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Memphis Flyer The End of Everything That Ever Happened

By Chris Davis

FEBRUARY 1, 1999:  Blindly I reached out into the heartland of this great nation to ask its people a question that has been puzzling millions for lo the last two decades … “Why the Monster Truck?”

Mere minutes after posting my query in cyberspace, I had my first reply. As it turned out, it would be my only reply, but what a reply it was. An enthusiast who identified himself as Frank Krmel Jr. offered this simple but eloquent explanation: “A 10,000 lb truck with five-and-a-half ft tall tires, jumping things in an arena, you just can’t get much more American than that.”

Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find anything quite as American as a Monster Truck. Compared to these methanol-burning mayhem machines, our most powerful national symbols, the soaring eagle, the rugged frontiersman, and (no disrespect intended) even Old Glory herself seem archaic and absolutely incapable of reflecting the contemporary American landscape.

Size Does Matter

Monster Trucks are exactly that – rolling juggernauts with gigantic price tags. The tires alone are 66” tall, 43” wide and weigh upwards of 900 pounds apiece with rims. The trucks themselves are often more than 12 feet tall, so tall in fact that the drivers have to enter the cab from underneath, by way of a special hatch built into the floorboards. Six-foot nitrogen-gas shocks run $1,000 apiece and the 575 cubic-inch engines (1,500 hp) average $40,000. The total cost of a Monster Truck can be well over $150,000. Don’t even ask about maintenance.

Practical Schmactical

Like the Dr. Frankenstein of motorsports, Bob Chandler began to attach parts intended for large pieces of farm equipment to 4X4 trucks back in 1974. The result was Bigfoot, the great-granddaddy of all Monster Trucks. The freakish hybrid was, like Frankenstein’s monster, both less than the sum of its parts and greater. With more than half the weight of the vehicle located in the tires (wheels and axles), which are unsupported by the suspension system, driving a monster truck is, as L.A. Times writer David Ferrell once said, “a little like flying a helicopter in a tornado.” Front and rear wheels are controlled independently and floorboards have transparent panels because the terrain below can be as important as what lies ahead. Lacking agricultural, or for that matter any useful applications, the Monster Truck was not designed for practicality. It was designed to make money the old-fashioned way – by separating us fools from our hard-earned cash. Bigfoot and its descendants can kick up a lot of mud in their wake, and drive over other cars like they were so many bumps in the road. The 10-ton Bear Foot once jumped a record 141 feet, and it is safe to say that not since bear-baiting was outlawed in merry old England has outright waste had such tremendous sex appeal.

Be Gaudy and to Hell With It

A dozen feet tall, spewing flames from their tailpipes and lit like Vegas on wheels, Monster Trucks are, as you might well imagine, about as tasteful as fake vomit. Consider Bigfoot’s arch-enemy, the ever-popular GraveDigger. Ornamented with green flames and grinning skulls, it ain’t about taste – it’s Heavy Metal all the way. Due to extreme gaudiness (and the fact that indoor events are often rigged to insure both fan and driver safety), Monster Truck racing has been compared to professional wrestling, and with the development of the Wrestle Truck, the two quasi-sports have become even less distinguishable. Wrestle Trucks are designed to match the persona of the wrestler for whom they have been named, and therefore reflect the delicate sensibilities of such luminaries as Hulk Hogan and Randy “Snap into a Slim Jim” Savage. To watch these combustion-driven dinosaurs go at it sumo-style is to peek through time and space – it’s like watching the end of everything that ever happened.

The Loudest Show on Earth

Earplugs are part of the basic equipment at a Monster Truck show, and if you don’t already have your own, there are plenty of vendors ready and willing to sell you a pair. How can I begin to explain to the uninitiated the sudden rush of excitement generated by the sheer volume of a Monster Truck extravaganza? It’s the sound of 10,000 jackhammers, it’s like the Who playing Quadrophenia in an echo chamber, it’s like New York before Rudy Giuliani. Brother, it is L-O-U-D, and that’s not even counting the deafening “yee-haws” emanating from the crowd.

Please Rise for Our National Anthem

Loud, gaudy, expensive, impractical, and ever so big, Monster Trucks are far more representative of America than baseball (rooted in England’s unfathomable cricket), hot dogs (clearly Germanic), apple pie (Dutch maybe?), and even dear ol’ mom (I don’t know where she’s from but she sure talks funny). And those brave drivers in their fireproof suits become patriots each and every time they strap themselves into the five-way racing harness and prepare for takeoff. So if you’re feeling red, white, and blue this weekend, I advise you remember three very important words – Saturday … Saturday … SATURDAY!

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