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Monster Trucks Get Rowdy at OC Fair

One of the great things about the Orange County Fair is its diversity. On July 24, for example, one could travel to the fair and indulge in a wide range of experiences, including: standard carnival rides, a showcase of artistic culinary creations, a Styx concert or a Monster X truck rally. This reporter has been to the fair many times in the past [and has even won an award in the fair’s film-making competition], but this evening marked the first time I’d ever experienced a monster truck rally — there or anywhere else. Given that these rallies have a devoted following, I thought I’d see what all the excitement was about, and since this truck rally featured the world famous Bigfoot, driven by Rodney “Hot Rod” Tweedy, this was the perfect opportunity to see what’s what.

The rally, itself, was scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m., but for the folks who hadn’t purchased reserved seats, free general admission tickets were available on a first come, first served basis for all OC Fair ticket holders, who started lining up at 5:00 p.m. At around 6:30 p.m., the fans who’d signed up for the pre-event meet and greet were admitted into the fairground’s Action Sports Arena, where six monster trucks, including Bigfoot, and their drivers awaited them.

(Scott Feinblatt)

The arena had been transformed into a dirt obstacle course, which included ramps and green-painted cars that awaited their fate beneath the wheels of the monster trucks. One of the trucks, Wicked Strong, and its drivers, Brandon and Jacob Gallie, were celebrating their one year anniversary at this rally. The Gallie brothers, who are from Lakewood, launched their monster truck career at last year’s OC Fair and have since participated in monster truck rallies at 15 different cities along the West Coast. They’d bought Wicked Strong from another of the rally’s drivers, Rick Swanson, who now drives Obsessed. “We’ve always wanted to do this ever since we were kids,” explained Jacob.

Brandon pointed out where their love for monster trucks began. “They have Monster Jam in Angel Stadium…That was one of the first shows we went to as kids,” he said. “I remember being three years old and watching the monster trucks there, so that’s kind of where our dream started.”

Rodney Tweedy with Bigfoot (Scott Feinblatt)

Given their experiences since they premiered at last year’s OC Fair, they’ve experienced a variety of rally grounds. Jacob pointed out that, compared to other locations, the Action Sports Arena is a bit smaller. “We usually have a little more room…[but] it’s kind of the same atmosphere everywhere.” He added that with a smaller space “you get a lot more noise with the trucks because there’s a lot less room to move around, but we still put on the best show we can.”

Further down the line, I had a chance to speak with Tweedy about driving Bigfoot at the OC Fair. “As far as me, personally — and I’ve been driving since 2001 — this is my first appearance here at this event. I’ve had other team mates come out here, like, last year we had Darron Schnell, who’s a team mate of mine, race here.” He added, “I love meeting new people, going to new places, so it’s kind of exciting to come in here.” Beyond the tracks, the life of a monster truck driver is quite an active one. “We race all over the world. I was just racing in Iowa on Sunday, so, you know, we had to pack up, hurry up, drive crazy to get out here, and next weekend I’ll be in Chicago racing… We are world famous, and we just kind of go wherever we’re needed, more or less.” Such a schedule can be straining. Tweedy said, “We’ve not had a weekend…My son travels with me… We’ve not been back [home] in almost two months, and, as of right now, my schedule goes to the end of August, and I don’t have a weekend off there either.”

(Scott Feinblatt)

Tweedy pointed out the rewards of his busy schedule. “The fans have been supporting us for 44 years, so that’s what keeps us motivated doing what we’re doing.” As for how his views of the location, prior to the rally, he put the SoCal weather into perspective. “I’m enjoying the weather. I mean, this is amazing! After what we’ve been going through: it’s been 110…with 100 percent humidity. It’s been miserable.” He said, “I come out here, and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, it’s so hot!’ I’m like, ‘This feels amazing compared to what I’ve been going through.’ I’m enjoying it!” As for his iconic truck, Tweedy said, “This is the famous Bigfoot. We set the world record in 1999 when we jumped a jet airplane; it’s the most famous monster truck video. You can Google ‘Bigfoot jumps jet airplane,’ and you can watch this over and over and over. It is really quite entertaining!”

As the stands filled up, I still had a little time before the show to speak with a monster truck devotee. Suzie Pustelniak started photographing monster truck rallies in 2004, and she has been part of the scene for 33 years. “Monster trucks: you either love it or hate it. [sic] There’s no middle ground.” She clarified, “You love it for the noise, the smell, the adrenaline rush, or you hate it for those same reasons…It’s amazing to see them crush cars and the things that they can do…They can backflip them. They can do wheelie walks, which is on two wheels. They can do amazing stunts with a machine that is 10 or 12,000 pounds.” Regarding the appeal of this show, in particular, Pustelniak said, “Monster X always put[s] on a good show…They’re pretty much West Coast locals, and they bring in a lot of the independent guys. Rick and Eric Swanson, who run Obsessed, are from Menifee; the Groff twins, who are running a Double Trouble and Trouble Maker, are from Washington. So you have the West Coast locals, and then this is one of the few times that you can see Bigfoot on the West Coast.”

At 7:30 p.m., the show began to the sound of Nine Inch Nails’s adrenalized song “The Hand That Feeds.” Bigfoot, Obsessed, Obsession, Mirror Image, Double Trouble, and Wicked Strong profiled around the arena to the cheers of the crowd. After stopping for introductions, the crowd rose for the national anthem. The monster trucks then parked as the smaller, tricked out, 4×4 “tuff trucks” started running the obstacle course to the strains of Van Halen’s “Panama.” The circuit consisted of running the trucks over ramps, cutting tight corners — which seemed particularly cramped within the venue — and competing against one another for the fastest run.

After a round of this, which included around a dozen competing tuff trucks, the monster trucks took turns on the course, doing stunts and spin-outs; they were not raced. Next up, the tuff trucks came back for another round of racing the course, and, finally, the monster trucks brought the event home with a freestyle event. During this, the drivers demonstrated their stunt prowess by doing two-wheeled “hand stands,” jumps, spin-outs, and, of course, simply driving over and crushing the green cars.

One hour and a half of mayhem-fueled truck action later, the event came to a close. Tyler Groff, driver of Double Trouble, took the prize for best freestyle demonstration. Throughout the course of the event, the audience met each engine roar, jump, and trick with a chorus of supportive “Whoop”s. Some of the fans would return later in the week for one or more of Monster X Tour’s remaining four dates at the OC Fair. Others might have chosen to catch up with the tour at its next destination, in Lancaster. And, perhaps, some youngsters had been bitten by the monster truck bug for the first time, as the Gallie brothers had, and stopped at the merch stand on the way out to pick up a monster truck of their very own — albeit a small one.