Monster Jam celebrates 30 years at Gas South Arena this weekend

The Grave Digger truck will be driven by the originator’s daughter.

It’s hard to imagine anything more American than Monster Jam.

The show rumbles with loud engines, oversized wheels and stunts galore. The trucks have names like Monster Mutt Dalmatian Galaxy, Megalodon, El Toro Loco and Zombie.

Monster Jam typically comes to Atlanta twice a year. Earlier this year, the event was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton. Now they are back indoors at Gas South Arena in Duluth this weekend for three shows, two on Saturday and one on Sunday, as the league celebrates 30 years of existence.

Each two-hour show features eight drivers and trucks with four different events: a race, a skills challenge, a donut competition and a freestyle showcase. Drivers will do back flips, wheelies and crazy spins.

People vote in real time on who they like best on a scale of 1 to 10 using the Monster Jam app.

“I’ve seen a thousand Monster Jams and every single one is a little different,” Jayme Dalsing, senior director for global operations for Monster Jam out of Palmetto, Florida, where the company is headquartered. “It still gives me chills and keeps me on the edge of my seat.”

The showcase truck is the black and green Grave Digger, the most famous monster truck of them all. Created by now retired racer Dennis Anderson four decades ago, a version of Grave Digger that will be featured this weekend at Gas South will be driven by Krysten Anderson, his 25-year-old daughter.

“Me and my brothers grew up with the Grave Digger,” she said. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Over the years, the Anderson family has built 45 custom-made Grave Diggers. “You can’t run to Auto Zone for these parts,” she said. The basic chassis, she said, lasts around five or six years. She started competing professionally five years ago with the 34th Grave Digger and is now driving No. 41.

Her earliest memories are as a toddler in her dad’s racing rig pushing her own little toy monster truck around and watching her dad sign autographs. “Sometimes, I would grab a sharpie and sign, too,” she said.

Anderson and her two older brothers all compete on different shows and her younger brother is now about to do the same. Earlier in the year, there were a series of “points” competitions and she became the first ever female points series champ. “I’m pretty good,” she said. “I’m a tough competitor.”

The Gas South show is just an exhibition but Anderson enjoys them in part to “keep our minds sharp and our skills sharp.”

Part of her job is also to meet the fans, which drivers can do at a separate “pit party” before the two afternoon shows where fans can get up close and personal with the trucks, which weigh 12,000 pounds and have massive blower motors pushing 1,500 horsepower. And she rarely passes up an opportunity to race.

“It’s still mostly guys who compete,” she said. “So I’m a bit of a novelty. It’s good marketing for me to be there.”

Credit: MONSTER JAM

Credit: MONSTER JAM

Everyone who makes it to the show is trained at one of two different “Monster Jam University” locations, either one outside Chicago or near the headquarters in Florida.

And while some racers do have motocross racing experience, Dalsing said “some of our best drivers learned through remote-control racing. They have good dexterity and hand-eye coordination and that can translate to driving the trucks.”

Monster Jam now holds about 135 shows a year domestically and was planning a major expansion internationally until the pandemic delayed plans. It’s operated by Feld Entertainment, a family-owned company which also holds events like Disney on Ice and Sesame Street Live and retired the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 2017.

“Americana translates into many other countries,” Dalsing said. “We sold out stadiums back-to-back weeks in South Africa. It was pretty insane how much they understood the event.”

While the stadium type shows enable the drivers to go bigger in many ways, Dalsing said there’s an equal appeal for the indoor arena shows like the ones at Gas South.

“You feel like you’re right next to the trucks,” he said. “You can definitely see all the mechanics of the trucks and the drivers behind the wheel.”

After using 2021 to build back up dates, he said 2022 is on par with 2019 in terms of crowds and everything is largely unrestricted again.


EVENT PREVIEW

Monster Jam

1 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. $63.50-$243.50. Gas South Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. gassouthdistrict.com.