There's something life-affirming about watching a 10-foot-tall, 6-ton truck with enough torque to twist the Battleship Missouri into an 887-foot iron pretzel, and tires so tall they could ride the Big Bad Wolf at King's Dominion and plow through a Winnebago. It's what separates us from the lower animals and the Europeans. Dolphins don't build monster trucks, and neither do the Dutch. A chimp can make some primitive tools, and sure, the French have mastered baguette technology, but neither creature takes them to a football stadium and crushes RVs.
Monster Jam and 16 of its insane icons of excess and awesome rolled through Ravens Stadium on Saturday, belching fire, crushing cars, and obliterating any sense of scale and sanity that stood in its way. If you've never been, Monster Jam is a traveling racing series that crisscrosses North America, makes occasional jaunts to South America and Europe and, of course, Dubai. To give you an idea of the ferocity in steel and fiberglass that is a monster truck, let's compare it to a smart car. A smart car stands 60.1 inches, gets 36 mpg on regular unleaded, has a 61 CC three-cylinder motor cranking out 70 horsepower and can hit 60 mph in about three days. Grave Digger, the most famous monster truck in the multiverse, has a 540 CI Merlin V8 breathing 1,500 fiery horsepower, turning tires 6 inches taller than the smart car, blasts past 60 in just 3.3 seconds, and as for mileage, you'd probably have a better time measuring it in feet. Grave Digger is not a smart car, in fact, it might be the dumbest car on the planet. It might also be the most awesome.
I'm gonna be totally honest here, I'm a gearhead and a total sucker for anything fast and incredibly loud, but I'd never thought about going to a monster-truck race. Being a dad changed that, and I got hooked. Before the race, there was a Monster Jam Pit Party in the Ravens Stadium parking lot which might have been the greatest place on earth to be a boy (I know, because I stopped being a man for the two hours I was there, and it was great). There were monster-truck rides, an inflatable town, Grave Digger had a whole haunted theme park, and there was a two-wheeled show that left my 2-year-old son looking like he'd just realized he was Batman. Without turning his tiny head, he could watch dirt-bikers doing flips over sport-bike stunt-riders while trials bikes bounced over cars in front of a BMX half-pipe. He doesn't really talk much yet, but if he could, I think he'd have said, "It's full of stars," and that's before even getting inside.
Monster Jam is broken up into two events and all of the racers compete-if their rigs hold up -in both. First is a race where two trucks start at opposite ends of the stadium, rip over a jump and get more hang time than a Flacco-to-Smith bomb, and tear back. Instead of a checkered flag, there's an 80-foot gout of flame that marks the finish line. You've heard of bread and circuses? This circus is breaded and deep-fried. The finals came down to reigning race champion Adam Anderson in his 51 Ford Grave Digger the Legend facing off against his own brother, Ryan Anderson, and his 50's Willy's, Son-Uva Digger. Just the sound of the two idling titans is enough to send chills down a race fan's spine, but the auditory explosion when 3,000 combined horsepower ripped its way through the stadium air is near-indescribable. It's an unbearable assault on your eardrums of a NASCAR race, closer to the level of third row at an Iron Maiden concert; and the crowd, which is way heavy on the Y chromosomes, added its own mighty roar as the brothers tore through the night. Both trucks and brothers were closely matched, but in the end, older brother Adam, in the Legend, took the night, but the racing is just the plate of jalapeño poppers before freestyle, the main, chicken-fried course.
"New cars, you don't even notice," according to Adam Anderson, "But when they put out an old one, you can feel the crunch." For freestyle, the arena was strewn with cars, some stacked in towers, and a buried school bus for the truly mega-jumps. Seeing a 12,000-pound literal Hot Wheels truck do an automotive backflip off the school bus was impressive. Watching Monster Mutt Dalmatian, a 55 Mercury Coupe painted white with black spots, with an enormous fiberglass puppy-nose, a flapping red tongue, and streaming giant plastic ears as it tumbled end over end through the arena was certainly a sight. But the utter obliteration of a Winnebago by a giant Ford brought with it an orgasmic release of awesome. Winnebagos don't crunch, they erupt in a splintered shower of churning wood, fiberglass, and steel. Seeing that Ford, painted in vibrant tribute to fair Baltimore herself, mash that RV was the single greatest moment of my 2013.
In the end, the freestyle came down to just two trucks. No one enters Ravens Stadium like Ray Lewis, but Grave Digger-driven by Dennis Anderson, father of both the racing family and arguably the sport itself-came pretty darn close. The crowd fell into a hush as the telltale guitar riffs of "Bad to the Bone" ripped through the stadium. The building began to shake from its very bowels as the Monster roared to life somewhere below. The exhaust was defining as Grave Digger burst from the tunnel, full-throttle, flying over the remains of a decimated track. Dennis Anderson is a legend, and though I have no idea what the judges look for, his run was spectacular. He was in the lead with only one truck left to challenge.
Tom Meents and his home-built Maximum Destruction, the fastest truck in the series, was a rocket, blasting through the tower, pounding over the hills, defying nearly everything that a mass of steel can defy before flipping onto its side, sure to continue turtleward onto its back when Meents ignited the throttle and sent the beast spinning on two wheels, sidewalls against the earth, once, twice, three, four, then five times about its axis before the machine sprung incongruously back up onto its wheels and the crowd lost its collective mind. The final score: Grave Digger, 30, Maximum Destruction, 32, Jim Meyer and the people of Earth, 4 Billion.