Sunday, February 12, 2012

Monster Jam Kansas City. It ain't what it used to be

For as long as I can remember, I have been attending monster truck events. And whenever Monster Jam hits Kansas City, you can bet I'll be there. But for all of its success and popularity, this fringe form of motorsports has really changed--and in some ways, not for the better.

I grew up in Nebraska, and when I was a kid, these shows were considerably more grass roots. Monster trucks were sort of a novelty, and their claim to fame wasn't so much that they could jump real high, but rather that they could slowly crush and destroy cars. Glass and plastic would pop and crack, leaving all kinds of debris and carnage scattered around. But it was unlike anything else, and it definitely seemed cool at the time.

And really, the monster trucks were more of a side show anyway. The stars were usually sled-pullers. I liked the four-wheel-drive trucks the best, but they had two-wheel-drive trucks and various classifications of heavily-modified tractors. This wasn't some kind of trumped-up show, either. This was a serious competition.

They also teamed these events up with mud races pretty often. They'd have a big mud pit, and guys would try and blast all the way through without getting stuck. Again, it was lots of great action, and the crowds really enjoyed it.

As monster truck shows started getting bigger, the sled-pullers and mud-boggers came with them. When we moved to Kansas City, I remember watching all of these events in Arrowhead Stadium (which was a great venue for these due to its size). Big Foot was typically the big star, but they'd have others like USA-1 or the occasional Grave Digger appearance. The trucks were made with real bodies, and you could always tell what kind they were. There was a lot of Chevy vs. Ford vs. Dodge loyalty going on back then, and the announcers milked that for all it was worth.

Somewhere along the line they added Tough Trucks to the mix. At first, it was guys with street trucks racing through a bumpy obstacle course, usually to disastrous (and usually pretty hilarious) results. Of course, the spirit of competition took over, and the trucks became so purpose-built and race-ready that the fun sort of died off.

Thanks to Monster Jam, monster trucks have never been more popular than the are today. But after watching the show this weekend in the Sprint Center, I can tell you that they've never been less entertaining, at least in Kansas City.

Part of this has to do with the building. Oh, the Sprint Center is nice, and they can ventilate the fumes out of there better than any indoor stadium I've ever been in. But the basketball court-sized floor is just too small. A modern monster truck is a marvel of engineering, and in spite of their size, they can literally jump hundreds of feet. But in that little Sprint Center, all they can do is hop a bit. It's almost a waste of their capabilities.

Also, their alternative entertainment leaves something to be desired. They have "Quad War" races, which are utterly ridiculous. Yeah, they're riding around the course, pretending like they're competing against each other, but it's obviously a fixed race, and nothing more than filler.

This year, they had a "Sphere of Fear" motorcycle stunt team, which is basically a family of motorcycle riders that races around in a ball, trying not to hit each other. This is a really old-time stunt show. It's actually kind of fun to watch, but we were much too far away in the grandstands to get the full impact.

You can still see sled-pullers, mud-racers, and even Tough Trucks, but not at a Monster Jam event. These have been relegated more to rural venues, county fairs, and the like. Of course, with their attempt to sanitize and de-redneck these big monster truck shows, they've scoured out a big part of the fun.

So is there any reason to pay stratospheric ticket prices to watch a contrived, generally uneventful show in a building that is not equipped to handle it? Maybe. At least it's a chance to hear loud engines and catch a whiff or racing fuel in Kansas City in the dead of winter. I know I suffer from a lack of carbon monoxide poisoning right around the early part of February.

Also, kids like it. They televise bigger Monster Jam events nationally on the SPEED channel, and it's a great way to see some of them in person. No, they can't do back flips or smash through motor homes in the Sprint Center, but they are there. And BHo had five of the trucks in attendance in his Hot Wheels collection, so he thought it was cool to see them in action.

Sometime we need to go to a bigger Monster Jam event, like in St. Louis. A more suitable building would make all the difference for something like this. But in the meantime, this show was right here, it was kind of fun, and we didn't have to book a hotel room or drive hundreds of miles to see it. Still, like everything else, it ain't what it used to be.

Pictures taken from our $32.00/person plus tax seats in the nosebleed section in the slideshow below.


  1. To answer your question about paying to watch a contrived and choreographed etc "event" in an unsuitable venue...the answer is a resounding NO imho. Unless of course you have an 8 yr old just dying to go... :)

  2. A number of years ago in fact more than I can remember I stopped going to Monster Jams. Just seem to me like they lost the ahh cool part to them. I would have to guess it's the watching the same ole thing part of it that ruined it for me. Maybe watching them trying to get around an indoor motorcross track insteaad of jumping a pile of dirt or some cars would put some excitement in to again.