Jethro has seen driving skills on a new level, and is sure you’ll want to too

- @Jethrobovi­ngdon

‘As if by magic he’s balancing on just the front wheels. Not momentaril­y. For seconds’

EVERY TIME I WATCH HIM DRIVE IT BLOWS my mind. The control, the bravery and the pure acrobatic drama is something else. Such precision, yet executed with a loose, wild confidence that seems almost reckless. He is, unquestion­ably, the guy who makes my day the most often and the guy who makes me wonder just what’s possible behind the wheel. If it wasn’t for social media I probably wouldn’t have heard of him at all. He’s not in F1. Nor Indycar or the WRC or WEC. He’s not a household name. But if you do one thing today I implore you to open Instagram and follow Tyler Menninga.

Menninga is from Iowa. To be honest I don’t know too much about him, but if I had to bet I’d say he didn’t come up through the kart system. Such a traditiona­l path to a motorsport career wouldn’t have really given him the grounding that he needs. You see, Menninga is one of the drivers of Grave Digger.

The monster truck. And oh my, can he drive. In stadiums designed for an NFL pitch, Tyler makes Grave Digger dance, and fly and flip like some sort of super-sized Tamiya buggy controlled by the gods. It is genuinely extraordin­ary to behold.

Grave Digger is maybe the most iconic of all the trucks that take part in the insanely popular Monster Jam series, and its shape is based on a 1951 Chevy Panel Wagon. It has red headlights, bright green flames licking up black bodywork and a ghostly, skeleton-heavy livery. Underneath, it is nothing like a Chevy Panel Wagon. Or anything else. The modern monster truck is pure rage on 66-inch tyres.

Tough, too. Monster trucks can jump over 30ft in the air (or similar to a high diving board, should you need a reference), so imagine the forces when 5.5 tons lands back on the dirt-covered arena floor. To cope, Grave Digger uses a tubular steel chassis built by CRD Racing. For the most part this is a spec chassis shared with many other Monster Jam competitor­s. It is intricate and complex, but the sheer scale of the tubing is beyond anything you’ve ever seen before. The lower part houses the powertrain in a huge cradle and the engine is mid-mounted.

Monster Jam is as American as apple pie and prolific gun crime, so of course Grave Digger is powered by a V8. Specifical­ly a 540 cubic inch (8.8 litres, although you are permitted up to 9.4 litres) supercharg­ed unit built by Merlin and methanol fuelled. It produces 1500bhp and has that evil-sounding throttle response that only a big-banger V8 running on alcohol can summon. Think of it as a drag racing engine tuned for longevity rather than all-out power. It consumes three gallons of fuel per minute and drives through a two-speed automatic gearbox.

There’s so much more. Plexiglass flooring so the driver can see what’s happening at the contact patches, four-wheel steering, four nitrogen-filled dampers per corner. I’m not sure I can think of a more intimidati­ng vehicle. Imagine being suspended over two metres in the air, surrounded by a roll-cage that looks built to repel artillery, glancing down to look through the floor at those giant tyres and vast driveshaft­s and axles that are literally caged so that when components fail they don’t puncture the driver’s cell, or indeed the flesh of thousands of baying (and, I can only imagine, inebriated) fans. Oh, by the way, the rear-steering is operated by a toggle switch. Left and right. Binary.

Despite all this, Tyler appears to have total mastery over Grave Digger. As I write he’s just posted a video where he hits a table-top ramp, rearing Grave Digger up on its hind wheels. Then he slowly wheelies across the top of the ramp, nose pointing straight to the sky and deft throttle movements keeping all 5500kg in perfect balance. At precisely the right moment he brakes, Grave Digger’s front wheels fall onto the downward ramp and now, as if by magic, he’s balancing on just the front wheels. Not momentaril­y. For seconds.

Next? Well, he drives backwards up the ramp just on the front wheels, keeps going to clear the ramp entirely, and once back on the arena floor he nails the throttle and hits the table top hard. It’s not a massive jump by Monster Jam standards. Maybe only 15 feet high. He lands on the left-front wheel – just the one wheel – and holds the truck there with tiny throttle inputs before letting it fall onto its side.

Grave Digger is now surely stricken and requiring rescue. But no, Menninga manipulate­s the throttle until this huge truck is spinning on its rims – like some sort of highly evolved, twowheeled donut. A big stab of throttle shifts the balance to the rear and the truck starts to right itself as it’s spinning. It’s back on four wheels. It’s ballet with a methanol-fuelled soundtrack. Beautiful chaos that really does defy logic. It is car control like nothing you’ll ever see. Tyler Menninga – and all the Monster Jam drivers – take a bow. You are heroes. Nuts. But heroes.

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