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At which time a woman in a bathing suit climbs into a giant plastic-foam beer cooler and blows herself up.
Old monster truck drivers never retire, they just...re-tire. The 45-year-old Shafer, the oldest driver in the business, drove Bear Foot to the world championship last season, outracing trucks throughout the year on courses strewn with gutted cars. The world championship is actually the championship of a 37-event tour called the Camel Mud & Monster Series, a name that evokes the monster truck fan's holy trinity: 1) mud, 2) monsters and 3) a carton o' butts.
Who is the monster truck fan? Well, he might be a doctor or a lawyer or a classical pianist. (If, that is, he had gone to med school or law school or Juilliard. Instead, he went to federal prison.) He is decidedly blue collar. (When he's wearing a collar. When he's wearing a shirt.) These are the jokes, folks. I'm a monster truck fan. I think monster trucks are terrific. I think they're monsterrific. And I am not alone.
SRO/PACE Promotions owns and operates the U.S. Hot Rod Association (USHRA). One of a handful of promoters of monster truck extravaganzas, SRO claims to draw some 2.5 million folks annually to its spectacles, "motorized rodeos" that include some combination of monster truck racing, truck and tractor pulling, motorcycle racing, thrill acts (like the beer-cooler blowup) and, of course, mud boggin', a sport we will discuss later, when the kids have gone to bed. Believe me, you don't want them getting ideas.
Viewers in nearly half a million homes watch a weekly monster truck show on ESPN. Untold others see monster trucks regularly on the Nashville Network. And still more folks catch monsters sporadically on PBS, a fact that I just made up.
Monster trucks are, in the lingua franca of monster truck fans, "big bidnith." They have been since 1984, when, in a seminal moment of monstermania, 72,000 people filled the Pontiac Silverdome for a Saturday-night monsterfest. "We first booked monster trucks at the Silverdome in 1982, during a tractor pull," says SRO president Charlie Mancuso. "A truck came out of the tunnel, crawled over two cars and then had to be escorted off the floor because 50,000 people came over the rails to get closer. I know you don't believe me, so I'll get you a picture. They had to literally escort the truck out of the building like a rock star."
That truck was the Bigfoot Ford, the mother of all monsters, and it had been crushing cars at county fairs and carnivals for nearly a decade before getting the gig in Motown. "It scared the hell out of me, to tell you the truth," says Chandler, who was behind the wheel at the Silverdome. "I locked the doors. People surrounded the truck. A thousand flashtubes were going off. I had just crawled up on a couple of vehicles. Today you have to clear 12 cars or people are disappointed."
In fact, one of Shafer's two supercharged Bear Foot Dodges jumped 13 cars at the Astrodome in November. Any kid lucky enough to have been there felt an adrenaline high he couldn't have gotten from a dozen boxes of Cocoa Puffs.
You see, at least half of any monster truck crowd is composed of bewildered children watching their Matchbox cars come to life. "Monster trucks appeal to kids because they're giant cartoon characters," posits Mike Bargo, an award-winning monster truck photographer, author of the book Monster Trucks, erstwhile editor of Monster Truck Spectacular magazine and creative force behind two monster truck coloring books. "They're big things that move fast, and they smash things. And kids love to smash things."
To aid kids in that mission, scientists at Mattel have developed something called Bruno the Bad Dog, a little bundle of destruction for the home. Bruno's ad copy reads: "Yank its chain and this Hot Wheels monster truck turns into a ferocious, growling 'mad dog' with chomping teeth!" And then comes the kicker: "Ages 5-up." I'm not yanking your chain. And, ad copy be damned, I'm certainly not yanking Bruno's chain.