By Jon Burstein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Since Homo sapiens first appeared on the scene, they have liked to destroy stuff. Even after men decided to establish "civilization" in the Fertile Crecent region, they still liked to burn their enemies' villages while yelling, "Goodness Gracious Great Balls o' Fire!" But as the years have progressed, mindless acts of destruction have been deemed not only impolite, but downright uncivilized. So we have to channel our nasty tendencies into sports. Bull fighting. Boxing. WWF. Badminton. And in one of the most bizarre and uniquely American sports: monster truck shows. People shell out $16 (or $13 if you have a coupon from Whataburger or are military personnel) to watch many different types of vehicular wars and trucks the size of small Caribbean nations run over hapless Dusters, Pintos and other types of cars that can be found dotting highway roadsides.
The closest most people ever get to monster truck shows are the obnoxious, screeching radio ads. Few people ever admit to attending the shows. Truck shows are rarely televised and the Tucson media tends to avoid the shows like the plague - at least until the Aug. 13 show at the Tucson Convention Center.
Let's rumble, baby.
TWO HOURS BEFORE THE SHOW
Clusters of security guards, bikers and motor jam enthusiasts known as "Gearheads" gathered around the MONSTER TRUCK registration desk. There was some buzzing around about a motorcycle accident that happened at Friday night's show.
"Yeah, there was one," said the woman at the registration desk. "One of the older guys fell off his bike and was taken to the hospital. They said he messed up his knee, but no one knows how badly, like if he tore a ligament or broke his kneecap. But everyone says that he's fine now. I think his name was Mr. Rogers."
Sudden image flash. Mr. Rogers of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood riding a motorcycle around the dirt track. Sharp turn. He eats dirt. Scene of twisted metal and a muddy sweater.
Back to reality. A group of Outlaw Quad riders from Tucson were talking in a circle. Billy, Mike, Danny and Jason explained that Outlaw Quad racing is four-wheel cycle racing (hence the "Quad") with absolutely no rules (hence the "Outlaw").
Billy said Outlaw Quad racing is not too dangerous, but Jason produced a photo of a particularly nasty cycle accident that took place at a local track.
"Yeah, it doesn't even look like his head is attached to his body," Billy said.
Jason later pontificated, "People ride as long as they are crazy enough. Also speed is proportionally related to your beer-belly."
The riders laughed when they were asked how they get paid per show.
"It's all for fun and the crowd really gets into it," Mike said.
Jason said,"Yeah. There is some brawling and cheating though. Like last night one of the guys cut across the track and we had to teach him a lesson."
"We smoked'em man!" yelled Mike as he high-fived Jason.
"One guy even flipped off the crowd," Jason added.
All of the riders agreed that Quad Racing is the most popular part of the show because it pits a local team of racers against one from out of town. This year the out-of-towners were from Phoenix. The Tucson boys said they were ready to get it on.
Running around from cluster to cluster was T.D. Lovett, the events director for U.S. Hot Rod shows.
"These shows are definitely gathering in popularity," he said. "For years and years, there would only be truck pulls and the monster trucks. But now we have quad and motorcycle racing and other events. We bring more bang for your buck. HUCK-PPPHHHTTT!"
Lovett glanced at his chew stain on the asphalt.
"Tucson is not a big monster truck town," he said. "Not like Anaheim [Calif.] where we filled all 65,000 seats at Anaheim Stadium."
As Lovett talked, a group of three waitresses from Hooters Restaurant
walked towards the registration desk, bringing several conversations to a standstill. He excused himself.
The monster truck drivers were signing autographs near the concession stands. L.R. Green, a.k.a. Pirate Pete of Pirate Pete Monster Truck fame, had a steady line of fidgety prepubescents handing him $4 Official Hot Rod Yearbooks to sign.
"The best part of this job is travelling and meeting people," he said. "I like to have my freedom."
Dave Pezo, driver of the Executioner, said that one time in Dallas he spent three hours signing autographs. Pezo does not have a cool nickname.
Both drivers agreed that monster truck driving is fairly safe and neither one could think of exciting truck stories.
"My truck once flipped over," Green said. "But I wasn't hurt."
The drivers seemed reticent and after several more questions, it became increasingly clear that they were unwilling to part with any tricks of their trade. Those monster truck drivers are a secretive lot.
When asked his philosophy on life, Green cryptically said,"Go fast and have fun."
Pezo nodded his head in agreement.
The show was supposed to begin at 8 p.m. It was 8:05 p.m.
The tension was building. Kids squirmed in their chairs. Junior high students roved in bands searching for the best seats. There was a five-minute wait at the beer counters. A half-naked man came running down the aisle screaming,"The end is near! The end is near!" [Editor's Note: The reporter made this part up. The man was fully clothed.]
Finally, the announcer bounded out onto the track.
"Tucson! Are you ready to have some fun?!" he yelled to the crowd of about 1,500 people.
"Yeah," said the audience with the enthuiasm of a Prozac patient convention.
"C'mon Tucson, let's hear you! Are you ready to have some fun?"
"Yeah." The cheer was louder, but still not worthy enough to merit an exclamation point.
"The louder you are, the wilder and crazier it will be tonight! So are you ready?"
"Yeah!" The crowd was beginning to get into it.
The announcer launched into a five-minute speech about the intense emotional nature of the Quad Wars. Last year tensions flared at the truck show because the boys from Tucson competed against a team from Chicago at the same time the Bulls and Suns were playing in the NBA Championship. He said hopefully there would not be a repeat of last
year. Yeah, right.
The lights went down. To the strains of AC/DC's "Back in Black," the nefarious Phoenix cyclists ran onto the track. Then the "A-Team Theme" came on and the Tucson boys ran out to cascades of cheers.
Next were the monster truck racers who half-waddled, half-ran into the spotlight. There were six trucks competing: Pirate Pete, Executioner, Predator, Hyperactive, Carolina Crusher and California Kid Crusher. (The California Kid Crusher? How many toddlers from San Bernardino were crushed beneath the wheels of that truck?)
The announcer said that the previous night, driver Gary Wiggans of the Carolina Crusher put a Whataburger flag on the back of the truck and went on to win. Before that he had been down on his luck and had not won a race for some time, the announcer said.
After more philosophizing, the announcer screamed,"You know what time it is? MONSTER TIME!"
"MON-STER! MON-STER! MON-STER!" chanted the audience.
Dust flew everywhere as the trucks came out and kicked up the tons of mud coating the floor. There was an irritating haze in the arena throughout the show.
Truck shows are environmentally friendly, though. All monster trucks are required by the Hot Rod Association to run on ethanol fuel. But this is more a function of not poisioning the audience with carbon monoxide than preventing global warming.
The first race was between Carolina Crusher and California Kid Crusher. Everyone was rooting for the Carolina Crusher to win again so down-on-his-luck Gary Wiggans could get back on his feet.
The first race was almost exactly like the second race, third race, etc. - short, loud and nothing like what is advertised on television.
First of all, there were no long lines of cars for the trucks to run over. Actually, there were only two lines of four cars. The trucks would rev up their engines for 30 seconds, ride over the four cars, and the first one over won. That's it.
It was also very hard to determine which truck won. The audience did not start screaming for the winner until the results were announced.
Of course, Carolina Crusher won the first race, leaving California Kid Crusher to stalk the streets of Irvine.
After the first round of the truck races came the mind-blowing cycle wars. The announcer warned that there were no rules and cyclists could maim, punch, kick, push, taunt or subtly mock each other.
The cycle race was neither mind-blowing nor a war. It was just a regular motorcycle race. There was no visible sign of violence (even though subtle mocking may have played a role) and the only cyclists who fell did so when their cycles got tangled up at a turn. Yawn.
The Outlaw Quad Wars was a little more exciting because of the good-guy/bad-guy element of Tucson versus Phoenix. There was no violence, but cyclists did cheat every so often by cutting across small parts of the track. If there were no rules, why didn't the cyclists just cut across the whole track several times and end the race? No one ever answered that question.
Throughout the events, the announcer kept on prodding the audience to yell louder.
"The loudest section gets bragging rights," he yelled. "When you go back to school or work on Monday, you can say,'Yup, I was at the Whataburger truck show and I was part of the loudest section.' "
Another round of monster truck racing came and went. The only thing which stood out was when Predator got a flat tire and had to drop out of a race. Changing a six-foot flat tire must be a hassle, especially finding a jack that will lift the truck up.
The high point of the show came when the Pee Wee Cyclists rode out on their cycles to the "Little Rascals" theme. The six-to nine-year-olds tottered around every corner as mothers yelled such things as "Ron, he's gonna fall! My baby is gonna fall!"
None of the children fell and all finished the race to the delight of the crowd. The announcer and the three Hooters girls came out to
present trophies to all the participants.
"What's your name and how old are you?" asked the announcer as he bended over the winner.
"Kyle. I'm 6."
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"Hahaha! Oh, you wanna drive Bigfoot. Now what do you want Kyle, a Hooters' girl or a trophy?"
Kyle paused for a moment and said,"Dear sir, I find your objectification of women to be both vile and primitive." (Actually, Kyle said he wanted a trophy and the announcer said,"But Dad is over there yelling 'Hooter girl! Hooter girl!'")
After the kiddy races, a disembodied voice boomed that it was time for Dinosaurus Rox - a mechanical dinosaur from the black hole of time.
The flame throwing, fire-breathing dinosaur rolled out as a group of junior high kids yelled "Barney! Barney!" It was a big green car with a hydraulics system that raised a 15-foot neck and head up in the air.
The dinosaur itself was not scary, but the flames shooting out its mouth and tail were. The heat from the flames could be felt by people sitting within the first rows.
Rox spoke to the audience and told them what weak, spineless cowards populated the audience. He talked about some nonsense about how 65 million years ago, dinosaurs and robots were crossbred and he was exiled to some black time warp. The dinosaur said he was going to barbeque the human race.
With a flash and a BANG, the good wizard Malachi (or something that sounded like a Greek pastry) appeared before Rox. In a constipated-sounding voice, the wizard said that Rox was not evil at heart and that he could be good.
"C'mon children," pleaded the wizard. "Tell Dinosaurus Rox, 'You can be good.' Repeat after me- 'You can be good.'"
After chanting for a minute, Rox suddenly became good and spewed confetti on the audience. The wizard concluded the skit with life-affirming messages like "Believe in your dreams and don't let anything stand in your way."
Maybe the children learned a valuable lesson of love and tenderness from the skit. The lights came back on.
"Die! Die! Die!" yelled the 2-year-old girl in Row F of Section 205 as Predator reappeared to face Executioner. Executioner won to face Carolina Crusher in the finals.
The audience roared when Carolina Crusher came back onto the arena floor. Even though the vast majority of the audience had probably never heard of Carolina Crusher before the race, everyone appeared to be rooting for him. Maybe it was because the announcer kept on telling stories about how driver Gary Wiggans had been down of his luck and was starting to win races after a lot of pain and suffering.
Carolina Crusher won. Wiggans jumped out his truck and humbly thanked his cheering fans.
People began to filter out during the final rounds of the cycle war and Outlaw Quad War. The cycle war was uneventful, but there was a fight after the Outlaw Quad race. A Tucson cyclist had been ahead when a Phoenix cyclist cut across a large section of the track to the finish line. Smart man.
Even though, it is an "Outlaw" race, and the Tucson riders got angry and started pushing the Phoenix riders around. In a Solomon-like decision, the announcer decided the only way to settle the conflict was to have the two racers from each team race again. It was just like WWF.
A Phoenix rider jumped out to a sizable lead, but on the last lap, his cycle mysteriously stalled, letting a Tucson rider win. In the interview after the race, the winner said something like the forces of good have prevailed again.
Predator came out for a freestyle demonstration, but by that point no one was paying attention. After Predator made lots of loud noise and went backwards a couple times (Ohhh..Ahhh), the announcer said the show was over and everyone should go to one of the nine local Whataburger Restaurants and use their ticket stubs to get free stuff.
The show was over and the question still lingered: Why do people go to monster truck shows?
Maybe they too are down on their luck and derive hope from seeing Gary Wiggans strut around victoriously with three Hooters' girls draped over him. Maybe they like to see the forces of good triumph over the forces of evil. Maybe they want advice from Dinosaurus Rox and his wizard friend on how to seize the moment and seek out the joys of life. Maybe the truck show symbolizes pop culture - a lot of hype, but ultimately very little payoff.
Or maybe they go in hope of seeing stuff destroyed.
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