Power Trip Racing: Roar of car-crushing trucks nearly equaled by that of their fans.

March 04, 1997|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- The old man points a bony finger at the dirt infield and the sermon begins. Bigfoot gonna do it, boy. Bigfoot gonna stomp 'em all. You watch. Monster Patrol? You serious?! What's he got, 'cept that sissy spoiler? Liquidator? Hah! Liquidator gonna get liq-ui-dated, is what I'm tellin' you.

Crazy old coot. Go bother somebody else. Then you hear it, the rumble of a great engine idling somewhere under the stands, low at first, WHONKA-WHONKA-WHONKA, like a ferryboat approaching a dock.

Then suddenly -- WHONNNKKK! -- and out of the tunnel bursts this this hellish blue thing.

It looks like a pickup out of somebody's nightmare: elongated fiberglass Ford body perched on enormous 66-inch Firestone tires, 572-cubic-inch engine, eight gleaming Trailmaster nitrogen-charged shocks. All tricked out, Ford flags flying from the tail, it's an electric-blue, 10,800-pound, methanol-burning monster.

This is the legendary Bigfoot, the Daniel Boone of monster trucks. The old man looks ready to genuflect. And now onto the infield of U.S. Air Arena roars Towasaurus Wrex, another fuel-injected monster duded up to look like a hot tow truck, if you can envision such a thing.

Mother of God, the noise! It's unearthly! You want to check and see if the blood is pouring from your ears, except you can't feel your fingers, either. It's the loudest thing you ever heard, louder even than the flight deck of an aircraft carrier with Harrier jets screaming across the runway.

As the two trucks make their way to the starting line, the sell-out crowd of 14,500, mostly dads with young sons and gearheads in their 20's looking for a winter fix, stirs in anticipation.

This is what they're here for: a straight-line drag race over five junked cars. Snooze, you lose, Jack.

Whoooeeee! B-I-G-G-Gfoot! Bigfoot gonna do it, boy! See if I'm wrong! Bigfoot gonna whip his -- but now you can't hear anything over the deafening roar as the two trucks get the green light and explode off the line WHONNNKKK!

Bigfoot hits the first junker and kicks high in the air, like a panicked stallion that sees a rattlesnake. Towasaurus is slow off the light, banging the junked cars hard, outgunned in horsepower.

It's over in seconds. As Bigfoot hits the finish line, the crowd jumps to its feet and delivers this ungodly howl of delight. The air is heavy with dirt and smoke, exhaust fumes and testosterone, and the old man, Roy Jones from Gaithersburg, is wearing a smile you want to cradle in your arms.

Outside the day is raw and cold, weak sunlight filtering through low-hanging clouds over the Capitol Beltway. But here in Section 115 overlooking the muddy infield, it feels like 110 degrees. Your hands are sweating. Your chest is tight. Your entire body is vibrating from the noise.

You are either having a heart attack or, as the toothy flack for this monster truck show put it, a very different kind of "entertainment experience."

By all accounts, monster truck racing is one of the more phenomenal success stories of the '90s.

The indoor season runs from January to March and attracts some 3 million fans. On any given weekend, there are at least five arenas throughout the country hosting U.S. Hot Rod Association-sanctioned "monster jams" like this and the one that plays the Baltimore Arena this weekend.

The shows are geared for families: children make up 40 percent of the audience. It's also a decidedly middle-class event, with the income level of most adult fans averaging $35,000.

Each show features dirt-bike racing, team competitions with four-wheel, dune buggy-like vehicles known as "quads," everything but fire-eating midgets and clowns, it seems. And it's clear they borrow liberally from the format that made pro wrestling so popular in the '80s.

Maybe the drivers aren't whacking each other over the head with folding chairs, or kneeing each other in the groin while the starter isn't looking. But there are familiar pro wrestling themes: good vs. evil, the power of redemption and survival of the fittest, woven into each show.

(During the "Quad Wars" between white-clad Team Maryland and black-clad Team New York, one of the evil New Yorkers smashes, deliberately it seems, into a Team Maryland quad. The crowd boos mightily. Team Maryland wins the race despite this, but one of its do-gooders is still irate at the Team New York thug and takes off after him. A "near-brawl" ensues, except as near-brawls go, this is nothing more than a few menacing stares and shoves. It's more like bad kabuki.

(The next day, infield announcer Larry Jewett admits that the "near-brawl" is staged. "And those Team New York guys are no more from New York than I am." Jewett happens to hail from Ohio.)

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