It was late last Saturday night when the Georgia Dome erupted with the sound of applause that deafened the already overwhelming sound of roaring engines from within. Sixty-five thousand fans all were on their feet giving a standing ovation to the spectacle that laid beneath them.
Gravedigger, a massive 1500 horsepower monster truck, had just clinched the Advance Auto Parts 2011 Monster Jam Freestyle competition with a run that had seemingly defied the laws of physics. The broken, barely running truck triumphantly pulled into place as the fans slowly quieted and the results were made official.
This is Monster Jam, an annual event that tours the country pitting truly behemoth sized trucks against each other in a series of races and freestyle trick runs in front of a screaming, cheering audience of thousands. Monster Jam is actually hosted under the United States Hot Rod Association, or USHRA, which hosts a variety of events from motocross and quad racing to Thunder Nationals, another monster truck competition. It is arguably the most popular of the monster truck racing circuits and features some of the most recognizable trucks including Gravedigger and Maximum Destruction.
The phenomenon of monster trucks as we know it now had a humble beginning. In the late 1970s mud bogging and truck pulling started to gain popularity in the southern US. As this sport grew, the drivers of these trucks started to upgrade their vehicles, adding bigger and bigger tires, axles and better suspension in order to have an advantage in the competition. The real catalyst point, though, was in 1981 when Bob Chandler, a driver for a truck named Bigfoot, decided to make a promotional video using Bigfoot for his four wheel drive repair shop. In the video Chandler drove Bigfoot over a few junk cars, crushing them. Once word of the video spread, Bob Chandler and Bigfoot started traveling and crushing cars for audiences around the country.
By 1988 the first champion series for racing monster trucks had started and soon after that free style portions were added. This year the 2011 Monster Jam took the action to new heights. The event is split into two main parts. In the first the trucks compete in a single elimination bracket tournament race featuring jumps and obstacles. The trucks competed quickly, and soon, the championship race was being held between the nicknamed “The Icon” Gravedigger and the aptly named Advance Auto Parts Grinder.
The trucks roared on the signal green, and by a reported six inches, the Advance Auto Parts Grinder truck took a first place photo finish over Gravedigger. However, the real competition was about to begin. While the racing portion is a fun event, the real show, and the reason the Georgia Dome was filled to capacity, is for the freestyle competition.
In the freestyle competition the trucks must compete to have the most exciting combination of tricks within a certain time frame. If a driver upends their truck or by any other way incapacitates it, that round is over and the score is judged from the tricks preceding. The drivers, in order to dominate the competition, must push their trucks to the very mechanical integrity and limit. What results is a combination of spectacular failures and supreme successes.
Most trucks make a last ditch effort to impress the crowd and inevitably end up destroying some part of their truck. The reason then for the standing ovation mentioned in the beginning of this article was because of the marvelous performance put on by Gravedigger. Hitting every jump from impossible angles, only to later crush its back left tire a bit into the run that Gravedigger was on. This would usually stop a lesser driver, Dennis Anderson, the driver of Gravedigger, kept on going. This run destroyed the competition, and the announcer could barely proclaim Gravedigger as champion over the thunderous applause.
In short, Monster Jam was a blast. It unites people of all ages for one night of unabashed cheering. It even takes the sting out of Tech engineering when you realize someone has to build and design those trucks.