What’s better than taking in the insanity that is Monster Jam? Being a judge for the day.
I recently had the privilege of serving as an official Monster Jam judge at the Vancouver stop for this traveling circus of rolling leviathans. I made it a family experience, as this is what Monster Jam events excel at, so my small entourage included my brother, brother-in-law, and wide-eyed nephew Owen. A great experience was had by all, especially me, as being in the spotlight for a few hours and responsible for judging three of the most exciting competitions on the card- donuts, wheelies, and the pinnacle discipline, freestyle – was an experience that I will relish for many years to come.
The panel of five judges was asked to arrive early so that we could be briefed about how the judging process works, given a list of pointers, directives and judging criteria with which we would base our scores from 1-10.
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I had attended a number of Monster Jam events over the years as a fan, but being a part of the action added a new element to the experience. I was probably a little more qualified than the rest of the judging panel as I have been a motorsports enthusiast since childhood and have worked as a professional racing photographer for over two decades, but up until this event, I have never had any experience or training as a judge.
What’s involved in judging the Monster Jam
The judging team was comprised of two men and three women, and none of us had ever performed the role before. Surprisingly, and much to the surprise of the event announcing team, our score cards often read the same across the board. At least we were on the same page and consistent.
The judging criteria centred on awarding points to the eight competitors based on a number of factors. These include the variety and type of tricks attempted, how the competitors tackled the various course obstacles, overall car control, and of course the “wow” factor. It was immediately apparent by the reaction of the fans that they love rollovers, crashes, and all other forms of destruction, and if they were in charge of the scoring, these maladies would generate the highest scores. However, the judges were advised that these activities actually needed to be given lower scores than those feats that had big visual impact, but were completed in a successful manner.
At the conclusion of a run the judges had about 20 seconds to determine, and enter, their “official” scores. The fans in the audience are given the opportunity to participate in the voting process by using a special app (www.judgeszone.com) on their cell phones and mobile devices. The overall score is then tabulated by the series officials who will drop the judges’ high and low scores, but then add the score of a virtual judge that is determined after averaging those entered via the app.
The grid features a cast of eight drivers (mostly male, but the contingent of female drivers is growing and helping the series grow in popularity) who strive to wow the crowd by performing seemingly impossible aerial moves and acrobatic feats from behind the wheel of the mechanical monsters that become characters on their own, ranging from adorable canines and spike-studded war machines, to futuristic police cars, raging bulls, and four-wheeled zombies.
The Monster Jam trucks are robust, tube framed vehicles wrapped in fibreglass bodywork powered by enormous 540 cubic inch engines that produce upwards of 1500 horsepower. They are suspended on enormous tires that stand 66-inches tall and 43-inches wide manufactured by BKT, a company renowned for producing tires for tractors and heavy equipment. These aggressively treaded tires weigh north of 800 pounds. All of the trucks feature front and rear lockers to ensure that the drivers always have equal power delivery and traction at all four wheels.
The drivers are racing against the clock to demonstrate their driving skills, creativity, and the incredible handling dynamics of these dedicated racing machines. The longest event, Freestyle, is a mere 90 seconds in duration, while racing, and the quad and UTV buggy support events, tend to be shorter as they are based on a set number of laps.
The Monster Jam trucks are pushed to their physical limits as the competition heats up, with each driver doing their best to out-perform the other competitors but without damaging their vehicles to the point that they can no longer run or operate in a safe manner.
Event at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum: Indoor stadium not ideal
Monster Jam events are held both indoors and out, but due to the limited space offered by arena venues, events like the one I judged at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum require that the trucks operate at slower speeds. This reduction hinders the capacity of the drivers to execute long distance jumps and high altitude aerial maneuvers. However, fans will still be impressed by what the drivers of these innovative machines can accomplish during their performance runs given the relatively diminutive size of the arena.
Another major disadvantage of the indoor stadium environment is the fact that the noise levels can be amplified due to reverberation off the walls and ceiling, so quality ear plugs or dedicated noise cancelling headphones are a must, especially for children. However, the noise is an important element of the show, as it helps to enhance the level of excitement as well as reveal how truly powerful these vehicles really are.
North American Shows
Monster Jam events take place across North America and at a number of events overseas – including stops this season in Australia, Korea, France, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and the Netherlands.
Monster Jam events are unique in the world of motorsport entertainment as fans get to see all of the action unfold before them, rather than just a small portion of a race track where speeding cars flash by and leave spectators gazing at big screens or reliant on updates from the broadcast team to follow the progress of their favourite drivers. A Monster Jam show is broken into manageable chunks and includes a proper intermission, which makes it much easier to wrangle restless and/or excited children and cater to their various needs without having to miss much of the performance.
What did I take away from this experience? I definitely have a greater appreciation for what it takes to put on such an event, maintain the trucks, and keep the attention of the fans. But it was the incredible talent and showmanship displayed by the drivers that made the biggest impression on this overgrown kid.
Learn more – Monster Jam