January 10, 2013

Arena to get down and dirty for monster truck jam

Monster trucks competing in Wichita’s fourth annual Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam this weekend will kick up dirt like never before.

Monster trucks competing in Wichita’s fourth annual Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam this weekend will kick up dirt like never before.

That’s because Intrust Bank Arena has never before had dirt at the event.

In previous years, it took place on the arena’s concrete floor. But Feld Entertainment, the show’s promoter, decided this year that Wichita was ready for dirt, said Christine Pileckas, director of sales and marketing at the arena.

Monster Jam events are a mix of professional racing and outright showmanship, as drivers compete in trucks that are typically 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide, sporting signature 66-inch-tall tires. Weighing in at 5 tons, these trucks make short work of the various junk cars set up throughout the arena, squashing them at speeds that can exceed 100 mph.

No two monster trucks are quite the same, however. The Wichita show is scheduled to feature seven colorfully named and colorfully decorated trucks, certified by the United States Hot Rod Association. These include national favorites Grave Digger and El Toro Loco, in addition to Incinerator, Mechanical Mischief, Bad Habit, Predator and Prowler.

Pileckas said the event is tailored to entertain the whole family.

“A lot of the younger kids enjoy the monster trucks, but it also has appeal for adults as well,” Pileckas said. “It really does appeal to a wider audience.”

Fans will have plenty of opportunities to meet their favorite drivers and mingle. Before the early show Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., fans can go to a “Party in the Pits” and do just that. For an extra $10, or $5 for youth, superfans can get access to a special “Pit Pass,” Pileckas said.

“You can get your autographs, take pictures with the drivers and walk on the dirt,” Pileckas said. “It’s like a VIP experience. It’s very well worth it for the true Monster Jam fan.”

Three of the trucks will be on display at local auto parts stores on Friday. From 2 to 6 p.m., Bad Habit will be at Advance Auto Parts, 724 N. West St.; Incinerator will be at Advance Auto Parts, 303 E. Pawnee; and Grave Digger will be at Midas, 3330 N. Rock Road.

Grave Digger driver Pablo Huffaker, 49, said he has had a passion for mechanics since he was 11 years old, when he would drive “laps and laps” around his house in a Jeep.

“I always had a great interest in anything mechanical,” Huffaker said. “It’s a perfect outlet for my interests.”

Huffaker previously owned a four-wheel-truck shop in his hometown of Houston. He said he first took up monster trucks as a hobby, never knowing it would turn into a 30-plus-year career.

“I live and breathe four-wheel-drive trucks,” Huffaker said. “Monster trucking was in its infancy back then, so I really didn’t look at it as a career. I saw it more as a hobby.”

Now driving fan favorite Grave Digger, Huffaker said he has “the best job in the world.” He encourages aspiring monster truck drivers to get a proper education and start in the pit crews.

“Your mind is like a toolbox,” Huffaker said. “You put as many tools in it as you can. You never know when you’re going to need it.”

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