Subcultures are made up of people who share a passion about a specific interest that is often stereotyped. Hippies, bikers, skate boarders, NASCAR racers, bird watchers, body builders, punk rockers, break dancers, to name a few. Recently, I learned about an American subculture that has been around since 1992 but escaped my attention for a couple of reasons–geography and interest.
We were living in Cyprus and Taiwan in the 1990s, and I was involved in learning quirky details about other cultures rather than paying attention to what was going on in my home country. Also, the subculture I recently witnessed in California was about 180 degrees outside of my normal interests. Possibly because it involves five and six-ton vehicles doing impossible tricks–jumping in the air, spinning donuts, flipping over, standing on two wheels, and racing in circles. It is a competitive spectator sport of huge trucks with notorious names and drivers. This is Monster Jam.
While visiting a four-year-old grandson who is obsessed with cars, trucks, and trains–basically anything with rotating wheels, I was notified by his father that we would be attending a Monster Jam rally with the entire family on Sunday afternoon. I watched a YouTube video that told me, “If you don’t know what Monster Jam is, you are a certified city slicker.”
Monster Jam is a live motorsport event under the auspices of U.S. Hot Rod Association, based primarily in North America. The Monster Truck series is the longest running and most successful competition of big trucks in the last 30 years.
Monster Trucks are special off-road vehicles with heavy duty suspension, 4-wheel steering, and oversized tires. The tires are a monstrous 66 inches tall and 43 inches across. Each truck is built like “an engineered fighter jet airplane” but only used for competitive entertainment. They cost $250,000.
The drivers work on teams, performing in seasonal rallies that tour the U.S. with famously known and named vehicles–Grave Digger, Son-uva Digger, Zombie, Whiplash, El Toro Loco, Megalodon, or Jurassic Attack. Currently, there are 14 female Monster Truck drivers in a predominantly male circuit. All driving teams are salaried and receive no prize money.
Monster Jam is one of the safer driving sports. Drivers are protected from head to toe in custom-made fire-resistant suits, helmets, and gloves. They are completely strapped in with head, neck, and body support. When a truck flips upside down or catches fire, most drivers walk away unscathed.
It’s very LOUD when turbo-charged engines rev up and grind away in competitive stunts for several hours. Grandchildren six-year-old Leila and four-year-old Archie wore protective headsets with flashing lights over their ears. We stuffed orange and white foam plugs tightly into each ear canal. The arena was packed with fans of all shapes and sizes, ages, and genders, defying stereotypes. Families, couples, and singles gathered for the same purpose, waiting for their favorite Monster truck to take center stage and perform.
And so, the show began.
Exactly on starting time, overhead lights dimmed. Multiple Monster trucks vroomed into the stadium flashing headlights, painted in bold designs. The first competition was racing around in a circle. Followed by the Two-Wheel event where each truck has two attempts to show their strongest skills on two wheels, either front or back. Drivers could choose to spin in a whirlwind of donut dust as an alternative in this category. The final competition was Freestyle, where trucks showcase any, or all, of their abilities in timed competition from ramp jumps and diving, flips, or wheelies.
Like any subculture, Monster Jam has its own vocabulary. Cyclones are high speed donuts. Doing an endo is not cool. This is where the truck does a front-end rollover and crashes. Pagos are good and applauded loudly. It means doing a wheelie and bouncing forward on the rear tires. In contrast, riding the wave is bouncing up and down while standing precariously on the front tires. The hot shoe is the top driver who scores the most points overall. Grave Digger driver, of course.
During our show, the lone female driver attempted a flip…but failed. The indoor venue was a bit small for this maneuver, but she was the only one who tried. Then had to be rescued from sitting on her head by a massive crane that re-righted her machine. She emerged smiling and waving to the cheering crowd. And won the Freestyle event.
It’s a formula that works and has gained popularity over the decades. For adult spectators, large-can beer drinking is involved. For children, sticky blue and pink cotton candy from a bag is preferred. For any age, heavily breaded chicken nuggets and french fries smothered in ketchup. American dining not at its finest. But this is Monster Jam!
We said “yes” to it all and were caught in the uplifting atmosphere of a new experience. It was about participating in the enjoyment of a boy who knows the names of all the big trucks and has a fine collection of them at home. He owns this subculture, for now.
Here’s to boys and girls everywhere who love to push, [even across the street on the way to breakfast] or drive, big wheels that go around and around and sometimes even upside down.
Monster Jam. Know what it is. Don’t be a city slicker.
If invited, I would go again.