Monsters, Inc. – The World of Very Large Vehicles

Monster Jam 2003
Bank One Ballpark, Phoenix, AZ,
25th Jan. 2003

Few things are more American than spending the night before the Superbowl at a monster truck rally. This is the kind of event which could only take place in a country where petrol is a quid a gallon, and whose approach to global warming may be summarised as, “You can have our SUV’s when you pry the keys from our cold, dead fingers.”

The audience for these events seems to have a similar demographic to professional wrestling: mostly white, and blue-collar to the extent that you feel out of place unless you have a baseball cap with the name of a tractor manafacturer on it. Yet there is something almost primal about the event which awakens long-stilled emotions, though where we’d once cower in our caves while mastodons made the ground thunder, now we down domestic beers and buy T-shirts. Or maybe it’s just cool to see things get destroyed.


It’s a relatively new “sport”, its origins dating back to the mid-70’s, when Bob Chandler’s Bigfoot, a converted Ford F-250 pickup, debuted in Michigan, crushing cars to the delight of crowds. Racing these beasts only began in the 1980’s, and that was one central point of the night’s entertainment. Eight trucks, with names like Black Smith, Gravedigger, Monster Patrol and Obsession 2, faced off in head-to-head sprints: a dash, a hairpin turn, then powering over four junkyard-cars to the finish. Maybe 100 yards, in about six seconds, not bad for machines weighing the best part of ten thousand pounds.

The scale of these things was hard to grasp, until you saw the drivers beside them – ten to twelve feet high, the tires alone almost six feet of that. Seeing these creatures flying maybe eighty or ninety feet long and twenty feet up, is like seeing a whale breach the ocean. The noise, too, was about what you’d expect from a 1,500-horsepower, 575 cubic inch, methanol-fuelled engine, which uses up several gallons per run.

Truck vs. School bus

With three hours to fill, a supporting cast was needed, in the shape of autocross and quad bikes. The former was the less interesting of the two, since the track for that was a simple oval with three speed bumps in – tactics will be familiar to anyone who has negotiated a road with sleeping policemen on it, i.e. fast as you can between the bumps, then crawl over them. Doesn’t exactly make for enthralling viewing, though it was an object lesson on what can happen if you try to take these bumps too fast – your wheel falls off.

More amusing were the quad bikes, not least because it pitted “Team Arizona” against “Team California”. The wrestling analogy was particularly valid here, since we strongly suspect that tomorrow, the same drivers might be “Team Texas” or “Team Colorado”, and the thrilling way in which the home side won smacked strongly of careful pre-arrangement. Still, it was nice to see the drivers showing personality, something otherwise lacking in an event where the vehicles are clearly the stars (bonus points to one autocross driver for thanking his foot doctor though!).

Truck 0, School bus 1… [Caterpillar gets the assist!]

The finale of the evening was the freestyle, where each monster truck was given 90 seconds and a clear arena to do whatever they wanted. More piles of old cars, buses and vans were laid around to assist in the process, and if you though the prior carnage was excessive, this would have caused some kind of seizure. Seeing something the size of an African elephant pop a wheelie at 60 mph is impressive, even if you’re not sitting in the seats towards which it is directly heading on two wheels.

It’s not the sort of event I could get hooked on, but will happily confess to having enjoyed the occasion, and driven home making surreptitious “Vroom-vroom” noises under my breath. The idea of steering one of these monsters round town does appeal – especially if that town was London. After all, who needs a parking space when you can simply run over the top of any vehicle in your way? No BMW, no Volvo, no busload of tourists could cross your path. And if that prospect doesn’t bring a smile to your face, go check your pulse…