FRIDAY! FRIDAY! FRIDAY!
Are you ready for a testosterone induced, high octane-fueled, and artificially flavored monster-fest that’s fun for the whole family!?
I was lucky enough to pick up some tickets to the Richmond, VA hosted Monster Jam monster truck event a few weekends ago. Something I haven’t participated in since I was a young child. And I will tell you, nostalgia hit me harder than the crispy, pungent aroma of the V8 exhaust emitted by the beasts that roam the dirt track at such an event.
Arriving at the Richmond Coliseum, the first thing you notice is the beauty of capitalism. A sign that says “No outside food or beverage” paired with overpriced beer and fried food. I will say it was the best $10.00 Budweiser I've ever had. To be fair, it was a 24 oz which is still arguably better than baseball park prices. After finding my seat in the high stands, which had a great view of the full stadium, I settled in with my confection of fried food and ice cold beer in preparation for the vehicle carnage.
Now, to understand this event, we first have to understand the Richmond Coliseum. The arena was built for concerts and sporting events. The main arena floor is roughly the size of what you would see at professional basketball arenas, so an event like this is probably one of the smaller venues for a monster truck jamboree. However, the Monster Jam team did a great job maximizing the smaller space with one central ramp/platform for the trucks to conduct their events on and around. The Coliseum seating capacity is around 12,000 people, and at this event, it looked like the seating was over 70% full, which I think was a great turnout. To add to this, the audience was mainly filled with families, which is fantastic, because the event is truly “fun for everyone.”
Meet the competitors! These monster trucks are more than a pick-up with a ridiculous lift kit. From observing and doing a little research, these vehicles are built to the same technical degree as professional race cars. Multiple shock absorbers per wheel, a 540 cubic inch Merlin V8 engine producing upwards of 1200 horsepower, quad-steering for all wheels, and a roll-cage that looks indestructible. These trucks aren’t your run of the mill Silverados and F-150s. You can see the sheer power and methodical, driving skill required to propels these vehicles throughout the show. Drivers constantly feeding fuel at different levels to the engine while they wait to take their line up in the competition as to not kill the engine or lose their power curve. It's fascinating to think about it from the driver’s perspective, a wrong build up and they could kill their momentum for a jump or a run on the obstacles. There is a lot more to driving these things than mashing the gas pedal and hoping for the best.
Some of the Monster Jam competitors are familiar in name by either their ties to popular icons, or having a historic legacy in the monster truck business.
There was a total of eight competitors for the night:
Earthshaker, reminiscent of a Tonka truck, which was an easy crowd pleaser for the younger audience
El Toro Loco, with large fiberglass horns and a hood with shaped nostrils that blow steam
Monster Mutt Rottweiler, with a body that looks like a cartoon rottweiler
Zombie, a major crowd pleaser with its bouncing arms that stick out from its fenders and its Michael Jackson “Thriller” theme song
N.E.A. Police, which was an oddity with its flashing lights and odd, porpoise-like body shape
Max-D, my favorite because the driver was from near my college town
Scooby-doo, easily the most recognizable name and therefore the crowd favorite
and finally, the celebrity, Grave Digger, representing with its 35th anniversary body airbrush.
The Monster Jam for Richmond takes part in the Triple Threat East division of the Monster Jam circuit which was set up as a series of five small events where eight drivers competed to win the night’s overall show. Now, true Monster Jam fans would have been following the “season,” which is the current Monster Jam tour mentioned before, where each of the drivers are competing overall for scores. Basically, fans cheer for their favorite truck or driver to win the night’s events and come out on top as the overall scorer for the tour. This adds the sense of competition to a show that might have been just big trucks running over cars, creating a more “in depth” feeling and participation to the show
The events alternate the monster trucks with ATVs and side-by-sides. I think it’s because of the maintenance cost of running those big trucks for the duration of the event, but I also see it as a great way to change attention throughout the night without losing its audience. As fun as it would be to watch the carnage of Monster trucks for three hours, having only one style event can lose some of the audience. A panel of judges, which I think are local people, business owners, or celebrities, rate each of the judged events 1 through 10 with 1 being the low end.
The first event was a sprint event for the Monster trucks around the main dirt mound. Each truck set up opposite to the other and raced to be the first to cross their start line. It was a great warmup event, no destruction, but the audience was able to feel, hear, and witness the power that these machines put out. On average the Grave Digger truck can accelerate 0-30mph in 1.52 seconds, now comparing that to a 2010 Nissan GT-R who accomplishes this feat in 1.78 seconds, these things are no joke.
The second event was an ATV race around the dirt track and over the center mound. Each of the drivers dismounted their trucks and hopped on ATVs that match their themed trucks. You got to see the breadth of what the drivers could do, they were not just monster truck drivers. The racing got pretty intense with close calls and near misses.
The third event was the donut event for the monster trucks. Each truck was judged on their style and ability to perform a stunt by the panel of judges. This event really fired up the crowd because of the high-speed spinning and the near flip overs of the trucks. One truck actually did flip over, with no injury to the driver, and the crowd was in uproar.
The fourth event was the side-by-side racing. This event got real exciting. The racing was even more cutthroat than the previous events with the drivers. With this being the second to last event, many were still within reach of the number one spot for the night. On top of that, the side-by-sides kept the drivers enclosed in a safe roll cage, so the drivers were liberally running into each other and even caused a rollover or two.
The final, culminating event was the freestyle. The drivers had to woo the judges with amazing tricks and jumps in their monster trucks. This is where the drivers got to show their real skill. Unfortunately, I felt the arena did hinder the drivers a little bit with the given square-off distance for the ramp, but the drivers made the best of it with some amazing jumps, wheelies, and tricks. Grave digger’s performance captivated the night with the driver basically dancing the truck on its rear wheels.
The night ended with a final parade of the trucks and night’s overall winner, Grave Digger, being interviewed and awarded for his performance. All in all, it was great fun. However, I couldn’t help but feel the entire night was scripted out like a WWE wrestling event. I had a feeling that the winner had already been decided before any of the events started. However, even if that was true, I didn’t care.
Throughout the event, I observed the audience. There was a huge array of people from different economic and social backgrounds as well as different age groups. But what was the thing that they all shared? A love of motorsports; enjoying something as a family, experiencing Monster trucks, or even a combination of all three. The joy on the children’s faces brought back nostalgia for me seeing events like this as a kid, and it was awesome to see kids cheer as their favorite monster truck pulled out of the overhang to hit the massive jump. The rollovers, collisions, and tricks would get anyone hyped at such an event. Sadly the only two abused cars to be driven over were a worn out 1980’s Mercedes and what I believe was a first generation Ford Taurus.
Regardless, it was a blast and definitely worth the cost of beer and admission. A true representation of American Gladiators in automotive form. I have to hand it to the Monster Jam team, who made such a great event with what little space was available.
My only issue is... what the F* was the N.E.A. Police designed to look like? When I first saw it It looked like a deep sea squid or an alien porpoise from outer space.