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Monster trucks take American culture on the road

December 5, 2014

ELLENTON, Florida (AP) — Grind those gears and ready the mud pit: America’s latest entertainment export is monster trucks.

“We’re monster trucking the world,” said Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, the company that owns the giant vehicles and the trademark Monster Jam events. “We’re building the business globally. It’s got a lot of traction.”

Monster Jam had its first international show in 2004. By 2012, it had one large, international tour; in 2013, two simultaneous international tours; in 2014, three. About 55,000 people packed a stadium in Sydney in October. The trucks have made a splash from Abu Dhabi to Prague to Zurich.

“Going on to 2015, we’ll have four parallel tours to cope with the demand in the market,” said Magnus Danielsson, international vice president of Feld Motor Sports. “I would expect us to almost double the international business next year.”

Florida-based Feld Entertainment, which owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, bought the Monster Jam brand in 2008. In 2015, the company will embark on a 10-city Monster Jam tour in Brazil, as well as a three-city tour in Spain and plans for Asia and South America.

The Monster Jam shows feature enormous trucks that race and rev at ear-splitting decibels. They crush numerous old cars with satisfying regularity and leap into the air. The tires are often 66 inches (168 centimeters) tall and the trucks stand about 12 feet (3.7 meters) high.

The trucks themselves have different themes. The black-and-neon green “Grave Digger” is probably the most popular, while the “Zombie” is frightening and the “Monster Mutt Rottweiler,” a dog-themed truck, is kind of cute.

While Feld isn’t the only monster truck event promoter in the world, it is the largest. Other, smaller promoters worldwide are getting in on the act.

“There is a global appeal,” said Marty Garza, spokesman for the Monster Truck Racing Association, a U.S.-based group that establishes safety guidelines. “It’s the unpredictability. The sense of excitement visually, the vibrations and the sounds. It appeals to all senses. It seems to have a broad appeal to broad demographics. It crosses all cultures.”

Nigel Morris, the recently retired United Kingdom-based driver of Bigfoot #17, said: “The things that people love about monster trucks in America are the things they love in other countries. It’s a dramatic show. Lots of action. Lots of horsepower.”

The sport has its roots in rural mud-bogging and truck pulling in the U.S. The original monster truck is believed to be Bigfoot, a 1974 Ford F-250 four-wheel-drive pickup from Missouri, whose owner, Bob Chandler, videotaped himself crushing cars in a field with the truck. A star was born, and Bigfoot appeared in the 1981 film “Take this Job and Shove It.”

Garza’s group was contacted by a monster truck promoter in China to help with a series of racing events there.

Morris said folks in the Netherlands “probably have the most enthusiastic fans,” while people in Eastern Europe also adore monster trucks.

“It’s an entertainment package that needs no voice-over,” he said.

At the Feld Entertainment headquarters in southwest Florida, several monster trucks were undergoing repairs. It costs about $600,000 a year to build, tour and maintain each 10,000-pound truck. The vehicles are sent overseas via cargo ship and there are multiple identical versions of each truck circulating around the globe at any given time.

Some countries have even started their own knock-off monster truck competitions — Monster Mania last spring in Moscow attracted more than 15,000 fans.

“Absolutely everybody gets Monster trucks. It is just big, loud and abusive,” Tony Dixon, a British driver of the truck called “Swamp Thing,” told the Moscow Times.

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Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush .

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