Max-D, Grave Digger and company were at my mercy
Is there anything more intimidating than judging the event? We’re hoping the drivers don’t remember how we look.
‘Monster Jam is like the big circus has come into town’
Let me start by telling you one fatherly truism: All dads worth their salt want to be a hero in their son’s eyes. In my kid’s eyes, I am not just the schmuck who pays for his tuition, his school bus service, or his next Nerf gun. I am his coolest friend and protector, his guardian angel, and the ‘fun’ side of having parents. Mommy, of course, is the one who worries about his studies (boooring!), whether he needs to get new school pants, and if he’s getting enough vegetables in his diet.
So, you see, when Dada comes home and tells his son that he’s got tickets to Monster Jam 2016 and—whoosh—will also be a judge, well, that just makes me a fucking rock star in his eyes. For a generation that’s surprisingly adept at using iPads and Kindles, engages in bewildering amounts of time watching MineCraft, and appreciates the unbridled ecstasy of seeing monster trucks get ‘blowed up real good’ (thanks, Roger Ebert) on YouTube, being a part of something as big as Monster Jam (as opposed to just being a spectator, which is already a special thing) is
worth bragging about.
Armed with tickets in hand, we arrive at the Arena by 11am for the Pit Party, and seeing the Dragon, Max-D and Grave Digger is like seeing your old friends after a long time. Well, it was only a year ago that they first came here, but that was long enough. We practically run to the first truck we see to get in line for the pictures with the driver, but that isn’t such a great idea for my wife because I’ve neglected to tell her not to wear heels at the dirt-packed venue.
We make the most of the Pit Party by taking as many photos as we can and chatting up the drivers. The drivers are nothing like the superrich, super-elite Formula 1 suspects. They’re classic Middle America types with southern drawl and genuine smiles, and they seem truly pleased to have come all the way from their neck of the woods into ours to put on a show.
Thirty minutes before the show starts, I have to leave my family to get to their seats because I have to go to the Judges Row. There, ‘Didi’ from the Monster Jam crew briefs us on how we will be working. We are to rate each driver on a scale of one to 10, one being terrible and 10 being fricking awesome! But given that the show has several events lined up in the program, we will only be judging the Wheelie and Freestyle competitions.
Critics of Monster Jam continually bring up the ‘venue is too small’ gripe. True, the venue isn’t big enough to do the really crazy stunts you’ve seen on YouTube, but that doesn’t make the exhibition any less impressive for its display of mechanical awesomeness and driving skill. With a big mound in the center that gradually degrades in firmness as each truck bounds and rebounds and spins on it, drivers have their work cut out for them as they try to catch big air and twirl and pirouette without breaking their machines or ramming into the walls. And really, the sound of a monster V8 at full tilt must be like King Kong clearing his throat.
My wife’s concerns about the lower box seats not being high enough for safety concerns are completely ignored by our son Max, who is screaming and yelling and laughing at the top of his lungs as each truck does its damnedest to put on a show of awesomeness. Zooming into the cockpits through my camera, I can see a frenzied activity of arm movements as the driver wrestles the truck around the arena. As each driver stops at the end of his round to await his score, I halfcringe behind my laminated judge’s score cards as I can only think the same thing he must have been thinking: “What the fuck do you know about driving a Monster Truck, eh?”
It’s a relief on my part whenever a driver does particularly well, because then I have no qualms about giving him an ‘8’ or a ‘9’ or, in some cases, even a ‘0.’ But sometimes, maybe the driver just isn’t at his best or he doesn’t have the heart to wreck his truck for our carnal benefit, so the best I can give is a ‘6’ or a ‘7.’ Them’s the breaks. Even the crowd favorite, Grave Digger, perhaps trying a little too hard to throw himself around the track, stalls his engine midway. Once he gets going again, flames are visible in his rear differential, but he just can’t seem to get the power down at the right moment to wow the crowds like he did last year.
In the end, Max-D wins the freestyle competition, which is just perfect for our son Max being his namesake and all. At just a little under two hours, including ATV side races and motocross exhibitions, Monster Jam is the automotive equivalent of the circus come to town. No, the trucks don’t smash themselves against each other, and yeah the Arena shows just how much (or how little) you can get away with for a monster truck exhibition, but on the whole, it’s a supremely enjoyable experience for parents and children alike. I’m pretty sure every parent who has saved good money to bring their kids to the show now feel like a hero, too!
You can’t play favorites when you are in this box. Talk about stress!
We dare rule breakers to counterflow against Dragon. Good luck We still don’t understand what is going on here. Kids love Max-D, though Every dog will have its day, they say. Too bad Scooby didn’t perform