How Monster Jam Works

Monster Jam Events
Monster Mutt trucks have movable tongues that are controlled by a windshield wiper relay. Feld Entertainment

Monster Jam events typically take two forms, racing and freestyle. The World Finals event incorporates both. During the 2018 World Finals, the racing finals took place on Friday and the freestyle event took place on Saturday.

Racing is bracket-style and takes place on a symmetrical dirt track. The two drivers are positioned in the "Thunder Alley" staging area and take off on a light. The first truck to complete the course wins and proceeds to the next bracket. Trucks that false-start (by taking off before the light) or that break down on the course automatically lose.

Stunts are counterproductive during racing, but the tracks generally require drivers to complete at least one jump, so fans still get to see plenty of crashes and destruction. Photo finishes are common in the racing events, and the track is equipped with the same cameras used for photo finishes in the Olympics.

Freestyle events provide a different kind of excitement on a track with more obstacles. As long as drivers adhere to safety guidelines, they're encouraged to excite the crowd in any way they can. The winner of the freestyle event is actually determined by the fans. After each two-minute run, the audience has 20 seconds to log onto a website via smartphone and score the run on a scale of one to 10.

"Freestyle is two minutes of do whatever you want. There are no rules," says Tyler Menninga, one of the drivers of Grave Digger and the winner of the 2018 Freestyle of the Year Competition. "Anyone can win here."

Stunts have come a long way, especially in the last few years. Drivers say they are always watching each other and are in awe seeing their colleagues do things that they didn't think were possible. Like the nose wheelie, which involves balancing the truck's 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) perfectly on the front end while shifting from forward to reverse. Drivers say that, during a nose wheelie, they can't see anything except the dirt, and they have to shift by feel since they can't see the shifter. "When I started in '93, I never thought we'd be doing stunts like this," Meents says.

Whiplash driver Mahon says another popular trick, the back flip, is "a whole lot of luck and hitting [the ramp] just right. I kind of shut my brain off. I just kind of do; I don't really think about it."

Drivers say that they generally plan a few stunts before their run, but usually have to improvise because they don't always go as planned. Staying calm is the key.

"You may plan a couple things, but if you get off track it's hard," Grave Digger's Menninga says. "If you think, it's already too late."

"Every show is different and you can do the same jump six times in a row and every time you land differently," says Todd Leduc, who drives Monster Energy. "It's a lot of just waiting on the truck to settle."