The stars of Monster Jam (returning to Louisville January 27,28) cost about $600,000 per year each to build, maintain, transport and staff but entertain more than 4 million fans annually. An interview with one of the drivers reveals interesting background and some monstrous figures and facts.
Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam returns to Freedom Hall on January 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for kids (ages two to twelve) are just $5 while other seats begin at $22. The event will feature Maximum Destruction, Wolverine, Samson, Raminator, Rammunition, Full Boar, Mechanical Mischief and Heavy Hitter, although featured trucks may change without notice.
Most people would never peg me for a monster truck fan, but I can't help it. It's a good thing I have a son, so I have an excuse to go. There's something inside you that can't help but scream "WHOOAAAA!" when a truck of monstrous proportions leaves the ground, hanging up to 35 feet in mid-air before landing on top of the steel cars, buses and ambulances from local junkyards. That must be why more than 4 million people attend Monster Jam events to see over 3,000 cars crushed each year.
What's so amazing about monster trucks? How about this? They're 12 feet tall, 12 feet wide, 20 feet long, at least 10,000 pounds, and they can still reach speeds up to 100 mph or fly distances of 140 feet over the ground. Today’s monster trucks use lightweight bodies and tires so more strength and weight can be put into the frame without sacrificing speed, maneuverability, or safety. The Body is made of fiberglass and is custom designed to create a theme for the truck, fitting over a steel chassis. Molds for the fiberglass bodies can be made from handcarved styrofoam and wood. The fiberglass then undergoes a custom paint job, which can take up to 40 hours and cost upwards of $5,000. If that number doesn't impress you, perhaps the annual cost of each truck will: $600,000 to build, staff, compete, transport and maintain annually on the Monster Jam tour.
That is the cost for trucks that are owned and maintained by Monster Jam. They also sometimes employ independent entertainers like DerickAnson, the owner and man in the driver's seat of Heavy Hitter, which he built and customized himself over a four month period.
Derick Anson is an independent owner/operator.
Speaking of the driver's seat, it is another interesting design element of the monster truck. The seat is centered in the vehicle so that he or she can best see the track for weight distribution. The seats are custom molded to the driver's body, and there are head/neck restraints to keep heads secure during rough landings. Their seatbelts use a 5 point harness, which is a good thing considering all the rumbles and tumbles during the show. The truck's suspension system, 76 cm shock absorbers filled with oil and nitrogen gas, can only absorb so much car crushing impact.
There are other measures in place to keep the driver as safe as possible, including a 50+ point safety inspection before each show, and on board fire extinguisher system.the trucks all have remote ignition interrupter, which allows track officials to shut a truck off at any time. Each of the drivers also wear fire resistant suits, gloves, shoes and helmets. Derick also wears ear plugs inside of his helmet to protect his ears. (It's a good idea for audience members to wear ear protection as well. This show is LOUD!)
Heavy Hitter in the arena.
In all the destruction, Derick says that the 500th car you crush is just as fun as the first, although the business requires
a lot of hard work. It is a job, but he loves it; seeing kids smile makes all of the work worth it. Some of the work involved includes preparing a track for a Monster Jam. A crew of eight works about sixty hours over three days to construct a monster truck course. It is not uncommon for dump trucks to make more than 200 trips to deliver the 700 -3500 cubic yards of dirt used for each track. Maintenance crews and body fabricators also stay busy, because the bodies and paint jobs are destroyed on a regular basis. The average truck team will go through 8 tires in one year. The monster tires are designed for different track conditions and preferences, measuring 66 inches high and 43 inches wide. Each one takes over 50 hours to carve and costs about $2,600.
Heavy Hitter gets some hang time.
Derick says that he has to be careful and can't destroy his truck every show, because he is an independent driver and responsible for his own repairs. The last time I went to a show, the truck Superman lost a large piece of the fiberglass molded cape, a piece of which is sitting in Derick's garage.
"There's definitely some money to be made," he says. "if you keep a good head about it. You don't want to wreck your truck every week or the costs add up. I put most of the money I make back into my truck."
Most monster truck's supercharged fuel injected big block American V8 engines are custom-built, super charged and
methanol-injected. A monster engine can burn up to 10 liters of methanol per run and delivers about 1,500 horsepower, getting about 7 miles per gallon. The average monster truck team goes through five engines in a year. Heavy Hitter's custom engine was sponsored by B & R speed shop in Fairdale, Ky. They did the machine work for Derick and assembled the motor.
Get a close look at Heavy Hitter
Derick began his love affair with racing as a kid when he was into motocross. He moved on to drag racing, figure-eights, and road racing motorcycles. His dad's buddy built motors for monster trucks, and he had his first opportunity to drive a one at the age of 19 with John Moore's "No Problem". Not long after that, a guy named Rob French came through town needing a driver. After driving for French for a while, he decided to build his own.
His racing experience comes in useful to the world of monster trucks because side-by-side racing is one of two forms of competition at Monster Jam. The other form is freestyle. Side-by-side racing is traditional bracket racing where the first truck, with the least amount of penalties, to cross the finish line is considered the winner. Freestyle allows drivers a limited amount of time on the open floor to show off their skills, impressing the audience (who judges the winner).
Derick also occasionally drives for other promoters who contact him to be in their shows since he is an independent owner/driver. He doesn't have to have a special license to drive the monster truck, although he does have certification from the Monster Truck Racing Association and a CDL to drive the trailer that hauls Heavy Hitter. He looks forward to performing in his hometown Louisville during the upcoming Monster Jam. He had the following words of advice for anyone that aspires to be involved with Monster Trucks:
"Stay in school; stay off drugs; work hard and don't give up on your dreams."
Wide-eyed fans with tickets to the Saturday show (January 28) can see these monsters up close and meet the drivers by attending the Party in the Pits from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Free pit passes are available at participating Advance Auto Parts locations beginning January 9. Pit passes will also be available at the box office or through Ticketmaster for an additional fee. Fans must have a Saturday, January 28 event ticket and a pit pass to enter.
If fans want to ensure best seats in the house and have exclusive access to a private meet and greet with drivers, they can purchase all access passes for the Saturday show for $65, although quantities are limited. Additional fees apply to all tickets and all tickets are $2 more day of show. All tickets are available at the Freedom Hall Box Office, Ticketmaster Outlets or by calling 1-800-745-3000.