Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Monster Madness

For a laugh and with nothing better to do one weekend in 1991 on Long Island, I took Sheila to see what was then the Mud and Monster Show in Nassau Coliseum. Payback sometimes takes decades; Sheila returned the favor and took us all to see what is now called Monster Jam at Cowboys Stadium this weekend. JerryWorld was just about full - my guess is that there was 70,000 fans there - of all ethnicity, age and creed. That is the hidden beauty of monster trucks, they unite the world while treating us to the noisiest two hours imaginable. Thankfully, the roof and doors were partially opened and the fumes had a place to go.

This has become quite the event, with fans wearing the colors of their favorite trucks. The merchandising is relentless from truck-shaped hats to Matchbox replicas. The races are somewhat staged, WWF style. Of course it is: Monster Jam is operated by Feld Entertainment, who own Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It is a traveling roadshow, with pantomime villain drivers that get jeered and cheered.

The crown jewel and fan favorite is Grave Digger, one of the original trucks from the 1980's. But it is no longer based on a production truck - this 1500 HP (9.4 Liter super-charged motor) brute has an intricate suspension, four wheel steering and numerous safety features.

The show is divided into two sections: the first involves two trucks racing against the clock on a tight circuit; the second, a free-style event where the trucks have 150 seconds to perform crazy 60 foot jumps, wheelies and burn-outs. If they do not stall or wreck in the first two minutes, the last 30 seconds is devoted to literally trying to roll (read: destroy) the truck. It is insane, especially when wheels come flying off and they continue the performance on three wheels. No wonder the first 20rows of seats are blocked off.

Hoses break, engine fluids spill, fires break out and the show goes on. The more the drivers trash and wreck the truck, the better the crowd likes it. Each fiery conclusion whips the audience into a deeper frenzy. I was on the edge of my seat at almost every run, fearing the worst. And yet, the drivers walk away, seemingly unscathed by the carnage. The judges then award style points and the winner gets a cheesy trophy. The stalled truck lies on its roof like some wacked out beetle, waiting for the giant wheel loader to come and drag it away.

This is big business: this weekend alone there are NINE Monster Jam performances across the US. The trucks take such a beating that there are multiple understudies: there are 25 Grave Diggers. Each truck costs about $600K and when we went, there was about 20 trucks running. That is a huge investment! With all the wreckage (and the cost of fuel!), I am not sure how the whole production makes money... but they sure sell a lot of merchandise and it is on the SPEED channel every weekend. While Monster Jam will never be confused for high-brow theater, it is a lot of fun and a great diversion for a few hours.

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