‘I went to London’s first ever monster truck rally and it was baffling’
Have you ever seen a tractor doing a backflip? If the answer is no, and also you feel like that sounds strangely entertaining, Monster Jam might be for you. It’s a sport that is literally owned by one company – Feld Entertainment Inc – and for some inexplicable reason has come to London for the first time.
This was a deafening debut. Literally. Thousands of people, including a lot of kids, swarmed into the London Stadium to watch some really big trucks do jumps.
It was, frankly, baffling. And yet I couldn’t look away. There were too many questions.
Where did all these British fans of this ultra-corporate US driving neurosis come from? How did they get these trucks over the Atlantic? Have they heard of climate change?
And what the hell have they done to the West Ham ground? This petrol-pumping extravaganza was like being transported to the States, but with a disconcerting number of British tourists all around you. Monster Jam is the largest of the US monster truck shindigs, touring through the US, Canada and parts of Europe.
And organisers seem to have their eyes set on our capital. READ MORE: London is scandalously named only the 17th best city in the world – here are the 16 places incorrectly rated as better
The hosts implore us to “see Scooby-Doo like you’ve never seen before!” (Image: Monster Jam)
For the uninitiated – and I very much count myself in that camp – here’s how it works. Eight drivers in 1,5000 horsepower, highly decorated beasts fight it out to see who can perform the fastest lap of the course, followed by rounds of who can perform the best trick, and a “freestyle” section where they try to do seemingly impossible tricks.
We witnessed 12,000-pound machines doing wheelies on their nose and racing at speeds up to 70 miles-per-hour. And, because trucks can only do a handful of tricks (no cartwheels, sadly), it was interspersed with some freestyle motocross – backflips on motorbikes, basically – for an extra injection of sporting madness. I entered the arena with my dad, an avant garde Father’s Day outing featuring a healthy dose of trepidation.
Neither of us has ever expressed any interest in trucks. I don’t even have a drivers’ licence, so the thought of doing wheelies in a five tonne, 17 foot long gas-guzzler has me trembling in my Tube seat. The beasts enter amid great fanfare.
These people have taken the word hype up a gear: hyper-hype. As the American voices echo throughout the stadium, we are told to “witness the heated rivalries, high-flying stunts and fierce head-to-head battles” of trucks “engineered to perfection”. In they come – the “world-famous” 12,000-pound Monster Jam trucks, with names like Grave Digger(R), El Toro Loco(R) and Megalodon(R).
Yes, the vehicles have their own registered trademarks. Did I mention this was ultra-American? I was humming The Star Spangled Banner after five minutes.
The competitors complete their eardrum-pummelling, head-to-head runs of the course, leaving a generation of London kids suffering from tinnitus. I try and follow it: Megalodon falls completely on its side, rescued by an army of JCBs. Mega-truck Max D smashes it with some kind of reverse jump thing.
The impeccably professional US presenters shout their disbelief over the speaker system.
So many trucks were towed away, it was like a cat-walk for JCBs (Image: Monster Jam)
The effort that goes into this stuff is pretty wild. The all-American cast – including presenters with the archetypal US ‘stadium voice’ – take 1,500-man hours to build and remove a track.
113 litres of paint are used to paint the track and obstacles. They even have a voting system for who should win certain rounds – though I had absolutely no luck trying to log onto it. And then you pause for the ad break.
It’s the only sporting event I’ve been to that has a gap so that kids toys can be peddled while the drivers refuel. And when there’s not ads for the latest Mega-Ultra-Monster-Jam-(TM)-Turbo-Toy, there’s country music. Which was delightfully quaint, actually.
At least I understood the country music. In contrast, when anything went wrong with the trucks, my ears glazed over as the comperes tried to explain how the inner axle snapped. But it wasn’t going to stop the driver.
Oh no. He or she (there were a couple of female drivers) would be back stronger than everrrrrr, we were assured. A piece in the Atlantic last year summed up the vibe: it is capitalist machismo on steroids.
The firm behind this sport has converted “free DIY entertainment like tractor-pulling contests into a show that can cost upwards of £100 or more per family.” Monster Jam is operated by Feld Entertainment, whose CEO, Kenneth Feld, has a net worth of about £2 billion, the magazine reported. But that’s the politics. What to make of the show?
That’s like trying to explain the taste of purple. I will never go again, but I think I’m glad I went. For an astonishingly surreal experience – it’s worth GBP25.
Darn it, this is the cheapest trip to Texas you’re going to get. Can I see it catching on here? For the sake of our planet, and Brits’ hearing, I sincerely hope not.
But it does have to be seen to be believed.
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