I remember it like it was yesterday. I was flipping through the newspaper looking for the comics section when I found an ad for a monster truck extravaganza and tractor pull. I asked my dad…well, PLEADED to go.
After a couple of days of seeing the ads in the paper, then the commercials on tv, and radio…he was convinced to take us. So the family loaded up and headed to the coliseum. We got parked and went inside. Back in those days, monster trucks were a new thing. No one I knew had ever seen one in person, and here I was going to watch the behemoths crush actual cars. To say I was giddy is an understatement.
Back then, the biggest draw was the tractor pull. Large hybrid machines dragging increasingly heavy weights until they could no longer move or their engines blew. Some of them blew flames high into the air. All of them threw dirt. And…I just couldn’t understand the appeal. My dad pointed and exclaimed over some triumph or something, and I sat there wondering how long we were going to have to wait for the show to REALLY start.
Then, it seemed like the show was over. The winning tractor was announced, and people started milling around. About half of the audience just up and left. Turns out it was just an intermission while they began hauling out junker cars one by one. My dad, being a mechanic and part-time car hustler, lamented that they were scratching up these perfectly good cars. He talked about how much money he could have made by selling car X for parts or that car Y was still perfectly good.
After what seemed like an interminable wait, I heard a roar and turned in time to see a truck come rumbling into the ring. It wasn’t a name I’d recognized, but back then, Bigfoot and Grave Digger were just about the only two major players in the game, and this show just wasn’t a big enough pull to get them in. But that didn’t stop me from staring wide-eyed in rapt amazement as this thing straight up rolled over a car. Windows exploded and steel crumpled as Detroit’s finest was reduced to metal pancakes. I was sure that a tire would explode or something.
Then, another one rolled out and crushed a few cars. I was enthralled and cheered maniacally through the deafening noise and increasingly thick cloud of exhaust building up at the top of the coliseum. My dad was too busy complaining about how they were just wasting those cars, and how he could do the same thing with his backhoe. I didn’t get the tractor pull, he didn’t get the monster trucks. We have a balance like that.
After the show was over, we walked out into the crisp autumn air. My eyes burned and my throat was scratchy from all of the smog we were breathing. During the next 45 minutes home, all I could talk about was how awesome the monster trucks were and how they were so much bigger in real life than I ever imagined possible. I was hooked.
Then, the sport evolved. I say sport because it actually took on more of a competition aspect. Soon, the car crushing was secondary to the racing. And then the car crushing just disappeared altogether, and they lost me. It just didn’t have the same feel any longer. Don’t get me wrong, the trucks themselves are still pretty impressive, but the sport itself just sort of fell off my radar screen.
A couple of years ago, we got to see the Scooby-Do truck at a Circle K before Monster Jam hit Tampa. The boys were excited at how big it was and my oldest asked if we could go. I told him no. My youngest was still a bit young to really ‘get it’. So we held off. Then this year, I was approached with the offer for some free tickets if we’d write about the show. I asked the boys if they wanted to go see Monster Jam, and they responded with a resounding “YES!”
So, there we were trudging through hundreds of people to get to our seats when they opened the gates. (We had the opportunity to see ‘Behind the Pit’…but between traffic and parking etc, we were a little later than I originally wanted to be, so we skipped that part this time.) Now, let me just say that in my old age, I’ve grown to hate crowds. They stress me out. My anxiety can start getting the better of me. But, this was important to the fams, so I bucked up and we went in.
After getting snacks and drinks, we settled into our seats. The sun began setting. The stadium lights dimmed. Then the course below was bathed in purple and blue light as a line of like 14 trucks come flying out and began circling the field before all taking their parking spots at our end of the stadium. I admit, this made those TWO trucks at my first show seem kind of lame.
We were watching the racing, when Grave Digger came out. THE Grave Digger. He’d only been in the game a couple of years when I went to my first monster truck show, and he was already a celebrity at that time. Now, thirty years later…he’s royalty. I smiled and cheered as they ran the race course. Grave Digger was winning when he lost a tire in a big rollover accident. I was bummed that he was out, because I wanted to see more of him.
After the racing, there was a Wheelie Competition. The truck who won that ended up losing like half of his body panels when he wiped out pulling a massive wheelie. My kids went nuts. All in all, we were having a good time. There was an intermission before Freestyle. We watched as they modified the ramps making them steeper for bigger jumps. Then, one by one trucks began running their routines. They had two minutes to wow the crowd as much as possible.
That’s when it happened. A truck called Overkill Evolution jumped in the air. It was the highest jump of the night, and he turned mid-air and landed like a skateboarder…and I was ten years old again cheering maniacally. Stodgy old fuddy-duddy me got crammed into the back corner as I joined my two boys cheering like mad. We high fived. We hooted. We hollered. We whistled. And I couldn’t stop smiling. My aunt and uncle were visiting and both of them got into it as well. We talked about the trucks all the way home. We talked about the trucks the next day. My boys are still talking about the trucks. I know this will be a memory that they will carry with them for decades. What’s better than that?
FTC Disclosure: I was provided with tickets to Monster Jam. The opinions contained herein are mine or my sons’.
Also, I took like a thousand pictures before my phone died. So, get ready for a barrage of images. (Click to Embiggen!)
And that was when my camera died. Watching the legendary Gold Digger attempt a backflip. I say attempt, because he didn’t make it. The only one who did was Monster and he ended up winning freestyle.
Keep an eye out, in Tampa, Monster Jam is coming back in February!