Dec 5, 2014 5:28 AM
Monster trucks take American culture on the road
The Associated Press
ELLENTON, Fla. (AP) From Madonna to Miley Cyrus, from Titanic to Transformers, American entertainment culture has been rolling all over the world for decades.
Now, another uniquely American phenomenon with roots in the rural U.S. is rumbling across international boundaries on giant wheels: monster trucks.
"We're monster trucking the world," said Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, the company that owns the giant vehicles and the trademark Monster Jam events. "We're building the business globally. It's got a lot of traction."
Monster Jam had its first international show in 2004, and by 2012, it was featured in one large, international tour. In 2013, the company offered two simultaneous international tours. In 2014, there were three.
About 55,000 people packed one stadium in Sydney in October. The trucks have visited everywhere from Abu Dhabi to Prague to Zurich.
"Going on to 2015, we'll have four parallel tours to cope with the demand in the market," said Magnus Danielsson, international vice president of Feld Motor Sports. "I would expect us to almost double the international business next year."
Florida-based Feld Entertainment, which owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, bought the Monster Jam brand in 2008. In 2015, the company will embark on a 10-city Monster Jam tour in Brazil, as well as a three-city tour in Spain and plans for Asia and South America.
For those not versed in all things monster, here's a brief explanation: Monster Jam shows feature ginormous trucks that race and rev at ear-splitting decibels. They crush numerous old cars with satisfying regularity and leap into the air.
The trucks themselves have different themes. The black-and-neon green "Grave Digger" is probably the most popular, while the "Zombie" is frightening and the "Monster Mutt Rottweiler," a dog-themed truck, is actually kind of cute.
The tires are often 66 inches tall and the trucks stand about 12 feet high.
While Feld isn't the only monster truck event promoter in the world, it is the largest. Other, smaller promoters worldwide are getting in on the act.
"There is a global appeal," said Marty Garza, spokesman for the Monster Truck Racing Association, a U.S.-based group that establishes safety guidelines for monster vehicles and performances. "It's the unpredictability. The sense of excitement visually, the vibrations and the sounds. It appeals to all senses. It seems to have a broad appeal to broad demographics. It crosses all cultures."
Said Nigel Morris, the recently retired United Kingdom-based driver of Bigfoot #17: "The things that people love about monster trucks in America are the things they love in other countries. It's a dramatic show. Lots of action. Lots of horsepower."
The sport has its roots in rural mud-bogging and truck pulling in the U.S. The original monster truck is believed to be Bigfoot, a 1974 Ford F-250 four-wheel-drive pickup from Missouri. Something of a prescient marketing genius, Bigfoot owner Bob Chandler videotaped himself crushing cars in a field with the truck. A star was born, and Bigfoot appeared in the 1981 film "Take this Job and Shove It."
When asked to explain why Monster Jam thrills spectators inside and outside of the U.S., Danielsson summed it up: "The destruction component is big."
Garza notes that part of the international appeal may lie in the fact that the big, bold vehicles are uniquely American.
"Maybe the monster trucks do have an underlying representation of our freedoms here. That we're able to do these seemingly incredible things," he said.
Recently, Garza's group was contacted by a monster truck promoter in China to help with a series of racing events in that country.
Another reason why the trucks are so popular in other countries: Not much backstory or translation is needed. Everyone understands the storyline of loud engines and crunching metal.
Morris, who has raced Bigfoot #17 around Europe and beyond, said folks in the Netherlands "probably have the most enthusiastic fans," while people in Eastern Europe also adore monster trucks.
"It's an entertainment package that needs no voice-over," he said.
On a recent day at the Feld Entertainment headquarters in southwest Florida, several monster trucks were undergoing repairs. The company's giant warehouse is where Feld Motor Sports builds, repairs and dispatches the 10,000-pound vehicles. A dry-erase board lists each truck and driver, along with its location in the world and damage status. It costs about $600,000 a year to build, tour and maintain each truck. The vehicles are sent overseas via cargo ship.
There are multiple identical versions of each truck. At least nine of the popular Grave Digger trucks either circulate around the globe on tour or are in the shop at any given time.
Now, some countries are even starting their own knock-off monster truck competitions.
In the spring of 2014, Monster Mania was held in Moscow. More than 15,000 fans flocked to the show.
Tony Dixon, a British driver of a truck called "Swamp Thing," told the English-language Moscow Times that "absolutely everybody gets Monster trucks. It is just big, loud and abusive."
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