A monster night of fun

July 19, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Ragin' Steel, Gunslinger and Maximum Destruction had their appeal, but the fans craved Grave Digger.

The Goliath of the monster truck world, Grave Digger had fans hollering and stomping Friday night at Hagerstown Speedway.

Actually, there were two Grave Diggers at the U.S. Hot Rod Monster Jam. The first one failed driver Dennis Anderson before his opening qualifying run - an oil pressure problem, according to the announcer - so Anderson climbed into a second Grave Digger. The crowd cheered.

Michelle Cregger of Hyattstown, Md., practically had a front-bench seat in the grandstand near the racetrack's finish line pole. Her son, Ray, 4, squeezed a Grave Digger toy truck as he watched the real version rev.

"That's what most everyone's here to see," Cregger said.

Cregger said she and Ray saw Grave Digger the day before at a promotional appearance in Frederick, Md.

In front of a table where Grave Digger pennants were selling briskly, Tyler Saenz, 4, pointed longingly at one. His aunt, Tasha Harman, of Hagerstown, gave in and bought one for $8.


Harman said all seven people in her group were looking forward to seeing Grave Digger.

"Back in 1981, in an old garage in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., Dennis Anderson created a monster that has grown into a modern day legend," a Web site devoted to the monster truck says. "Originally, Anderson pieced together his machine from old parts of discarded vehicles. The original 'mud-bogging' truck was supported by the corroded chassis of a 1951 Ford pickup and ran on the innards of a high-performance Chevy engine.

"Although his competitors had the advantage of high-tech equipment, Anderson boasted to them, 'I'll take this old junk and dig you a grave.' With these words, the legend of Grave Digger was born."

The newest version of the truck, the Web site says, has a 540-cubic-inch, blown alcohol-injected Chevrolet big block engine that produces about 1,500 horsepower, similar to what a drag racing car might have.

It has 66-inch tires and nitrogen shock absorbers and weighs 10,000 pounds.

Asked if he had seen the massive truck, Dalton Harris, 4, of Sabillasville, Md., stopped waving the Grave Digger pennant his mother, Kim Hill, just bought for him. He smiled.

Is the truck big? he was asked. Dalton answered by widening his eyes and broadening his grin. Yes, it's a big truck.

Black Stallion - driven by Michael Vaters of Hagerstown - took turns with Grave Digger, Ragin' Steel, High Roller, Gunslinger and Maximum Destruction steamrolling over stripped-down sedan shells, bouncing, tilting, but not quite tipping. The trucks screamed and the fans screamed back.

In between doses of monster trucks, a group of "street warriors" - mostly pickups, but also a Subaru station wagon - raced up, down and over hills of dirt.

During the "quad wars," the crowd yelled for Team Maryland to beat Team California in a race of four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles.

Team California won. The crowd jeered a triumphant driver who called them "hillbillies" and "rednecks" during an interview taken straight from a pro wrestling script. Fans hurried down from the bleachers to taunt and harass the rider, who glared and yelled back.

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