The La Crosse Center is girded for its annual spring testosterone spectacle — aka the Monster X Tour — when 10,000-pound trucks with around 1,800 horsepower will race, do wheelies and roar through freestyle competitions tonight and Saturday.
The attraction to monster truck driving is simple, five-time national champion Bobby Holman said during an interview Thursday as a bobcat driver spread 600 cubic yards of dirt to be formed into routes and obstacles for the truck and motocross daredevils in the main arena.
“You’re getting paid to show off,” said Holman, of Dayton, Ohio, who drives the well-known, and intimidating, Beast.
“You get to run over and crush stuff. There’s nothing better — I’m sure everybody has wanted to do that on the interstate,” said Holman, who has driven monsters for 33 years in connection with his four-wheeler and accessories business.
The show will include racing, wheelies and freestyle, in which the audience chooses the winners, Holman said.
Asked whether he ever has crashed the Beast, Holman laughed and said, “I’ve rolled that truck 23 times. If you’re not crashing, you’re not running hard enough.”
There is a knack to maneuvering a monster, he said, adding, “You’re driving something that is 12 feet wide and 11 feet tall, with front and rear steering. You’ve gotta be coordinated.”
Monster trucks aren’t as intimidating as one might expect when they roll out of the full-sized semi trailers in which they are transported. During travel, they sport tires a mere 36 inches high so they can fit into the trailers, Holman said. Before competition, crews replace the tires with ones that are 66 inches high.
Holman’s son also rides among monster truckers, with 20-year-old Cody being named rookie of the year and earning other accolades since he climbed behind the wheel of Son of Beast three years ago.
The toughest parts of the circuit are the travel and turn-around times, Cody said. Quick rebounds are especially tough if a crew has to repair crunched fenders or other damage resulting from the rough-and-tumble sport.
The monster truck extravaganza, which is one of the more popular events at the La Crosse Center, is expected to draw 3,000 to 3,500 people a night, said Mike Ferris, the center’s sales and marketing representative.
February and March are two of the center’s busiest months, with events such as sports and home shows and the circus, because people have cabin fever, Ferris said.
“People are a little sick of being cooped up and want to get out and do something,” he said, adding that July is one of the slowest months because people flock to outdoor activities.
Attendees who pony up an extra 10 bucks get a pit pass and a ride in one of the bone-jangling trucks, said Dale Pittman, a Monster X representative who hails from Sylva, N.C.
“Everybody loves to ride in the monster trucks,” Pittman said. “Even I do sometimes.”
Spreading out and forming the dirt into ramps and obstacles takes a good eight to 10 hours, he said.
“We try to make it bigger every year, better every year, with more obstacles,” he said.
Monster X doesn’t actually buy the dirt to coat the arena floor, but rather “rents” it.
“I guess you could call it that,” said J.R. Strupp, one of the owners of Strupp Trucking Inc. in La Crosse, which provides the dirt. “They’re actually paying mostly for the labor.”
Company crews remove a frost layer to get to the dirt suitable for the arena, Strupp said.
“We try to have enough covered up so we can break it” for delivery and placement for sculpting at the arena, he said.
The task requires extensive preparation, such as covering the electrical outlets on the floor and other elements that need protection.
“And it’s a chore to clean up, very labor intensive,” Strupp said.
For removal, the La Crosse Center’s crew does the sweeping, while Strupp workers do the shoveling and truck loading, he said.
“They do the dirty work,” he said with a laugh, “and we do the heavy lifting.”
So how much dirt is 600 yards? Well, if one were able to stack it in a yard-square pillar, the tower would be 1,800 feet high.
By comparison, that would be more than eight times as tall as the 217-foot steeple on St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral, widely regarded as the tallest structure in La Crosse.