Backflips and doughnuts in a 5,000kg truck: Day in the life of a Monster Jam driver

Award-winning athlete Blake Granger gives us a glimpse behind the scenes

Powered by automated translation

There's no sign of jitters in Blake Granger as he gears up for practice laps at Abu Dhabi's Etihad Arena.

As the popular Monster Jam competition roars back in the capital on Saturday and Sunday, the Louisiana native is about to hop on to a 5,500kg truck and perform some stunts.

“I have been doing this for eight years,” Granger tells The National, as he puts on a flame-retardant suit.

“If I were scared, I wouldn't be driving a monster jam truck,” he adds with a grin.

Five other drivers are testing the grounds on the Friday we visit, before the show.

Originating from the US, Monster Jam is famous for its exhilarating displays of monster truck tricks.

Drivers are pitted against each other in three adrenalin-fuelled disciplines: racing, two-wheel skills and perhaps the most awaited freestyle show.

Here, drivers perform gravity-defying stunts such as backflips, monster doughnuts and sky-scraping jumps.

Granger is behind the wheels of one of the most recognisable trucks in the game, El Toro Loco, which is Spanish for The Crazy Bull.

“I'm going to take this bull and I'm going to reach for the roof of that arena. I look forward to trying to kiss it,” he says.

Part of the Monster Jam experience is the quirkiness of the trucks themselves. Forget sleek, aerodynamic designs – these behemoths are all about outlandish customisation.

Granger's “bull” features a menacing red and orange paint job, with horns jutting out from the front like a furious beast ready to charge.

Another fan-favourite appearing this weekend is Megalodon, piloted by Charlie Pauken, famous for its shark-like appearance and predatory moves on the course.

There's also the black-and-green Grave Digger, as well as superhero-themed trucks Black Panther, Spider Man and Thor, with Myranda Cozad behind the wheels as the only female competitor this weekend.

A lot of technicality goes into the preparation ahead of such competitions, says Granger, adding it's important for drivers to “feel the track out ahead” especially as they perform in different custom-built environments across the world.

In December last year, Monster Jam hosted a contest at Moreeb Dune, on the western outskirts of Abu Dhabi at Liwa Oasis.

“We have so many things in these trucks that are capable of catching fire, whether it's the fuel or the oils in the transmission,” Granger says.

Every one of these suits, as well as our gloves and our helmet is 100 per cent fireproof.”

Preparing the body physically is also paramount, he adds. “I have two kids and they keep me active,” he says with a chuckle. “We go running or play football. When I'm not travelling for a show, I'm consistently working with the kids, and everything they do, I do.”

Asked how his children feel about him being in extreme sports, Granger quips: “They love it because they go to school and all their friends are like: 'Your dad drives El Toro? I saw him on TV this weekend.' It's pretty awesome.”

“It's something I'll never take for granted,” he says, and his sturdy exterior visibly softens as talks about his children. “It's a dream job.”

As part of Granger's pre-show rituals, he calls his children for extra inspiration.

“They light a fire in me that makes me want to go out and the best role model I can be,” he says.

“My daughter is a barrel racer on horses, while my son plays football and also races motocross, which I also did growing up.

“So they're both building that racing background and, hopefully, one of them will be a Monster Jam driver too.”

Aside from physical preparation, and heavy doses of inspiration from his family, Blake says courage and willpower are crucial for monster truck drivers.

“These Monster Jam trucks are capable of pretty much doing anything you set them up to do – it's all about being daring enough to do it. Us Monster Jam drivers have no fear. Every time we strap into that truck, we want to invent, change the game and bring something new to the table,” he explains.

Potential drivers are scouted by managers in several extreme sports that involve driving a vehicle. They are then sent to Monster Jam University in Illinois to learn everything from basic operations to performing gravity-defying stunts.

“Once they are determined to be ready to drive, they are sent on the road,” says Granger, who adds he wouldn't be surprised if someone from the region eventually becomes a Monster Jam driver.

“We all come from different motorsports backgrounds, but one that we don't have yet is dune bashing, which you do a lot here in the UAE,” he says.

“I got to experience it last year at Liwa Oasis, and that was probably one of the best experiences I've had. This is something that you guys do every day for a normal life, and that might be where the door opens for somebody over here in the UAE,” he adds.

After a high-adrenalin show, Granger likes to cool down by speaking to his children.

“When we get done with a Monster Jam event, the adrenalin is through the roof. You're so hyped, you're so pumped, you just pulled off this crazy trick. The fans are going wild. You get out your truck and you feel a roar like no other,” he says.

“Then I go back the locker room to relax and call my kids – tell them exactly how the show just went and the moves I just pulled off.

“There's nothing better than hearing their excitement for what dad just did, and of course knowing that dad will be home soon.”

Monster Jam is taking place on June 8 and 9 at Etihad Arena; tickets are available at etihadarena.ae

Updated: June 09, 2024, 5:40 AM