BRIDGEPORT, CONN. — The alcohol-burning, supercharged V-8 engines in monster trucks typically generate 1,500 to 2,000 horsepower but at just five miles per gallon, they’d make lousy commuter vehicles. I offer the fuel economy information because it didn’t seem to be foremost in the minds of the thrill-crazed fans who packed Harbor Yards Arena for Monster Jam Trucks over the weekend. I used the word “packed” because it sounded good, but actually the place was only about a third full.
These “trucks” (I use the word lightly) weigh a minimum of 10,000 pounds — can you imagine the amount of brute power necessary to propel one of these beasts 130 feet, flying over as many as 14 cars side by side? This is why America is the world’s biggest per capita consumer of fossil fuels.
It hadn’t occurred to me to check out the monster trucks until my cousin, who recently moved here from Japan, suggested we go. They must be starved for this kind of homegrown, all-American entertainment over there. The idea of it struck a chord with me, because discussing the merits of the fire-breathing Robosaurus provided the impetus for my one and only appearance on "The Daily Show" many years ago. That was me, the environmentalist, saying Robosaurus was a force for good because he eats SUVs.
Monster trucks are loud — earplugs were a popular accessory — and brutish, like something Hunter S. Thompson would have seen in a vision after being slipped drugs by his attorney. But this is family fare — kids under 2 get in free because they can sit on a parent’s lap.
Monster trucks are really nothing more than tube frames supporting 66-inch tall tires more often seen on earthmoving equipment. The field is dirt, and in this case it came with a 30-foot mound and two rows of cars that were probably pre-crushed by the afternoon show. There actually seems to be some kind of order to this, since the rulebook is a hefty PDF download, but it’s fair to say that fans are there to see loud noises and stuff getting crushed. And maybe win some autographed casual wear shot their way by the T-shirt cannon.
The bodies are flimsy fiberglass things bolted to the roll cages, but they give these macho vehicles personality. Crush Station, for instance, is a giant lobster complete with taped claws. El Toro Loco had bull horns, though one fell off. Grave Digger, an audience favorite, had scary red eyes. It’s OK if the bodies get trashed. In this amazing video, the truck flips over, sheds its body but lands on its wheels, and heads out again, only to flip again and end up in two pieces. A day at the office:
Between heats, we were treated to some ATV races — boring, despite some wrestling-style manufactured grudge action that ended up in a Captain’s Challenge faceoff. But the dirt bikes were something else again — total gravity-defying exhilaration as they took off from a ramp, flew somersaulting through the air 30 feet up without a net, and landed unscathed. Don’t believe me; watch my cousin's video:
The best part of monster truck action is freestyling. The drivers try to outdo each other pleasing the crowd. There are actually judges somewhere scoring this stuff, but the roar of the crowd clearly helped. Crush Station put on a brave show, and was leading until Grave Digger came from behind and scaled that mighty mound with an airborne leap.
The evening’s entertainment concluded with the drivers signing rather expensive merch — $35 Grave Digger T-shirts. Shed of their monster trucks, the road warriors looked like ordinary guys, albeit with lots of tattoos. Something there for a grimy-faced kid to look up to, definitely. I saw a row of men, but it should be noted that Becky McDonough strikes a blow for girl power when she campaigns Dragon’s Breath. “It’s an absolute thrill to fly through the air in this beast,” she says.
The Air Force was recruiting, and even campaigning its own truck, After Burner. (Can you sign up for induction and be assured a place on the pit crew?) Reserve some applause for the people who build these things — it’s an expensive ($250,000 is not uncommon), six-month process, with a lot of hand-fabricated parts, and it can all go kablooey in an instant.
Monster trucks attract an integrated audience, and folks seemed generally satisfied with the evening’s entertainment. So was I, come to think of it. But before I go again, I’d get the earplugs.