This time of year, monster truck fans are always looking for that show that is worth the trip. Factor in how far the show is from home, the amount for tickets, gas to get there, and even a hotel as needed.
Stadium shows at the larger venues are always the hot ticket, but the reality is that there are more places that host a hockey game or basketball in the country instead of an NFL team. This means most shows are held in a small arena, but no two shows are the same, and no two setups are the same either.
Over the years, arena shows have drastically changed. No longer is a show headlined by tractor pulls with a car crush exhibition, nor does it strictly involve side-by-side racing in such a small space. Instead, many different monster aspects are showcased, but again, no two shows are the same. No two shows have the same lineup, and there’s certainly no two shows that are run with the same concept. Only common theme among all the promoters, and even the drivers, is simple…win, but put on a show.
For me, the opportunity to see someone else put on such a show aside from who I have seen in the past, is not very often. But, a trip to Youngstown, Ohio, allowed me to get a chance to see a promoter I haven’t seen live. But, thanks to video and photos of prior shows, the Toughest Monster Truck Tour seemed to be the right fit to start my season, and also see some new trucks.
What I also got to see was a conventional show, but without the drama of feeling the need to run equipment to the brink of failure in order to please the fans.
Immediately the show was getting high marks because of the caliber of trucks. Sure, when Bigfoot is in attendance, the show already is getting high marks, especially when the truck there is their newest and best piece. Add in a talented driver, even if that driver is doing a fill-in role, as Josh Gibson was doing.
But it wasn’t he that really upped the show value. The team from Indiana of Dirt Crew and Quad Chaos ultimately gave the show some of the best credibility it could have.
One thing when I look at indoor shows, especially those with dirt being brought in, is the track layout. After the last several years of seeing the “pod” as it has been called, it was a welcome relief to see something different. The setup was old-school to an extent. The racing lanes were made of dirt rather than just a dirt ramp with cars. The racing lanes had dirt plateaus, with the end of the dirt being stuffed with a pair of loader tires. Those tires gave the trucks a bit of a “pop” during the wheelie competition, something that some tours aren’t doing as much. They go with a skills challenge, seeing how one can handle a truck on two wheels, whether it be the two front, two back, or side to side.
There’s nothing wrong with a classic wheelstand, because it still excites a crowd, so that definitely is one thing that caught me right away.
The biggest thing that made me enjoy the overall weekend was the fact yes, these trucks are putting on a show, but they are not going completely over the top in order to put on that show, especially when the equipment is owned by the drivers themselves, and not some corporation. When parts break, it’s them that eventually must foot the bill for replacement and/or repairs.
Case in point: Kreg Christensen and Aaron Cain.
Christensen destroyed the third member in the rear end of his Dragon Slayer, which is attached to the axle in order to turn the planetary gears in the hub. That was an all-day job, but he and team got everything ready to go for the second show.
Cain had a lot more help, but a bigger issue. After losing gearing in the transmission, he had to take the broken one out, and put a new one in. Problem was, no one was available to rebuild the broken one on Saturday, so plan B needed to be implemented. One call to the team shop meant a long ride on Saturday morning to get a transmission to the venue to be put in. Sure, it was the backup and it wasn’t the normal one used in the truck, but it would be enough to get through the show, before going home and doing the real repairs.
Everyone pitched in to get all these trucks ready to go both nights, even if it meant just cleaning the bodies so they looked good for the start. But by the end of the weekend, a couple of the trucks not only needed a lot of repairs, they needed to be repaired enough just to get them in the hauler.
Christensen caught the side of the center double stack, and it kicked him sideways so hard it planted the front end in the ground, tearing a four-link bar and suspension caving under the chassis. It became a long night for the team from Utah, but then it was after the show that made a major impact on how I viewed the tour.
No matter the team nor what the end result was, when it came time to leave, everyone pitched in to get the teams ready for their ride home.
It certainly made it easier when the equipment used to build the track also was equipped to haul our some of the parts to make these trucks run. Teams were taking off the big tires as quick as they could, then putting on the transport tires to fit them in the hauler. But, when one team was already done, they then hopped into the bobcat and then began hauling out other teams’ tires to their haulers so they can get loaded up. Within maybe an hour and 15 minutes, every team minus the Christensen camp was already “tired down” and loaded up. Sure, many decided to hang out a little bit longer to say their goodbyes, but it was one of the easier load ups that I have seen.
When I began leaving the show with my friend Kevin, who was one of the crew guys for the Quad Chaos and Dirt Crew duo, we both were talking about how good the show was. He had been there the last few years, but this was my first experience.
We both left satisfied, and actually left in surprisingly good moods, even though we left a bit later than we expected based on our time of staying behind.
After dropping him off and heading home, I realized this was the first show where I knew a majority of the backstage crew rather than just the drivers. I got to see the duo behind the Monster Blog, who actually are hired on as lead photographer and videographer for the tour, and even got to witness something I’ve not seen since I was a young child.
It was in November when I officially met Gary Bauer, the owner of the Lon Ranger and now the one who owns the clone Ranger that was debuted in Auburn, Indiana, at the Hall of Fame. This time, however, he got to drive it into the arena for the crowd to see, and then do something that honestly only the parents in the stands can recall.
Sure, it may not be big air, or a crazy move, but back in the day, a car crush was something that drew a crowd like nothing else.
So seeing the Lon Ranger hit just two cars, and getting the front tires off the ground, for even the oldest of fans was exciting. It also provided a moment that I have not seen from any other promoter in recent years. With all these old trucks being restored or cloned, it’s not often that these trucks get to be shown in front of a modern audience. The worst, or maybe disappointing, part of this aspect is that modern day fans, especially the kids, don’t have as much understanding of where this industry began. It wasn’t all about getting big air, or skying a truck to the roof of a building. It was hitting a set of cars and either landing on the crushed metal and driving off, and then doing it again.
Seeing Bauer wear his original driving jacket, then put on a helmet, and hit the cars so hard that the nose of the truck would wheelstand before crushing down on the roofs of the cars under him…it just was delightful.
There’s very few promoters that are bringing in the classic trucks, and letting them do their classic show. In many ways, it’s education for the younger generation, before there was all these precision tools to ensure every piece of the truck is where it needs to be. These classic trucks were images in one’s mind, as fellow Hall of Fame driver/owner Marty Garza once said. But it was an opportunity to show that a monster truck wasn’t always a technological piece that was built in bulk as some cases may be, but instead was one truck, in one shop, and it was usually the only one a driver owned.
That moment on both nights of the show, made it. Hands down, it made it.
Sure, other tours may or may not bring in a classic truck, probably because of show format and such, but when a classic truck is involved, that makes the show that much better.
In the end, the grade the Toughest Monster Truck Tour is getting from me is an A. They had a good flow, they kept the crowd involved, and they didn’t need a whole lot of “fluff” to keep the show entertaining. It was trucks, freestyle bicycles, trucks, a classic car crush, and finally the trucks. In between, there were t-shirt giveaways, a free pizza for a fan, and both a wave to the crowd from all the drivers and track crew after the show.
It was a show where there wasn’t a need for crazy bodies, or music, and that was perfectly fine. Honestly, outside of my home town shows, it was one of the better arena events I have been to. And you can bet I will be back.
The Toughest Monster Truck Tour will have All About Horsepower back. When…well time will tell. But, it will happen.