MONROE — When I told my husband I wanted to go to a monster truck rally, he did a double-take. I’m not exactly your stereotypical fan. As in, I’m not a “car person,” and I’ve never worn camo in my life.
“It just doesn’t fit with your personality type,” he said.
Initially, my monster truck infatuation was part curiosity and part attraction to any event with beer and a rowdy crowd. I talked about it enough, though, that he got us tickets to the Tacoma Monster Truck Jam in January.
Going in, I imagined the die-hard monster truck fans as beer-drinking, Jeep-owning type folks. People whose car tires are as tall as I am.
Turns out that mental image was pretty off-base.
“Our biggest crowd is children, we’re not a beer-drinking crowd,” said Bill Payne, who owns the Port Orchard-based monster truck racing team Straight Up Racing.
I may not exactly be the target demographic, but the jam was everything I’d hoped for and more. It was a bleacher-beating, flag-waving, camo-wearing good time.
So when Payne and his crew were set to perform at the Evergreen State Fair Friday, I quickly volunteered to cover it.
While I’d been a fringe monster truck fan for a while, I didn’t know much about the sport. So I reached out to Payne ahead of the show to give me an expedited “monster trucks for newbies” run-down.
Payne and his wife own seven monster trucks and “the jet,” a golf cart rigged with a Boeing helicopter engine that shoots fire. Yes, fire.
He offered me a ride in said jet-mobile, which I initially accepted. It involved wearing a fire-proof suit. I ended up passing on the experience so I could watch the show from the Evergreen fair grandstands, where I could feel the heat of the jet’s flamethrower from the nosebleeds.
When they’re performing at events like the fair in the summer, Payne said it’s mostly for show, not sport. His trucks “compete” against each other in races, a trick competition and a freestyle event.
At the Evergreen Speedway course on the fairgrounds, the trucks crunched over junked cars and launched into the air off dirt mounds. There were even a few front-ended wheelie headstands (for lack of knowing the official term, this is what I’ll call them).
With every trick, kids went wide-eyed, mouths agape to match.
“Monster trucks are just a marvel to kids, that a truck can fly that high and crush cars,” Payne said.
Kids, and maybe some grown-up (ish) journalists.
In the winter, when fair season is over, the real rivalry starts. Drivers compete against each other in bracket-style jams. That’s what I witnessed at the dome in January.
To get behind the wheel of bulldog-like “Deogee” or flame-adorned “Identity Theft,” all you have to do is answer Payne’s Craigslist ad.
That’s what John Bruce did about four years ago, and now he’s at the helm of “High Voltage.”
Aside from watching a 12-foot-tall truck bounce around like a toy car and somehow defy gravity by standing on end without tipping over, part of the appeal is the truck’s personalities.
Each truck has its own look. “Spitfire” has a body shaped like a dragon. Payne and his wife drive “Rockstar,” a pink and yellow truck that’s always a crowd favorite.
Is driving one of the monsters as fun as it looks? I asked Tim Manchester, who drove “The Cali Kid” at Friday night’s show.
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.