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Thursday, January 24, 2008

 

It's racing, too...?!?

I went to Monster Jam recently, and I've now had the photos developed. My digital camera isn't nearly fast enough to capture the action there; I brought an old school SLR with a huge zoom lens and caught it on film instead. And there was plenty of action. While Monster Jam is more about spectacle than most types of motorsports, it does have some real racing involved in the first half, where the trucks run against each other on identical courses. And monster trucks are quite impressive to a gearhead and engineer - you have to really know how to build engines and suspensions to get a 10,000 pound truck to leap into the air like this! Enjoy the pictures.

Racing with trailers When they were advertising "autocross" on the radio and billing it as "half racing, half demolition derby," I knew it wasn't going to be SCCA Solo II type autocross. It was more like basic dirt track racing, except with a pair of jumps. And that they sometimes added some wacky twists. Here they're racing while towing trailers. This always means for a lot of carnage - in fact, this time they had a pile-up that took bulldozers to untangle, and they couldn't identify a winner when the dust settled. But if you've just seen jet skis dragged through the dirt after falling off their trailers, and a guy running around towing a Port-A-Potty around an oval track, who cares who won?

Blue Thunder Blue Thunder won the racing portion outright. I felt this truck should have taken first place in the Freestyle, too. But when the judges are picked at random from the crowd, it's a safe bet that the crowd favorite will take the win in Freestyle. Not surprisingly, Maximum Destruction won that portion.

I later learned that while Ford put a lot of money into sponsoring this truck (you can't see it in this photo, but the flags have Ford logos on them), it's powered by a World Products Merlin engine based on a big block Chevy. I'm still scratching my head over that one.
Gravedigger It's Grave Digger! Check out the height on that jump. Hopping lowriders have nothing on leaping trucks. Seriously, I wonder how long it's going to be before someone figures out how to apply some of the lessons from monster truck construction to low riders? A lot of the low riders aren't really able to land from the height they can jump to, with broken suspension mounts and cracked frames everywhere. Monster trucks not only jump very high, but they're very heavy, around five tons. Sometimes getting a vehicle that high in the air isn't nearly as impressive as building it to survive the landing. And survive they did - I only saw one case where a truck broke from a landing, and that was a wheel that sheared off. Most of the trucks rolled over at least once, and usually that barely scratched the paint.Gunslinger It's Gunslinger. I don't know why, but I kind of like the paint scheme and the no-nonsense bodywork. Unlike Blue Thunder, this one uses a Ford motor.
Monster Mutt But I also like over the top, fanciful designs too. This one's Monster Mutt. What can I say? Sometimes I just like to root for the underdog.

Sorry, couldn't resist. But you've got to admit that it's a fun truck to watch.

Monster truck ralleys are a spectacle every gearhead ought to see at least once, and bring your earplugs. There's a lot of things that I like about it as a car guy. It's not just the sight of something that big jumping that high, making a lot of noise, and breaking a lot of stuff. Ok, so that's the biggest part of it. But there's also a lot of what I call mechanical creativity. These aren't some NASCAR-ish spec racers here. Monster trucks show a wide variety of design, as they're allowed to run almost any sort of bodywork and use several different types of engines - all of which make around 1,500 hp in a top notch monster truck. And designing an engine and a chassis that'll hold up to this kind of abuse takes some serious engineering talent.

Ok, maybe I'm over-analyzing things. Jeff Foxworthy once said that the biggest thing that defines being a redneck is "a glorious lack of sophistication." And monster truck ralleys show that sometimes it is, indeed, glorious to get in touch with your inner redneck.

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