Feeling Trucky

"Doc, how's the X-rays?"

"Well, Monster -- or do you prefer Mr. Truck, or Truckie? -- you're suffering from a dislocated bumper, transmission trauma, fractured fuel pump, spark plugs on life support, windshield shattered in five places, your exhaust manifold is exhausted, your crankshaft is shot, you need an emergency oil transfusion and we'll have to amputate your rearview mirror."

"You think this is bad? You should see the other guy."

• • •

"I broke my kneecap, fractured my spine, broke some ribs, broke my nose, broke my shoulder, broke my hand, had a concussion, but the worst was popping two ribs off my spine," says Monster Jam driver Dennis Anderson. "But I don't get hurt that much."

Oh ... Such stoicism can only mean he's behind on his medical premiums or insured by Black and Blue Cross. But seriously, folks. Anderson will be in the suicide seat -- pardon, driver's seat -- of Grave Digger XX at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday for the crash-mad climax of the Monster Jam season. In this paragon of pandemonium, trucks juiced on enough steroids to reconvene congressional hearings speed down straightaways, jump ramps, land hard and pulverize innocent obstacles (say a prayer for that naked, frightened school bus) to compete for the destructo-championship of the world.

A pre-event "Party in the Pits" allows ticket-holders to meet the semikamikaze-drivers and inspect their Incredible Hulk-a-sized dirt buggies.

"We're really flying these trucks fast and high now compared to the old days," says Anderson, whose 10,000-pound Grave Digger, with its 1,500-horsepower engine, 700-pound tires and nitrogen shock absorbers to cushion 100-foot leaps, is the sport's much-loved mega-behemoth. And he's out to kick some serious tailpipe.

"When I started, a $20,000 monster truck was big and bad. Now they're getting over $200,000 with all the extras. They're more durable for what we're putting them through, and the track builders keep raising the bar a little steeper and higher, and we charge out there running over stuff. If you charge at any obstacle hard, make it or fail, you're a hero."

Drivers are clued into that when emerging from protective steel cages to the ear-splitting, engine-screaming, 100-decibel-level, 25-truck-revving roar in the stadium.

• • •

"How did you do this much damage to yourself, Truckie?"

"Watch this tape of the last Jam. You'll hear me swearing under my engine. I hope Mom never hears this:

"Whoooa! No, don't launch me that high! Oh geez, that landing's gonna ... #@&!*$%! Oh, no ... no ... NOOO! " --


"No! Swerve! Swer ... YEEEOUCH! If I just broke what I think I broke, I won't make love for a year. ... Don't tip me, you'll splatter my ..."


"There goes my Sunday golf game, you mother#$*!&%!"

• • •

Anderson's the reigning legend, but John Seasock's the defending champ, powering the fearsome Batman to victory last year.

"This is the granddaddy of them all, what we all work for, and I'm the one with the target on my back," Seasock says. "We're more like pilots than drivers. You come in for a landing after these long, high jumps, you time it right, it's not bad. But you get overzealous on the throttle, you have a lot of broken parts. Gravity is rough, so we're replacing every nut and bolt and checking for stress cracks. Coming down the track, we're going almost 70 miles an hour, and it's like driving on ice at that speed."

Not that these gentlemen seriously fear being strapped inside these vehicular rockets, even if the human body insists otherwise. Anderson recalls one brutal landing when he thought he'd punctured a lung. "I was gasping and thought I was going to die," he says. "You've got this extra equipment all around and it felt like forever for them to come and help me. But I've been doing this for 26 years, and I've raised a second generation of drivers, my sons. I want to keep on charging hard."

Seasock's distress occurred off-track. After corresponding with a young female fan who longed for a Jam-packed career, he learned his encouragement had been discouraged. "I got an e-mail back that her teacher slammed her for it," Seasock says, still sounding hurt. "I wrote back and said the teacher should call me to talk about people following their dreams. I thought a teacher would want to inspire, not degrade."

Or the teacher was merely calculating skyrocketing medical-care costs, whether treating broken human bones or shattered auto organs. As for our battered mechanical patient, he's downed a bowl of Demerol, and the doc's ready to send him hobbling home:

• • •

"Keep that sling around your sprained radiator belt, and try not to scratch under the cast on your ruptured water pump or the splint on your bruised alternator or the gauze bandages up your infected air filter. You'll probably feel phantom pains where the amputated mirror was and eventually we might put your entire chassis in traction. Got your crutches? Your cane? Your motorized wheelchair."

"How do I get home? I can't drive like this!"

"Call a cab."

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0256.


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