digger took the win over Team Hot Wheels Firestorm in the Final.
After an intermission, they all come back for the Freestyle and undoubtedly most fun part of the evening. In the freestyle competition, each truck has two minutes on the course to performs stunts and wow the crowd. The fans are involved in the scoring and have twenty seconds after each competitor to score via smartphone at JudgesZone.com, where the scores are then averaged. At this point, the trucks resembled angry mechanical mud bugs writhing around the course. The conditions weren’t right for the spectacular, crowd-pleasing backflips, but there was a lot of big air, sky wheelies and mud-spewing donuts. There were also a couple of tire blow-outs, roll overs, and Mad Scientist quite literally blew up on the track. Halfway through, the edges of the track were littered with the carcasses of the trucks that didn’t make it. Muddy, muddy carnage. Still, VP Racing Fuels’ Mad Scientist won the Freestyle vent with a high score of 9.109. Great, great fun.