The enormity of what I’m about to do has just hit me. A shade over nine feet below me lies the same dirt track, complete with ramps, on which the first ever Monster Jam competition will take place in the Middle East. Under my right foot is the throttle for the 1500hp monster truck I am about to take for a spin.
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Rewind a couple of hours and I’ve just finished a phone conversation with Flash Entertainment, the event organiser for Monster Jam that is due to take place at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi the following evening. They appreciate it’s incredibly late notice but apparently a spot has just opened up for a monster truck drive experience, and would crankandpiston be interested in having a go? Half an hour later, I’m whistling towards Abu Dhabi in the Management Fleet Honda Accord Coupe for the drive of a lifetime.
Although relatively low key across Europe and the Middle East, monster truck racing emerged from grass roots events like tractor pulling to become big business across the states today. Crowd figures can exceed four million across the 375 scheduled events on average each year with fans keen to see local drivers drive, jump, pull wheelies and crush demonstration cars in trucks that have been specifically developed for dirt racing and freestyle stunts. Unsurprisingly, international companies like Monster energy drinks have spied a potential earner and provided some sizeable support.
For such an American-centric – and some might say quirky – series to make its Middle Eastern debut might seem a little odd, particularly when we consider that the UAE’s own grass roots motor racing program is struggling to grab a foothold. What chance does Monster Jam have then? Well quite a good one, actually. An event whose core agenda is to entertain the crowd with a ‘bigger is better’ philosophy being showcased in a region dominated by hilariously overpowered tuned engines and off-road toys seems a match made in heaven. Such would seem the case for Flash too, which is already planning Monster Jam’s return next year.
My genial hosts at Flash are already waiting for me at the Monster Jam paddock on the south side of the Stadium, as are Chad Fortune and Bari Musawwir, two of the series’ most popular campaigners and among the bookie’s favourites for overall victory in Abu Dhabi. Knowing that very soon I will be strapped into the monster truck bucket seat, I’m very keen to learn from each driver’s experiences behind the wheel of Captain America and Spider Man respectively. It’s proving difficult to concentrate though, and that’s certainly no fault of Bari nor Chad, whose joint enthusiasm is almost tangible.
For the moment my attention is grabbed rather tightly by Monster Mutt Rottweiler – 2010 Monster Jam Freestyle Champion, complete with plastic ears, tongue, water dish and bone – DC comics-inspired Superman and four-time Monster Jam World Finals champion Grave Digger that are towering above us almost menacingly. Each truck is built on the base of a standard SUV – Grave Digger has been built from a 1957 Chevrolet Panel Wagon – yet stand over 13 feet tall (half of which is the tyre, which must measure at least 66-inches high and 43-inches wide), boast extra long 76cm shock absorbers, and kick out 1500hp from their near 9.5-litre supercharged engines: just one of these brutes kicks out the same power as two Lamborghini Aventadors. It’s hardly surprising that at full pelt, these 4.5-ton bruisers growl through 2.5 gallons of methanol per run.
Both Bari and Chad have noticed my astonishment, and can’t help but smile. They hope the thousands of ticketholders for the following evening’s event will feel the same way.
“It’s very exciting for us too,” Chad explains. “This is something we knew growing up, but to introduce it to a whole new country, a whole new people and to get them to love it as much as we do, I think we’re going to do a great job with that.” A knowing nod from Bari – “it’s definitely a sign of growth in our sport competing in the Middle East, and hopefully we can keep it going” – shows just how fired up the guys are for the event ahead.
Keen to get the drive experience underway, our group – which includes a few of my fellow rather nervous looking representatives from the media and a Radio 2 listener who’s won a drive via a competition – starts making its way to the arena. Our jovial conversation is stopped in its tracks by a guttural roar from a 1500hp supercharged engine emanating from inside the stadium and ripping the cloudless sky in half. Suddenly the challenge that awaits is all too clear, and a couple of butterflies start fluttering their wings in my stomach.
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