Monster trucks take American culture on the road

Carolina Crusher rolls over cars lined up on the infield for a monster truck show. Such events with ginormous trucks and lots of noise are gaining traction overseas while still remaining popular in the U.S. (Provided).

ELLENTON, Fla. (AP) - From Madonna to Miley Cyrus, from Titanic to Transformers, American entertainment culture has been rolling all over the world for decades.

Now, another uniquely American phenomenon with roots in the rural U.S. is rumbling across international boundaries on giant wheels: monster trucks.

"We're monster trucking the world," said Kenneth Feld, chief executive of Feld Entertainment, the company that owns the giant vehicles and the trademark Monster Jam events. "We're building the business globally. It's got a lot of traction."

Monster Jam had its first international show in 2004, and by 2012, it was featured in one large, international tour. In 2013, the company offered two simultaneous international tours. In 2014, there were three.

About 55,000 people packed one stadium in Sydney in October. The trucks have visited everywhere from Abu Dhabi to Prague to Zurich.

For those not versed in all things monster, here's a brief explanation: Monster Jam shows feature ginormous trucks that race and rev at ear-splitting decibels. They crush numerous old cars with satisfying regularity and leap into the air.

The trucks themselves have different themes. The black-and-neon green "Grave Digger" is probably the most popular, while the "Zombie" is frightening and the "Monster Mutt Rottweiler," a dog-themed truck, is actually kind of cute.

The tires are often 66 inches tall and the trucks stand about 12 feet high.

"There is a global appeal," said Marty Garza, spokesman for the Monster Truck Racing Association, a U.S.-based group that establishes safety guidelines for monster vehicles and performances. "It's the unpredictability. The sense of excitement visually, the vibrations and the sounds."

Said Nigel Morris, the recently retired United Kingdom-based driver of Bigfoot #17: "The things that people love about monster trucks in America are the things they love in other countries. It's a dramatic show. Lots of action. Lots of horsepower."

The sport has its roots in rural mud-bogging and truck pulling in the U.S. The original monster truck is believed to be Bigfoot, a 1974 Ford F-250 four-wheel-drive pickup from Missouri. Something of a prescient marketing genius, Bigfoot owner Bob Chandler videotaped himself crushing cars in a field with the truck. A star was born, and Bigfoot appeared in the 1981 film "Take this Job and Shove It."

When asked to explain why Monster Jam thrills spectators inside and outside of the U.S., Danielsson summed it up: "The destruction component is big."

On a recent day at the Feld Entertainment headquarters in southwest Florida, several monster trucks were undergoing repairs. The company's giant warehouse is where Feld Motor Sports builds, repairs and dispatches the 10,000-pound vehicles. It costs about $600,000 a year to build, tour and maintain each truck.

Now, some countries are even starting their own knock-off monster truck competitions. In the spring of 2014, Monster Mania was held in Moscow. More than 15,000 fans flocked to the show.

Tony Dixon, a British driver of a truck called "Swamp Thing," told the English-language Moscow Times that "absolutely everybody gets Monster trucks. It is just big, loud and abusive."

Monster trucks, meanwhile, remain popular in the U.S. as well. Monster Jam will be at North Charleston Coliseum on Saturday and Sunday. Both shows are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20-$30 and half-off for kids ages 2-12.

According to the coliseum website, featured trucks are to be announced. A special event is The Party in the Pits 5-6:30 p.m., which for $10 allows fans to view the "massive" trucks up close and meet the drivers.

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