Words: Andy Jones
I climb inside the metal bowels of a 6.5 ton monster truck. The wheels alone cost £20,000 a set. So it’s just as well that - when these beasts hit the arena for real - there are over 40,000 paying petrol heads to fund the cost of smashing them up.
Dennis “Grave Digger” Anderson, 55, is the creator of the Monster Jam world tour, a dusty, ear-splitting bonanza of chaotic truck races and monster free-styling - where 1500hp beasts perform vertiginous backflips, donuts and 120 foot long leaps, very often through piles of scrap cars. For extra comedy value the trucks also have ludicrous, themed paint jobs - a Dalmation with a wagging tail and hydraulic tongue, a ‘bull’ which snorts steam through its headlights. The pumped-up crowd at Feyenoord’s De Kuip stadium are only partly here to see the flips and tricks, more for the hope of seeing grown men crash and potentially hurt themselves. Dennis - who created the experience thirty years ago using scrap parts and beaten up trucks - is all for it, gleefully listing off his on-the-job injuries. He says, “I’ve broke my back, shoulder, arm, leg, foot and knee as well as my ribs several times. The worst part is - when they get airborne - these truck actually speed up mid air because of the motion of the tyres.”
In my three layer fire suit, I was already worried about using the bathroom, before Dennis listed off his own hurt locker. The cheery Americans behind my test drive couldn’t have entrusted a less able man. The biggest car I have previously driven is a Fiat 500, which could tuck neatly under the chassis of this metal mammoth like a baby elephant cowering under its momma. Strangely, the inside of a tiny Fiat is positively roomy compared to the cab of a Monster Truck. To stop you becoming human jam when the truck inevitably rolls over, you are lassoed in so tight you can’t move your arms, let alone head. My vain idea of a behind-the-wheel selfie is quickly shelved once the suffocating helmet, eight part seatbelt, body brace and neck harness are applied.
After a surprisingly breezy crash course - “Crank that, flick that, do NOT touch anything else.” - I’m off in a choking fug of smoke and molar-jarring noise, the motor tearing into life with the tiniest caress of the throttle. The behemoth takes multi-handed steering - in order to turn, you have to simultaneously crank both the wheel and a rear drive joystick - making driving it feel like a high octane version of the “patting your head, rubbing your tummy,” trick you did at school.
Even though I’m not taking any jumps, life inside the beast’s giant chassis is bumpy - like being strapped in a baby’s car seat, shut in a filing cabinet and thrown down a flight of stairs. I’m just getting into the groove when the engine cuts out and a gaggle of worried engineers scuttle around beneath my feet.
“You’re supposed to let go of the brake!” one shrieks.
With embarrassment, I look down at my own size 9, stuck rigidly to the floor. My heart pumps hard from the thrill, my face glows crimson with shame under my helmet. I’ve burned the engine out and with it my chances of ever going pro as a monster truck driver.
The Monster Jam Roadshow hits Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on Sat 3rd September for its only UK date. For tickets, visit monsterjam.co.uk