Crushing excitement and bonding with the guys

by Brian Clarey

I turned around from the driver’s seat in the car.

‘“Okay fellas,’” I said. ‘“The golden rule for tonight is: Be Cool. No fights. No complaining. We’re here to have a good time.’”

I got my eyes back on the road and skirted around the traffic on Lee Street. SG knew a shortcut. Then I remembered something. I looked to the back seat again.

‘“And if anybody needs to go to the bathroom pull on my arm. I’m probably not gonna be able to hear ya.’”

It was an odd crew for a guys’ night out, me and SG and our four cronies: the 3-year-old dervish, the 8-year-old truck junkie and the two 5 year olds, who are equal parts friends, conspirators and enemies.

SG and I would be playing a zone defense against the kids, two on four, at the most conspicuous and gratuitous display of fuel consumption the Greensboro Coliseum has to offer. We were going to bring these boys to the mountaintop, where muscle-car machismo meets childlike wonder and the motorcycles fly through the air.

We were going to the monster truck show. And we were pumped.

I haven’t been to one of these things since I was a half-drunk high-school kid. My friend Buckman was racing a four-wheeler that night, so we got to roam the tunnels under the Nassau Coliseum that night. I actually stood next to Bigfoot and touched one of the tires.

I mention my experience with Bigfoot to the 8 year old, a monster truck fanatic, thinking he’ll be impressed. He’s not. I guess it’s kind of like saying you used to know Don Johnson.

SG hands out the earplugs as the lights dim and the bright spots swirl in the dirt. One of the 5 year olds is too cool to wear them and to proud to ask for them back when the big machines make their promenade down on the floor, laying sharp herringbone tracks in the fresh, red mud and raising a growl so magnificently raucous, so triumphantly loud, so resonant and pervasive you can feel it in your individual organs. It surrounds you on all sides and presses in until you’re practically floating in it. The air smells like Detroit.

The boys can’t look away.

The trucks wheel in a choreographed pattern like a synchronized swimming routine before they take their positions at one end of the floor. These trucks are celebrities, inspiring toys, T-shirts, caps and tattoos. They have fan clubs and websites, and little boys all over the country (girls, too) know their names better than they know the state capitals: Excalibur, Stone Crusher, Rap Attack, Clydesdale, Samson. And the two fan favorites: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, with a customized body made to look like the snarling head of, I believe, the Ninja Turtle named Raphael, and Grave Digger, out of Kill Devil Hills, a superstar of the genre and a favorite of the 8 year old who stands on his seat looking rapt when the truck growls onto the arena floor.

The kid’s been up since sunrise, SG tells me, and he put on his Grave Digger T-shirt first thing.

Two by two the trucks assault the parallel lines of crushable cars, some of them jouncing ten feet in the air before crashing down on the generic auto hulls, causing the roofs to buckle and fold. It’s wanton destruction and the boys’… the boys can’t take their eyes off of it except to grab handfuls of popcorn to shovel into their mouths.

A tiny crisis develops less than an hour into the event: one of the 5 year olds simultaneously loses his earplugs and gets a nosebleed (though the seats are actually pretty good). He also has to go to the bathroom. And so does everybody else.

The show goes on’… four-wheel motorcycles tearing around the track; mini cars driven by kids not much older than the ones sitting with us; little toy four-by-fours navigating the dirt oval during intermission and, during the second act, a display of freestyle motorcycle jumping that gives the boys a sense of awe.

‘“Cool?’” I ask one of the 5 year olds.

He gives me a look that I haven’t seen in a long time.

The final contest of the evening is a monster truck freestyle event pitting the two North Carolina trucks ‘— Grave Digger and the Ninja Turtle, which hails out of the Reidsville area. Though the Ninja is really the hometown truck, it can’t match the popularity of Grave Digger, the presence of which sends the crowds to screaming and hooting almost loud enough to drown out the truck’s throaty growl.

They line up and rev, and when they tear towards the decimated car husks the rumble and roar of the engines reverberates in our chest cavities. They make contact and leap in the air in a ballet of muscle and torque and then crash mightily down upon the mangled auto bodies.

Grave Digger wins, and when the truck spins in the thick red mud, sends it splattering in a circle 50 yards in diameter, I stand in front of my seat. And even though I’m holding a sleeping 5 year old I scream until my neck turns red.

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