By JEFFREY SISK
The Pittsburgh Penguins will thrill hockey fans on home ice dozens of times this season, not counting the playoffs, and country music superstar sold out a whopping six shows Feb. 5-8, but I’ll wager Consol Energy Center will never be louder in 2015 than when Monster Jam rolls into town this weekend.
Monster truck lovers of all ages will flock to the Pittsburgh venue for shows Friday, Feb. 13 (7:30 p.m.), Saturday, Feb. 14 (2 & 7:30 p.m.) and Sunday, Feb. 15 (2 p.m.) to see the legendary Grave Digger take on a host of competitors in racing and freestyle events.
In the racing event, drivers go head-to-head in a breakneck lap around the dirt track before going airborne to cross the finish line. The contestants are whittled down, bracket style, until the final two trucks square off for the title.
In freestyle, each truck gets a set amount of time to complete as many tricks, jumps and stunts as possible. Judges rate their performances and the driver with the highest cumulative score is crowned champion.
In addition to the trucks, Monster Jam events include four-wheeler racing, motocross exhibitions and assorted surprises.
Tickets for the Pittsburgh event are still available at the Consol Energy Center box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com, and via telephone at 800-745-3000. Tickets are $25 for adults and just $12 for kids, making Monster Jam an affordable outing for the entire family.
Local enthusiasts will get to witness the Pittsburgh debuts of Backwards Bob, Fox Sports 1 Cleatus, Doomsday and Hurricane. Those trucks will be competing against Grave Digger, Storm Damage, Backdraft and Instigator.
Monster Jam veteran driver Pablo Huffaker will be behind the wheel of Grave Digger in Pittsburgh. The 2007 world freestyle champion has been on the monster truck circuit for a whopping 33 years and is one of the sports living legends. In addition to Grave Digger, Huffaker has driven Black Smith, Captain’s Curse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Blue Thunder trucks in Monster Jam World Finals events.
The Tomball, Texas, resident recently took some time to talk with Pittsburgh In Tune about Monster Jam’s massive popularity, his own career and this weekend’s festivities in Pittsburgh.
“The changes (in the sport) over the past 33 years are absolutely incredible,” Huffaker, 51, said in a telephone interview last week. “It’s been as much of an evolution as from horse-drawn carriages to the modern automobile.”
For the uninitiated, Monster Jam trucks are approximately 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide. The custom-designed machines sit atop 66-inch tires and weigh a minimum of 10,000 pounds apiece. To help endure the pounding the vehicles endure, trucks are equipped with extra-long shock absorbers filled with oil and nitrogen gas.
Monster Jam trucks generate a mind-numbing 1,500 to 2,000 horsepower and, though designed for short, high-powered bursts, are capable of speeds up to 100 mph. The vehicles have flown distances of 125-130 feet and 35 feet into the air.
As you might expect, the appeal of these larger-than-life trucks attract millions of fans annually to events all over the world. Huffaker says the enduring popularity of Monster Jam crosses multiple generations.
“Our key demographic is boys 7-12 years old,” he explains. “They can’t drive themselves to events so they bring their parents and everyone keeps coming back. People who discovered the sport as kids are now bringing their kids. From children to parents to grandparents, it’s a very diverse group of people at our shows.”
Even those with only a passing knowledge of Monster Jam have heard of Grave Digger. Far and away the most popular truck on the circuit, Huffaker says it’s an honor to be part of Team Grave Digger. With that prestige, however, comes added pressure and expectations that drivers of other trucks don’t have to deal with.
“It comes with the territory for me, and I expect it of myself,” Huffaker says of the pressure to perform. “There is a pressure knowing that the crowd expects me to be the top performer at every event. But it’s pretty cool knowing you’re (always the fan favorite).”
As always, fans will have an opportunity to get up close and personal this weekend. The Monster Jam Party in the Pits is Saturday, Feb. 14, and Sunday, Feb. 15, at 11 a.m. each day. Purchase of a $10 pit pass enables fans to meet the drivers, get autographs, explore the obstacles the drivers will encounter and pose for photos alongside the trucks.
Huffaker and his fellow drivers are closing in on Monster Jam World Finals XVI, the year-end spectacular March 26-28, 2015, at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev. Last year, Grave Digger the Legend beat Max-D for the racing crown, while Metal Mulisha took home top freestyle honors.
Considering that some of the Monster Jam drivers weren’t even born when Huffaker first climbed behind the wheel, he’s understandably a guy that his fellow competitors look up to and admire.
“I am honored that I get the respect (from the younger drivers),” Huffaker acknowledges. “It’s nice to know they look up to you. But, you, know, there’s a lot of young guys coming up these days that can show us all a thing or two.”
After more than three decades of competing, the fire still burns inside Huffaker. He says there are no plans to retire in the foreseeable future.
“I live for the minute and a half (for freestyle) each night or the couple seconds of racing,” he enthuses. “That’s the thrill of it for me. That’s the charge I get out of it.
“And I think I have few good years (of competing) left in me. I was the oldest guy in the field at an event in Houston, Texas, and won racing. I guess I’m not washed up yet.”
For more information, visit www.monsterjam.com.