What’s this “Monster Truck” Phenomenon All About?
The off-road world of motorcycle racing–formally known as Motorcross–is credited with introducing the concept of “Monster Trucks.” Originally, the appearance of these showpieces were considered side acts at routine cycling and mud bog events, but the excitement they generate, coupled with the awesome display of high-powered machinery, has elevated “Monster Truck” events to the level of premier entertainment in the Motorsport world!
What is a “Monster Truck?”
At its most basic level, a Monster Truck is a vehicle that began as a pickup truck. Through the addition of larger suspension and larger tires and wheelbases, and after the layering-on of exotic themes and the replacement of steel with fiberglass bodies, the Monster Truck ends up resembling nothing close to the pickup truck you see on your hometown streets. In fact, most Monster Trucks fit a template that calls for them to be 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide, and sit on on a wheelbase that sports 66 inch off-road tires. four-wheel articulated steering.
Many of today’s Monster Truck creations take on the persona of a specific theme, sometimes an animal theme, or sometimes the characteristics of folklore subjects, as in the case of the truck shown in the photo at left. In this theme, the vehicle created by veteran Dennis Anderson takes on the image of an ogre set to a “gravedigger” motif (in fact, the truck is named “The Gravedigger” and is one of a series of nine separate of similarly-themed Monster Trucks currently performing around the country.)
In some arenas, a current-day Monster Truck is likened to a “scaled-up” dune buggy, and has pretty much lost its identity as a “truck” in the sense that most of us know trucks used in commerce and personal tasks. These days, Monster Trucks are built on custom-designed tubular chassis, with specially-designed multi-link suspension systems that allow for a wider range of flex on courses created to showcase the movement of these showpieces. This is important, of course, when they’re crushing objects in exhibition matches, and as they navigate off-road courses with a wide range of hazards, like hills and dips.
Monster Truck shows have become enormous draws for motorsports fans around the country, setting attendance marks in excess of 70,000 at events that are often sold out in advance. It could be the sheer novelty of the machines, or it could be the excitement of the acrobatics, or it could simply be the noise, fireworks, or contained energy in a closed stadium, but whatever it is, it’s a venue that is defying the downward trend of attendance at live motorsports events.
How do “Monster Trucks” Compete?
In the early 1980s, when Monster Trucks were just arriving on the motorsports scene, their appearances were primarily simple exhibitions. By the mid-1980s, though, it was evident that the motorsports public wanted to see more, and this “more” included something on the competitive level. The United States Hot Rod Association (USHRA), along with other major motorsports promoters like Feld Motor Sports, TNT Motorsports, and others, sensed the growing interest in head-to-head competition rather than displays, and responded with full, stand-alone Monster Truck “shows” designed to meet that interest.
Monster Truck shows quickly emerged as full-scale competitive events, featuring actual racing coupled with a range of special, acrobatic-type action and stunts, some of which stretched the imagination of the viewing public. For example, Monster Truck shows began to incorporate “freestyle” acts like backflipping, donut competitions, and “wheelie” competition. In a move to capture the attention of attendees, promoters also added the dimension of “car crushing” to the show formats, with the massive Monster Trucks running over and through stationary vehicles, using their average 10,000 to 12,000 pounds to flatten ordinary cars, sometimes up to six or eight in a line. Eventually, the car crushing aspect expanded to crushing larger vehicles, like school buses and motor homes, but this was somewhat curtailed after reports of debris hurtling into spectators changed the risk/reward ratio too dramatically.
The actual racing element of a Monster Truck show is typically billed as the “main event,” especially for attendees wanting speed-oriented competition. Trucks race in pairs on a timed route through the show’s arena, navigating obstacles (jumps, ramps, etc.) on a timed run, with the winner moving on to subsequent rounds leading to a finale. Some events also feature drag racing, although this type of competition is infrequent and does not offer fans the thrills produced by the trucks doing airborne stunts.
What’s this thing called “Monster Jam?”
There are hundreds of Monster Truck shows conducted throughout the U.S. each year, and they typically take place in sporting arenas where courses can be laid out in a confined area. Many race tracks also stage Monster Truck shows as part of their regular race weekend schedule or, in some cases, as stand-alone events. One of the largest and arguably the most popular is the “Monster Jam” series, a venue owned and operated by Palmetto, Florida-based Feld Entertainment, Inc. The Monster Jam schedule includes nearly 100 separate events in major cities across the country and in Canada, and is routinely host to sell-out crowds.
For a complete look at a Monster Jam event in action, with acrobatics, crushes, and more, check out this You Tube video of a 2014 event at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6qLe673mcA.