Forget F1: You’re All Sleeping on Monster Jam
A weekend at the World Finals shows that if you left monster trucks behind in childhood, it’s time to go back.
True gearheads find something to admire in every form of motorsport. Drag racers and drifters, time attack fanatics and rally nuts—they're all one and the same. So, why aren't more of us checking out Monster Jam when those colossal trucks are tearing up arenas across the country?
It takes a lot to sling a 12,000-pound truck some 30 feet into the air. And there’s more to it than hard work and immense courage—Monster Jam also hosts real-deal engineers who help make it the modern marvel that it is. I got to see for myself when I spent the weekend at the Monster Jam World Finals in Nashville, Tennessee. After talking with pros in top-level teams' garages, I learned there's a rich technical element of the sport that I'd been missing out on. Odds are you've been in the dark, too.
That’s what this blog is for. With guidance from folks like veteran driver Tom Meentz, Mohawk Warrior crew chief Matt Del Santer, Monster Jam Senior Director of Track Construction Dan Allen, and Senior Director of Global Operations Jayme Dalsing, we can peel back the curtain on this traveling, high-flying circus. In short, it's not just for kids—it's a heck of a time for the whole crew.
Big Blocks, Big Tires, and Big Engineering
What makes a monster truck? In part, 66-inch BKT tires. These giant hunks of rubber are at the heart of Monster Jam as they’re key for form and function. They’re a long way from those super swampers the baddest truck in your neighborhood is running; each one of these massive tires is nearly 650 pounds, creating quite the demand for power.
Most Monster Jam machines run 540-cubic-inch Chevrolet engines that belt out around 1,500 horsepower. The only two trucks running anything else are Rammunition and Rammulator, which are equipped with 565-cubic-inch, second-generation Hemis built by Hall Brothers Racing to deliver 2,000 fiery ponies. Life is pumped into every Monster Jam Truck by a methanol-burning big block force-fed air through an 8-71 blower to deliver earth-shattering power.
All of that output is sent through a relic two-speed Powerglide transmission. If it’s still good enough for some of the most powerful drag cars, it’s good enough for high-flying monster trucks. From there, it’s then delivered to a two-speed transfer case with a quick-change gear set. Here, teams and drivers can dial in the rig to a particular track or event on the fly. The enormous Clark axles do feature drop-out center sections like you'd find on a Ford 9-inch or Chrysler 8.75, but the smaller gears in the transfer case are much easier to work with.
Monster Jam fans with a keen eye will notice that when the fiberglass bodies are inevitably blasted clear of the chassis, most trucks look the same. While the series doesn't require teams to use a common supplier, most get theirs from a company called Carroll Racing Development.
“We assemble in-house but all of our tubing comes laser cut from CRD," explains Mohawk Warrior crew chief Matt Del Santer. "So just about every truck is actually the same chassis that we dress them up with our own bodies to make 'em all different."
That’s not to say every single truck is the same, though. Builders have the liberty to use different chassis as long as it is compliant with safety regulations. Max-D is a clear example of that, as is Grave Digger, its biggest rival.
“When it comes to our company trucks, they're almost all standard across the board except for Grave Digger. That runs a unique chassis to fit the body," Del Santer continues. "But that's strictly the only reason to fit the iconic Grave Digger body. Max-D is also a very one-off deal as well. That runs coil spring suspension and a front engine. So that truck's a little bit different than all the rest of them.”
It's no surprise that the choices are limited for a chassis that can accommodate such huge... everything. These trucks have 30 inches of suspension travel, and all four of the BKT tires can steer left or right. Factor in all that, along with the obvious need for serious driver safety measures, and only the best of the best can make it happen.
The Show Itself
All of that engineering doesn’t have much appeal if it isn't put to good use. And if you’re under the impression that a script prevents these trucks from being all they can be, you’re dead wrong.
“We’re not WWE, no offense,” Dalsing said. “I wish we had some of their numbers on pay-per-views—I mean, my goodness. So nothing against them by any means, but we’re not. When we hear it’s rigged, it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me. I think that’s kind of a big driving force of we’re not that we want to prove it.”
These trucks run timed races around tight, challenging tracks. They are fairly judged on their two-wheel skills and freestyle performances, and there's no way anyone could fake sending a 12,000-pound truck a measured distance into the air during the high-jump challenge.
There may be plenty of showmanship, but Monster Jam is a true sporting event that's highly competitive. Drivers are required to attend and graduate from Monster Jam University, where they are coached by their own biggest rival. I’m talking about Max-D driver Tom Meentz.
Meentz is a legend on the circuit. He's been driving for more than 30 years and holds the record for the most World Final wins—14 in total. He's the instructor at MJU, where he is tasked with teaching drivers the way 'round the wheel in these incredible events.
“Really what keeps me motivated now is training others and helping them and getting to see them accomplish the goals that we set for them," Meentz told me. "Having the great opportunity to push this amazing sport along and trying to always make it better. If you have just one person win, it’s not as great as when you have a bunch of great competitors come together and everything’s close and tight. People squeak out the win. That seems to be one more entertaining."
Meentz takes great pride in keeping the sport alive through his teachings, then smashing his pupil come race day. That’s a lot of pressure on the students, but it’s a great glimpse at the kind of community that exists at Monster Jam.
That community isn't limited to the track. It's extended to the crowd, where lifelong fans watch and cheer for their favorite drivers.
Meentz recounted, "We see people come to an event. They come to the pit party. Like, 'Hey, Tom. You know, I got this great picture with you when I was a kid and now I'm bringing my kid or my grandkid.' And it's pretty common now. That's cool because you know you made enough of an impression on them and they wanna bring their son and grandkid. That's what makes it really grow long. You know, our biggest fans are kids. Some of those kids are 85 years old."
Those bonds are made by the amazing performances and personalities on the track, as well as Monster Jam's efforts to aid families in need. It's a proud partner of St. Jude and collaborates frequently with the Make-a-Wish Foundation. At the 2023 World Finals alone, six wishes were granted. In the past, the team at Monster Jam even worked to develop the Emoji Strong monster truck based on one kid's vision, proving that the fans are more valuable than ticket sales.
Moving Monstrous Amounts of Earth
A key element of Monster Jam is keeping things fresh. In the early days, trucks were slow-moving rigs that would roll over cars. That party trick is neat for a while, but it gets stale over time. Today, these monsters are moving at speeds of 70 miles per hour in stadiums that were never meant to accommodate them. That's where Senior Director of Track Construction Dan Allen and his crew come in.
“There’s over 10,000 yards of dirt in the building right now,” Allen explained. “We are protecting what I believe is a $2 million, brand-new football field. And I’m not sure they’ve even played on it yet. So they’re worried but excited. They put an event deck over it, and then our protective layers before we put dirt in here. So technically we don’t even see the field and, gosh, if we see the field, that means we did something very wrong.”
Once the layers of protection are in place, they can then move on to building the carefully designed course. Allen and his crew have to consider the limitations of the particular stadium they’re working with, then build something that offers a different spectacle and set of challenges from the last.
Setting up a track isn't a one-and-done ordeal, and there's more to address than repairs after a crash wipes out a ramp. Once one event concludes, the track may need to be restructured for the next. Dan and his crew come out and reshape the course mid-event to accommodate those stages. Everything is done to super-precise detail to ensure everything is up to snuff, making the dirt crew the real heroes here.
“My guys go through countless hours,” Allen explained. “We would take a laser down on the floor, we lasered both lanes and checked it all the way to the top. And then we turned around and we checked all the way to the race jumps and on top of the table Top. So it is as humanly close to accurate as possible.”
For the People
It'd be a serious challenge to find an automotive event with more mass appeal than Monster Jam. Once you take a good look, you find that there really is something for everyone, and it's as wholesome as it gets.
Obviously, the sheer size of the trucks and the crazy skills of the drivers entertain the kids, but there's some serious engineering beneath those shells. The engines that throw these rigs around are nothing if not extraordinary, and nothing gets the blood pumping quite like an alcohol-burning big block that's blower whine is as mighty as its exhaust note. Then, once you've gotten past that, you can spend hours admiring the steering and suspension systems it takes to move uphold it all.
That's all without considering the events themselves. Sure, you can watch on a screen, but it can't came close to attending an event in person. The smells and sounds are intoxicating, and your heart will race as fast as any kid's when these titans dart down narrow straights into a hard turn, then sling themselves into the air as they race against the clock. That's all before you see them set world-record high jumps and battle it out with backflips and other absurd stunts.
It really doesn't matter what your favorite flavor of motorsports is. Monster Jam will captivate you. If you don't believe me, go check it out for yourself. The tickets are cheap, and it hits major cities all over the world. So what's your excuse?