Started in a part of the world not known for doing things in half measures, it was the emergence in the early ‘80s of a heavily modified monster truck dubbed Bigfoot that realised the idea behind the multi-million-dollar Monster Jam circus that we see today.
Operated by Feld Entertainment since 1995, the appeal of Monster Jam is that it caters to all ages, marketed via any number of merchandise opportunities, including Mattel-made replica trucks, video games and clothing ranges.
Able to tour multiple venues around the world simultaneously, the stars of the show are undoubtedly the 5-tonne monster trucks that are capable of massive jumps, on-the-spot spins and even “handstands.” While each truck is identical, below its respective branding and livery, it’s the hype created around each “character” in the show that really gets the crowd engaged. Piloted by drivers who have each graduated from the Monster Jam University (driving school) in Paxton, Illinois, alongside the likes of Megalodon, Maximum Destruction, Monster Mutt, Earth Shaker and Zombie, the most popular truck currently on the circuit is Grave Digger. Modelled around a 1950s Ford Panel van, this protagonist is also one of the most labour-intensive trucks to maintain – its graveyard-inspired livery is hand painted, as opposed to generated via a vinyl wrapping.
Bespoke cladding aside, it’s the commonality of parts that keeps the show running smoothly at each event around the world. With a team of highly skilled mechanics waiting behind the scenes to perform mid-show running repairs, this crew can replace a transmission (the most common failure) within half an hour. They also know which parts within each truck’s 8,8-litre, supercharged Chevy big block engine is most likely to fail. Fuelled by methanol, these motors deliver up to 1 500 horsepower (1 100 kW) to all four wheels via a two-speed automatic gearbox.
Both sets of 66-inch wheels, front and rear, are capable of steering the truck, with each attached to the vehicle’s frame via a cluster of nitrogen-charged shock absorbers capable of absorbing the massive forces involved with each landing from heights of up to 5 stories.
Having used the same supplier for more than 40 years, the battery units housed within a modern Monster Truck are touted as providing “deep cycle reserve power and maximum cranking power, with engine cranking pulses up to 2 700 amps for five seconds, double that of equally sized conventional lead acid batteries. The rugged, Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) construction and non-spillable design of these specially designed batteries protect against high-impact shock and mechanical vibration, helping to provide longer service life.”
From so-called Pit Parties ahead of each show where fans, young and old, can get up close to their favourite trucks and drivers, to an interactive, in-stadium online voting system that allows those in attendance to will their heroes to victory in any number of disciplines, the Monster Jam circus continues to push the boundaries in terms of what can be achieved in a sport that began with a group of Mid-Western farmers deciding to crush unwanted cars using their bakkies.
Photos courtesy of Feld Entertainment