crankandpiston catches up with two of Monster Jam’s most popular drivers – Chad Fortune and Bari Musawwir – to discuss the series’ first sojourn to the Middle East, the key aspects of competing with a 1500hp monster truck, why track preparation is so critical, and why a dab hand at radio controlled cars can prove quite useful.
Despite the oscillating fan standing not too far away, there’s a couple of beads of sweat rolling down my forehead that are proving difficult to shake. Today it is hot – VERY hot – and that’s about the only subject capable of drawing attention away from the behemoths lined up alongside us.
In total, ten Monster Jam trucks descend on Abu Dhabi for the first ever event in the Middle East. It’s an exciting prospect for me personally, and not just because this is my first monster truck event. Showmanship is clearly a key factor, the size of these 1500hp monsters – which can soar up to 25 feet in the air during their freestyle runs – hammering that impression in clearly.
That’s certainly the impression I’m getting from Bari Musawwir and Chad Fortune, two of the ten drivers who will be competing in Abu Dhabi (in Spider-Man and Captain America respectively) and who have kindly offered me some of their time. The very smiley Bari and the very tall Chad walk crankandpiston through the ins and outs of competitive monster truck racing.
Gentlemen, good to have you – and of course Monster Jam – in the region. I’ll move onto to the competition in a second, but first things first, how are you finding the weather?!
Bari: “Well the heat I’m pretty used to actually. I’m from Orlando, Florida, so it’s kind of like home for me! Aside from that everything is brand new and it’s beautiful. We haven’t gotten to see a whole lot yet, we just got in last night, but from what we’ve seen so far, it’s excellent. It’s really up and coming.
Chad: “Yeah, that’s right, it looks like the future is all coming right here. Plus everyone has been so nice to us too.”
You’ve both been competing in Monster Jam for a while now, Bari since 2010 and Chad – quite incredibly – since 2000. Could you tell crankandpiston a little about how you both got started in the series…
Bari: “I had kind of a unique story. I’m a big radio controlled monster truck fan. I’ve done it as a child and I still do it to this day. I got noticed by one of the Monster Jam directors at an RC event in 2006, and he basically said ‘if you can drive an RC vehicle that well, you could probably drive a real one’. So I had an audition and I’ve been living the dream since then.”
How about you Chad? You take the RC route too?!
Chad: “[Laughs] Actually I grew up on motorcycles and go-karts and dirt bikes, and stuff like that. But as I grew older, I started competing in high school sports like football, and only got back into the monster trucks after that. Football was over but I loved the competition, and monster trucks just gives you that rush of extreme sports. It wasn’t too long before I had found a way in and I haven’t looked back. Love it!”
On your way up ‘the ladder’, are there any other forms of motorsport that have offered the same rush?
Bari: “Well this is the only form of high-powered motorsport I’ve done, but I wouldn’t mind driving one of those off-road trucks through the desert” – who knows? A Desert Challenge adventure might not be so farfetched – “That looks like it could be fun.”
Chad: “Yeah, monster trucks are really different to anything else. I mean on a motorcycle you can jump high, but here you’re on all four wheels and with something this size, I don’t think there’s anything like it. The sheer power alone…I mean the motor is too big for the vehicle, so it really makes you feel like a super hero and that you can do anything: fly, jump and be fast. It’s really cool.”
Let’s move onto the event itself then. Monster Jam has never competed in the Middle Eats before and it makes its bow in the UAE in Abu Dhabi. How does it feel to bring a new series to the region and introduce it to new fans?
Bari: “Well to compete in Monster Jam is a dream come true for me. I’ve wanted to do this since I was 6 years old, and if you’d told me I’d be here doing it on a professional level with this many great drivers and trucks, I’d have said ‘no way!’ But it’s definitely a sign of growth in our sport, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Chad: “Yeah, it’s very exciting for us too. This is something we knew growing up, but to introduce it to a whole new country, a whole new people and get them to love it as much as we do, I think we’re going to do a great job with that. The track looks great, and everyone is pretty excited to go out there and give it there all.”
The Monster Jam World Finals have been running since 2000, the year Goldberg and Tom Meents – the reigning champion in 2013 with Maximum-D – took the spoils in Las Vegas, USA. What is it about the series do you think that keeps people interested? The fact that in the Middle East 4x4s and tuned cars are big business must be quite a good start…
Bari: “Just the sheer size of these trucks. I mean they’ll attract anybody’s attention. Once you see them…I mean, sitting still is one thing, but once you see them flying through the air and the stunts they can do, it’s pretty amazing. When you can catch a child’s attention with something like that, it’s really something special.”
Chad: “Oh yeah, we cater to the children because they get so excited. But more often than not, you see the adults really getting into it also. So it’s nice for us to see and to be able to bring that. Hopefully our excitement crosses over.”
We have Grave Digger towering over us even as we speak! Certainly the size of these machines is awe-inspiring, but what are they like to compete in? Can you take them to the edge or do you still need that respect?
Chad: “You definitely need to respect them. The sheer size of these monster trucks…I mean they’re big and they’re powerful, and they can get out of hand. But to really control it you’ve got to stay focused and become part of the truck itself. Take it to the edge but then bring it back. That’s what brings the excitement.”
Bari: “Yeah, plus for me personally, you’ve got to have a good team behind you, and make sure your truck is mechanically sound, so that you can go out and compete at a high level. As a driver, you just really have to stay focused, really be on your game, study the track, talk and learn from your peers even” – at this point Chad smiles knowingly – “That’s what’s got me here.”
Are there still underlying nerves when you got out to compete? It’s already been mentioned that these trucks can get out of hand quickly…
Bari: “With me it’s not necessarily fear, it’s more an anxious feeling until you actually get out there. Then you start going and all of the anxiety goes aside. You’re just focused on what you’re doing. You’re controlling a 10,000lb truck. It has 1500hp, so it can pretty much do as you command it too!”
Chad: “That’s pretty cool. It’s one of those unique experiences we have, driving these trucks, and you just use the adrenaline. It really helps getting the crowd to love it.”