Monster Jam!

Monster Jam!

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M-M-M-Monster Jam! The art of lobbing six ton trucks, with insane suspension, through the air for your entertainment! They have shows at a wide range of venues, and if you’ve not gone to one, this is the sort of absurdity you can expect at a smaller indoor venue.

If you have small children, or have an inner small child, they’re worth attending, because they’re an awful lot of fun to watch at least once or twice!

Monster Jam

On paper, there’s some sort of national points competition among drivers, so there are winners of events, and various awards. Outside the drivers and a few kids, I don’t think anyone actually cares about this, as the whole point is “Absurdly powerful trucks doing stupid things in midair.” At least as far as I’m concerned. The Monster Jam event seems to have pretty much taken over the US “Monster Truck” circuit, and it’s what you’re likely to find in your city.

The details have varied over the years, but currently, most of the shows will have three events: A race of some sort, “Two Wheel Skills,” and “Freestyle.”

And the trucks? Well, they’re just wonderful. But I’ll touch on them a bit more throughout the post.

Arrive Early!

If you’re planning to go to an event, plan to arrive somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour early, because at least out near us, traffic and parking get quite silly towards the start of the show, and we’ve arrived rather late to one in the past after sitting for 40 minutes in traffic that was literally just “getting into the parking lot” traffic.

Plus, you get to watch all the track grooming and setup as various skid steers and people smooth the dirt (that will soon be tossed), lay out the lines, and generally tidy up the dirt.

At all the shows I’ve been to, the center of the arena has some sort of dirt jump ramp structure set up, with the approaches marked clearly. I’m not convinced visibility out of the trucks is amazing, and it can’t improve when the air is filled with dust.

This is the racetrack layout - a big circle. You stay outside it, and try not to crush the boxes. All the lines are laid out with what looks like a normal garden drop spreader and what I assume is regular marking chalk of some variety or another. On the far side, you’ll see a jump that has some tires sticking out of it - that’s for a particularly spectacular little party trick!

If you’ve ever wondered what an iPhone panorama does when the lights dim halfway through your sweep, this is the result! It’s actually rather impressive in how well it handled the utter absurdity of a dramatic shift in illumination during the sweep. No, I didn’t plan it that way.

If you can manage it, try for front row seats, or something up close to the front. It’s a lot more impressive that way, and it’s easier for kids to see. Yes. Definitely. Do front row seats for the kids… ;)

One of the things that’s shown up in the past few years, since I’ve last been in an arena, is the use of “cell phone flashlights” as a replacement for lighters. They pop up at various points in time, and have a broadly similar effect, without the risk of toasting your thumb. Yes, I am old enough to know about that… the trick is to get your thumb down along the side, holding the lever down with the side of your thumb, versus pressing on it from the top. And perhaps having modified your lighter to shoot a rather larger than stock flame when fully adjusted up. I mean, pulling the metal shroud off and adjusting the flame height ring is the first thing you do with an old lighter!

The Race

Racing is more interesting when it’s head to head - so, in the various arena layouts, they’re set up such that two trucks at a time can race. Here, they start on opposite sides of the circle and do one lap. Yes, that does mean about 3000 horsepower run through very short headers - the noise is quite impressive!

The race generally consists of the trucks fighting for traction, going sideways, and throwing a lot of dirt around. This is Monster Mutt, tail high, sliding sideways.

Megalodon, similarly, snarls around the track. There’s very much a “hierarchy of popularity” of trucks, and as a bunch of the events include audience score, there’s some popularity contest going on. This is one of the more popular trucks.

If you want to see bodywork, go to one of the earlier shows in the weekend. If you want to see tube frame, go to one of the later shows. The bodywork tends to get progressively more damaged throughout the shows.

No, the truck isn’t going backwards. The current generation of trucks have four wheel steering, allowing some fairly tight turns and some fun little cyclones. You can also see the exhaust sticking out the side, and the rather long travel front suspension hanging out.

I’m pretty sure this was originally a fire truck. I suspect it managed something rather spectacular to watch at some point. You can really get a sense for the welded tube construction that makes the trucks strong enough to take this sort of abuse, and keep the driver mostly intact. There is some insanely long travel suspension, and on the current generation trucks, a mid-mounted engine, somewhere around 575 cubic inches, supercharged, making 1400-1500hp.

I get the impression that the more complicated bodywork seems to be correlated with the “less adventurous” drivers. This is a new one I’ve not seen before, very “digital lego” sort of feel on the bodywork. Also, fairly new looking tires compared to some of the others. I would have expected “less worn tires” to correlate with race performance, but it doesn’t seem to matter over driver skill.

Finally, Grave Digger, a perpetual favorite, driven by a very capable driver. There’s a certain sense of style that goes into the show, and if you’ve never heard someone (very successfully) “work a crowd” with 1500hp blasted out a set of headers, you’re missing out!

Well, son, when a mommy and daddy monster truck love each other very much…

Grave Digger won the race, setting the pattern for the evening. Whatever your rock crawler can do, these can probably do better.

Two Wheel Challenge

The second event is simple enough. You have two attempts to “do something impressive” on two wheels, and the fans judge via some webpage or another. By the way, yes, I’m annoyed that the event code for Nampa was NAM. It should match the airport code, MAN, thank you very much. We do have an airport!

Most of the two wheel tricks involved getting up on the nose - I guess this is easier to judge as the driver, or easier to get into. Jump, land, reverse, stare at dirt!

In this case, really stare at the dirt! The chassis is very much perpendicular to the ground. My understanding is that the two wheel stuff has been a perpetual thorn in the “fuel and oil delivery” engineer’s sides, because most (land vehicle) engines aren’t really designed assuming you’ll stand them on their end and ask them to make lots of power. You can see the fuel cell in the back, under the fake hitch. Getting a fuel system that will feed reliably as you do things like this takes some work!

And then you get to Grave Digger, who tends to run away with the show - for entirely valid reasons like “You’re going to see something you’ve never seen a giant truck do before.” Step one, jump, get on nose. Nothing too special here, just a normal setup. Most of the drivers can do this. The famous gleaming red headlights are quite visible in photos - far more so than when actually there.

What most drivers can’t do, though, is then stay balanced while backing up a ramp…

Over the hump at the top…

And across most of the tabletop. But that’s only the first of two attempts to do something impressive on two wheels.

The second attempt, out on the dirt, was the ever popular “bicycle.” Up on two, drive around like that for a while and bounce back down. I understand at the larger arenas, a good driver can stay up on two for quite a while, and some can bounce back and forth between the two sides quite competently. There’s just not enough space in here for that.

It seems to be a requirement that there be at least one opportunity to use the wrecker every show. Here, Monster Mutt tries to follow in some awfully grave footsteps, up on two…

But doesn’t quite get it right.

Awww, who wants a belly rub! You do, doggie! You’ve seen the steel tubing these things are built of - this doesn’t stand any real chance of injuring the driver or the truck, though it’s apparently a bit hard on the bodywork.

Unfortunately, you now have 12,000 lbs of truck lying rather the wrong way around. But, fear not, this is normal, and they’ll just send the wrecker out!

I’m guessing that Monster Jam gets some good pricing from Cat, having their equipment all over the shows. Attach a tow strap, back up, and up and over goes the doggie!

Woof! Embarassing, having to be pulled up by a cat…

The loader then levers up the truck and rolls it out. As it moves, you can clearly see that the whole drivetrain moves as one - it’s welded around. There are no differentials to be found on these!


After the two wheel challenge, a couple skid steers come out to smooth the dirt - and it’s actually a lot of fun to watch, because the people running them are good. I’ve seen enough people running machinery to have at least a limited ability to tell the skill of the operators, and these people knew what they were doing, and set out doing it in a hurry.

The trucks spray dirt all over, so one of the steps is to actually clear out some areas by putting the dirt back in the center. It’s very fluidly done.

At least for this event, the halftime show was some motocross riders, on dirtbikes, lobbing themselves through the air. They have a big inflated landing pillow (inflated by a generator - they need a solar trailer!), and a launch ramp, from which they proceed to do entertaining things in midair.

“Remaining on the bike” is definitely not one of the things they do much in midair.

“Remaining upright” isn’t popular for very long, either. I’ve wondered a bit about how you learn to do this - if you’re slow getting back on the bike, the landing has to really suck!

Of course, the bikes don’t remain upright for long either!

And, of course, why limit it to one bike in the air at any given time? At the end, all four of them lobbed themselves up the ramp in a tight formation, each doing their own thing in midair.


After halftime, it’s time for the freestyle event - a minute or so for every driver to try their best to impress the crowd. This is where you you find the most interesting stuff. Despite it being an indoor arena, without much room to build up speed, the trucks are still able to get some impressive air and hang time, landing like the well sprung small building they are.

“Cyclones” are another popular way to show off and kill some time. Crank the front and rear wheels over, floor it, and spray dirt in all directions. It’s kind of like playing with an old Subaru in a snowy parking lot, but an awful lot louder. I’m pretty sure one of their cylinders rather substantially outproduces my entire engine at that time…

I remain properly impressed that you can land jumps with a 12,000 pound truck on one wheel and not regularly break things. Apparently the wheels are actually cabled onto the chassis as well, for when you do manage to break something important landing a bit wrong.

It really is like a truck rodeo at times!

As always, Grave Digger puts on one heck of a show. Work the crowd with the engine, and then go impress the pants off them on the dirt. I didn’t get a photo of it, but that “jump ramp with tires” was quite successfully used to do a tight little backflip in the stadium.

The glowing discs here are a perfect example of just how much harder Grave Digger gets driven than most of the other trucks. They all have driveline brakes on the driveshafts, because this is a somewhat less violent place to put the discs than out at each wheel. However, you only rarely see the discs glowing and sparking furiously, and it’s likely to be on Grave Digger or one of the other “driven really hard” trucks known for high energy antics. Again, the driver here knows exactly how to make their truck do what they want - and they do it, hard.

And… an upright truck at the end of freestyle! I guess the earlier wreck counted, because most of the other times I’ve seen a freestyle competition, Grave Digger went last, and ended up quite inverted at the end.

While it wasn’t a very impressively driven truck, Lucas Oil Stabilizer is still a very pretty truck!

And having won all three individual events, Grave Digger was the clear winner of the whole show!

Seriously. If you’ve not been, find one and go. They’re hysterically fun!


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