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Stepping Out

Monster Jam returns to win new fans, thrill old

This is not kid stuff — and not just for kids

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Monster Jam is returning to Uniondale, and when it does, it’ll attract thousands of wildly enthusiastic fans. Fans with autograph albums and t-shirts and favorite drivers, with facts and anecdotes at the tip of their tongue,  and the fullest expectation that what they are about to experience will add another thrilling chapter to their lives.

    It all happens on the weekend of Jan. 31 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.

    To be sure, Monster Jam is something that will appeal to the truck-loving kid who lives in many of us. But if you suppose it’s just about the power and the noise, guess again.

    There is a grace and acrobatic athleticism to Monster Jam that transcends its appeal to the ‘big and loud’ crowd.

Beyond the raw and powerful, beyond the huge burst of acceleration to keep the trucks from rolling over, beyond the miraculous escapes from disaster. There is a mastery of motion and defiance of physical limitations that — experienced live — will set the jaws tensing of many a non-believer.

    Just ask Matt Cody, a Monster Jam driver from Williamsport, Md., who will behind the wheel of one of these behemoth trucks. Cody, who began to follow the sport at age eight, is a lifelong fan  and knows the thrills it offers to both fan and participant.

    “Anybody can strap into a truck and step on the gas pedal and crash, but to put on a show you have to do the amazing, and you have to keep being innovative,” he says. “Meanwhile, there’s a lot going on in that truck, it’s a hibachi act in there! You have one hand on the shifter and the next thing you know you get into a tense run and you’re using both hands, trying to work your way through it. A lot happens in 75 seconds!”

    That includes leaps and turns, smooth vaults and topsy-turvy near disasters, backflips, front flips, moonwalks in reverse. There are wheelies and sky wheelies; Donuts and Cyclones and Pogo moves; Walking It (rocking back and forth between the two rear tires and moving forward one wheel at a time). And the ordinary furiosity of racing competition,

    Some of it is programmed. The judged trick competitions, for example. And some of it is unexpected and has to be dealt with in the confusion of the moment.

    And according to Cody, when you get it right and bust a good move — and then glance up at the stands and see the crowd cheering — “you’re right there with them. You’re in the stands, a fan again, and you can feel it the way they feel it.”

    Thrills aside, Monster Jam is a sport that is about family and community. Cody, for example, was taken under wing by hometown racing hero Mike Vaters, who helped him to rise up in the ranks. As for Krysten Anderson, a driver out of Currituck, N.C., it’s a family tradition. 

    She’s the daughter of Dennis Anderson, a Monster Jam pioneer and legend, and the sister of fellow racers Adam and Ryan Anderson. “I’m an Anderson,” she says. “I was born into the sport through my dad and I’m getting to carry on my family’s legacy. Monster Jam is all I know.”

    It is possible, of course, that some of us who aren’t born into something like this, or brought along to see it by friends or family, will need some convincing. To that end, the stats help, though the stats don’t really tell the story.

    Sure, a monster truck’s heavier than a rhino and quicker than a Ferrari. Yeah, it’ll eat a gallon of fuel every 250 feet and roars like a jet. Of course, it is 12 feet wide and 12 feet tall and has tires the height of a man and can fall on its side, bounce back and kick dirt everywhere and scramble miraculously — and in defiance of all physical logic back onto its four big wheels. And of course it can jump up to 30 feet into the air and travel more than 130 feet!

    Having someone describe Monster Jam to you also helps, as does watching a video or two on the internet.

    But the only way to get the full appreciation for Monster Jam is up close and personal, with the growl of a full throttle 1,500 rpm motor vibrating in your body. Along with the smell of truck and soil and axel and wheel in your nostrils, and with the hypnotic rise of astonished amazement rising in you too, as thousands of spectators simultaneously roar out a collective wow.

    You have just experienced 75 heart stopping seconds as — before your eyes — a mechanical beast the size of a bull elephant has hurtled through space, recovered from a near crash, leapt up onto its back wheels, pirouetted across the floor, landed on all fours again, executed a neat little backflip off a barrier wall, and then wheeled proudly off stage to the cheer of the many adoring fans.

    Yeah, that. That’s Monster Jam. For those who already know and love it, that’s enough to say. As for the rest of you — you have to see it to believe it.  

    Monster Jam visits Nassau Coliseum, Friday through Sunday, Jan. 31-Feb. 2  at 1 and 7 p.m. See the trucks and visit with the drivers during pre-event Pit Parties, 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Tickets start at $20; available at (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com or at the Nassau Coliseum box office.