Monster Jam moves to Palmetto

Baddest trucks in world are now prepared, repaired in Manatee County

mclear@bradenton.comDecember 12, 2013 

"We're all about the crashes."

Chris Rossbach is standing in a massive shop in a massive building in Palmetto, surrounded by monster trucks in various states of assembly and repair. Some are lying in pieces. Some are intact except for huge gashes in fiberglass bodies. Some are just frames and engines.

"When people watch NASCAR, what are they waiting for?" Rossbach asks. "The crashes. We're all about the crashes."

The trucks surrounding Rossbach arrived recently at Feld Entertainment on U.S. 301 -- the new world headquarters for Monster Jam, the internationally known monster truck tour. Rossbach is Feld's director of sales and marketing.

Monster Jam trucks will leave Palmetto and tour eight to 12 cities every weekend where they'll race around stadiums and jump over obstacles.

"Any kind of obstacles we can think of," Rossbach said. "Dirt hills, buses, trains."

The inevitable damages to the monster trucks, if they can't be fixed by road crews, will be shipped back to Palmetto for repair.

Feld Entertainment, parent company of Monster Jam, is moving its operations, which include Disney on Ice and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, to its new Palmetto HQ. Monster Jam is the most recent arrival.

"Last week we had two trucks here," Rossbach said. "Now we have 18. We decided to let the secret out."

Within a couple of years, Rossbach said, there could be more than 40 Monster Jam trucks in Palmetto at any time.

The trucks will be built at the Palmetto facility, and if brought back for repairs, will be fixed in day or two, and then sent out to race again the following weekend at some stadium somewhere in the world.

They'll go out on 18-wheelers, usually. The huge truck tires worn during competitions have to be replaced with smaller ones to fit on the 18-wheelers.

For overseas events, monster trucks are shipped. Feld uses the Port of Jacksonville right now, but Rossbach said it would seem logical the company would soon start shipping trucks through the Port of Manatee.

Many trucks are unrecognizable in the mechanics shop, stripped down to skeletons. Others are intact, famous to any monster truck fan, and even to people who aren't.

Over toward one side is El Toro Loco. Becky McDonough, who drives El Toro Loco, is working on repairs. There are actually four virtually identical versions of El Toro Loco.

"This one isn't mine," said McDonough, who works on trucks when she's not driving. "Mine's still back in Europe. This will be my teammate's truck."

All different versions of El Toro Loco could be at different events on any one weekend.

McDonough is one of the few women Monster Jam drivers.

"This is something I've wanted to do since I was 16," she said. "What's not cool about it? There's so much adrenaline when you get out there. There's nothing better. And I'm getting paid to race and freestyle."

(Freestyling is a monster truck competition in which drivers show off truck capabilities for 90 seconds, and are judged on a 1-to-10 scale.)

Along the opposite wall is Gravedigger, one of the most famous of all the Monster Jam trucks. There are eight Gravediggers in all.

The Feld Entertainment building, a company spokesperson said, has the second-largest footprint of any building in the country. Only a building at Cape Kennedy is larger.

In another part of the building is the body shop. It's far enough from the mechanics shop some people drive from one shop to the other.

Outside the body shop is a huge Dumpster overflowing with large and colorful chunks of fiberglass, remnants of truck damage from weekends events, complete with graphics from the sport's iconic machines.

In the body shop, crews can fabricate a monster truck body from scratch and get the truck out the door and on its way to a stadium in Maine or Mongolia in 24 hours.

"We have 65 bodies in stock, ready to go," said Ariel Bollero, director of body shop operations. "We do nine to 12 trucks every weekend. It's work I find fulfilling because when I finish a truck, people see it."

The next opportunity local fans will have to see a Monster Jam event will be Jan. 18, when the trucks will be at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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