Monsters that thrill without the scare

July 12, 2007|By JULIE E. GREENE

The three Monster Jam shows starting Friday night at Hagers-town Speedway will feature a pioneer of the industry and, in comparison, a relative newcomer who has already put his footprint in the field.

Paul "Pablo" Huffaker, 44, who has been working with monster trucks for more than 25 years, will be driving fan favorite Grave Digger, while Alex Blackwell, 34, will be behind the wheel of Monster Mutt.

Grave Digger, Monster Mutt and others will be racing against each other at the dirt-track speedway, according to Heidi Irvin, Live Nation's motor sports promoter. The huge thematic trucks also will have 1 1/2 minutes to wow the crowd with their moves during the freestyle competition.

Also featured in this weekend's Monster Jam are Blue Thunder, Stone Crusher, Mopar Magic and Captain's Curse, which Huffaker drove on March 24 in Las Vegas to become the 2007 world freestyle champion.


Monster Mutt is one of the newer monster trucks and, with its canine features, has become popular.

Monster Mutt's 8-foot-long tail wags, its ears flop, and - after an exhausting freestyle run - its tongue hangs out as if panting, Blackwell said.

Mutt was made from a '50 Mercury. Blackwell said he and his dad have a 1951 customized Mercury at home.

"Not only do I get to wreck one and drive over cars and stuff, but I get to go home and hop in one and drive," Blackwell said.

Before driving Monster Mutt, Blackwell was a professional motocross driver and then he drove the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle monster truck.

"It was unbelievable the response I got," Blackwell said. Fans sent him a ton of Turtle stuff, including Turtle Underoos, lunchboxes and a 350-piece model that a Canadian fan assembled. "I have a shrine at home of Turtle stuff."

Still relatively new to the sport in comparison to Huffaker, Blackwell has influenced the mechanics of monster trucks by developing the Gazoo motor. The Gazoo motor is a rear steering motor that spins 2 1/2 times faster than the typical motor, allowing the rear wheels to turn faster.

Blackwell said he received help from the electrical shop Dubosky Auto Electric in his hometown, Frackville, Pa., where he worked for 15 years.

But Huffaker is a pioneer in the industry.

Huffaker has had a huge effect on monster trucks, both as a tremendous driver and as a builder who helps other drivers get their rides fixed, Blackwell said in a phone interview.

"His facility in Texas is unreal" with the most up-to-date machinery and computerized diagnostic equipment, Blackwell said.

The respect Huffaker has earned from his competitors is one of the highlights of his career, Huffaker said in a phone interview from his Tomball, Texas, custom fabrication and machine shop, Racesource Inc.

"I'm a go-to guy for a lot of people when they have a problem," which he finds satisfying.

Huffaker, a teammate of Grave Digger driver Dennis Anderson, has built several of the Grave Digger models and applied technology such as orbital steering to monster trucks. Orbital steering allows the truck to be steered using hydraulics, without a mechanical linkage from the steering wheel to the wheels.

All that car crushing can lead to repairs for the many monster trucks.

"I can create an 80-hour work week in under a minute and a half," Huffaker said. "I pretty much every week tend to tear stuff up. That's what Grave Digger is known for."

Huffaker said the monster truck business is a job for him, it's what he does for a living, but it's more than that for a brief moment during shows.

"Don't get me wrong. That minute and a half of freestyle and the time we spend racing is the time we get the biggest thrill," he said.

If you go ...

WHAT: Monster Jam

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, July 13, and Saturday, July 14; 2 p.m. Sunday, July 15. Doors open at 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon Sunday

WHERE: Hagerstown Speedway, 15112 National Pike, west of Hagerstown

COST: $13 in advance and $15 the day of the event; $5 for ages 12 and younger in advance or the day of the event. Reserved seating, $18 in advance and $20 the day of the event.

For tickets, call the speedway at 301-582-0640 or stop by the speedway box office. Speedway box office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

MORE: Pit passes for a pit party from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday can be obtained for free, if still available, at Advance Auto Parts or bought at the gate for $5. Fans can walk the track, meet the drivers, get photos with monster trucks and have a chance to win merchandise.

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