4 1/2 Tons of Fun
Monster Jam rivals get ready to clash at the 2012 World Finals
By M.B. Roberts
Sports are defined by their great rivalries. Yankees vs. Red Sox. Packers against Bears. And when it comes to monster truck competition, there is nothing to compare with Grave Digger vs. Maximum Destruction.
Both four-and-a-half ton, high-octane-fueled trucks driven by former truckers turned superstar drivers, Dennis Anderson (Digger) and Tom Meents (Max D), are once again scheduled to compete in the Monster Jam World Finals in Las Vegas in March. So if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to pick a side.
“Dennis was never pushed that hard before I came along,” says Meents, a nearly 20-year competitor who hit the track with the futuristic SUV Maximum Destruction in 2003. “He was always the man. He was on such a high pedestal that I never thought I’d reach those heights. But once I got a little taste of competition and winning, I thought, ‘I’m going after it.’”
Anderson, who is 52, introduced Grave Digger in 1982. He admits that Meents is a formidable foe. “I went for a long time with no real pressure until Tom came on the scene,” he says. “Somebody’s got to come after the good ol’ guy.”
Anderson is indeed the good ol’ guy of monster trucking. He’s known for his charity work and, like Meents and most other Monster Jam drivers, for spending hours signing autographs for every fan who wants one.
His Grave Digger — or rather his fleet of 10 Grave Digger trucks driven by Anderson, his sons Adam and Ryan, and several others — is arguably the most recognizable monster truck in the world.
“I started out crawling through the mud and running over cars,” says Anderson, whose first truck was pieced together from parts of discarded vehicles on the farm where he was working in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. “Now we’re celebrating our 30th Anniversary. This year’s World Finals will be the biggest and best I’ve ever been to.”
As in most of the 325 annual Monster Jam performances scheduled in the U.S. and around the world, the World Finals will consist of two forms of competition: side-by-side racing and freestyle. Side-by-side racing is a traditional type of bracket racing where the first truck to cross the finish line with the least number of penalties wins. Sounds easy enough, but consider that every race involves trucks jumping as high as 26 feet and traveling distances of more than 130 feet (think 14 cars lined up side by side). Impressive.
During the freestyle competition, drivers fly around the track for 90 seconds showing off their skills — slap wheelies, sky wheelies and cyclones galore — while crunching obstacles such as cars, buses, boats and even the occasional airplane along the way.
“The freestyle competition is what the fans love,” says Anderson, who invented the form when he habitually returned to the track following his runs for fan-pleasing encores. “It’s what they come back to see.”
Anderson, who has three Racing World Championships (2004, 2006 and 2010), won the Freestyle Championship in 2000. Five-time and defending Racing World Champion Meents has four freestyle titles (2001, 2002, 2004 and 2006). Not surprisingly, both drivers aim to win both the racing and freestyle titles this year.
“He wants to be number one and I want to be number one,” says Meents, who, during an encore at the 2009 World Finals, became the first driver to successfully back flip a monster truck. “Our rivalry is like the story within the story. There’s going to be a winner of the night and another winner between me and Dennis. And the real winners are the fans.”
Four million fans are ready for the rumble.
Meet the Drivers
“Absolutely I was a truck driver. At one time I owned three Peterbilt semis and used to tow my monster trucks around with them. Then whenever I wasn’t busy doing monster truck shows I hauled whatever I could — grain, building supplies, whatever I could to fill the gaps.”
“I don’t drive a truck as much as I used to but I used to burn up the road! I had Peterbilts. We have leased trucks now — Freightliners. I drove my trailer to a block party (for fans) recently and took my monster truck up there. I drove 17 hours up and back.”
Monster Truck Talk
Auger In – Crash nose-first, more colorfully known as a “nose plant”
Case It – Hit the lowest part of the truck’s frame on the peak of the obstacle
Cyclone – Spinning in circles (doing a doughnut) at high speed
Dry Hop – Doing a burnout (spinning the truck’s tires to clear the mud off and gain traction) to clear the starting line of loose debris
E.T. – Elapsed time to run the course of the track
Gag It – Stand the throttle wide open. Also known as “drop the hammer.”
Hole Shot – First vehicle off the start line
Hot Shoe – A top driver
Pass – A complete run across the track
Power Out – Using a burst of acceleration to keep the truck from rolling over
Riding the Wave – Coming down hard and bouncing up on the front tires while traveling some distance
Sky Wheelie – Truck standing straight up with the front tires in the air at a 90-degree angle
Slap Wheelie – Truck coming down from a wheelie front first and slapping back into another wheelie
T-Bone – Crash head-on into the side of an obstacle
Walk It – Rock back and forth on the rear tires in an alternating one-wheeled wheelie