Fire-breathing hell-beasts take Ford Field

6 02 2012

Every person has some goal, some ambition, that will help them achieve some sense of personal fulfillment. Some want to be the first in their family to earn a degree; others climb mountains. I dreamed of seeing a monster truck show.

Easy enough, you say. Not so; it took me almost two decades to make my dream a reality. And there were a few heart-breaking setbacks along the way.

It started when I was a boy. Like all boys, I loved big trucks. I had a little remote-controlled monster truck set that came with a bunch of aluminum foil “car bodies” and a mold to make them vaguely car shaped. I’d spend hours crafting the foil cars, then obliterating them with my truck. Contentment.

Then, I won tickets to Monster Jam at the Silverdome. I was wired–I was going to see Bigfoot take on Undertaker. Countless K-Cars would meet a noble end. It was going to be great. But it didn’t work out; I got the flu. Heartbreak.

 

In retrospect, it was probably all for the best that I missed that show. Had I gone, I would have been captivated. I would have dedicated my life to becoming a monster truck driver. Success would have meant glory. But if I couldn’t make the cut, my future would have been a sad one. I’d  have grow a mullet, moved into a double-wide, and sold Undertaker memorabilia at the Gibraltar Trade Center (the one in Taylor, naturally) to earn enough to make it to next year’s Monster Jam.

 

I did manage to make this year’s Monster Jam (now at Ford Field), though, and my maturity allowed me to see the show for what it really was: pure performance art.

There’s no shortage of debate within the motorsport community as to whether monster truck events qualify as true sports. To my uneducated eye, Monster Jam sits somewhere between NASCAR and professional wrestling. I can’t tell if matches are staged, or if perennial favorites, like Undertaker, are nudged towards victory for the sake of fans.

 

 

 

Really, though, who cares? I’m still not sure I understand the “rules” of monster truck competition. I don’t remember the names of most of the trucks or any of the drivers I saw. None of that is necessary to enjoy the event; if anything, attempting to keep track of what is going on in the arena detracts from one’s ability to simply marvel at the show.

Beyond the skill of the drivers and their vehicles’ mechanical might, there’s a certain element of spectacle that Monster Jam has got down cold. From rocketlike launches to hair-raising near collisions to the inevitable crowd-pleasing rollovers, it came together perfectly. I find sheer excess cathartic; with Bon Jovi blaring and giant trucks flying over wrecked economy cars, stress and concern faded into the background.

 

 

And something bizarre and unexpected happened about halfway through the event: I stopped seeing the trucks as trucks and started seeing them as snarling, supercharged, alcohol-burning beasts. It was a phenomenon that is tough to describe and impossible to capture with a camera, but the trucks took on a sinister, feral aspect as they crouched on a pile of crushed cars, rocking on their oversize suspensions.

There’s room for improvement even in an event as flawlessly crafted as Monster Jam. I don’t want to see less of anything, mind you; if anything, Monster Jam should play up its shameless merchandising and double down on the hokiness.

Live music is a must for future events. Ford Field’s sound system was adequate, even over the roar of the trucks–but why not hire a live group? I saw a wicked Kiss tribute band at a 4th of July festival in Mt. Clemens. They’d be perfect, and they’d probably work for beer and cigarettes. I’ll get their number if anyone is interested.

Second, pyrotechnics. Self-explanatory.

I realize that these additions aren’t free, but Monster Jam rips through fiberglass truck bodies like a tornado through a trailer park. I’m sure they wouldn’t cut too deeply into the event’s bottom line.

Metro Detroiters will be blessed with another Monster Jam visit this March. My advice to you: Go, and be thankful to live in a country crazy enough to invent a spectacle as absolutely, insanely excessive as Monster Jam. And don’t bother wearing earplugs; if you don’t leave with your ears ringing, you haven’t gotten your money’s worth.

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