By MIKE CHAIKEN
The kids will probably be wide-eyed and open-mouthed in awe when they file into Hartford’s XL Center for the arrival of “Monster Jam” this weekend.
And when they fill the seats with mom and dad, they will be experiencing something that Monster Jam driver Whit Tarlton never had a chance to experience when he was their age.
For those who have not headed out for an afternoon of motors racing and trucks stomping, press materials explain Monster Jam offers “three main fan-favorite elements – the pit party, racing, and freestyle…The pit party gives all fans a chance to meet the stars of Monster Jam up-close while taking pictures and getting autographs.”
Whit, calling from North Carolina as he prepped with the rest of the crew of Monster Jam to hit the road, said when he was kid there wasn’t anything like Monster Jam. The phenomenon of monster truck competitions really didn’t get going until the mid-1980s, he explained. There were tractor pulls, he said, but that was about it.
However, Whit got involved in the monster truck universe thanks to future Grave Digger driver Gary Porter. Whit said he and Gary lived in the same town. And when Gary pulled together his monster truck, called Carolina Crusher, Whit was among the first to see it.
Whit said, in time, Gary asked Whit if he was interested in driving a monster truck. The idea had a certain appeal to him. So he did some testing on the monster truck. And soon enough, a career was born.
And now, with eight years under his belt, Whit finds himself continuing to drive his vehicle, Monster Mutt, at 20 Monster Jam shows a year.
Although, Whit and the Monster Jam were prepping to go off on tour when he was interviewed, Whit said there isn’t a lot of practice involved before the tour begins.
“We pretty much come off the top,” he said.
There might be some run-throughs at each venue when the drivers and trucks arrive, said Whit. But after all these years of Monster Jam, he pretty much knows what needs to be done.
At each show, however, the goal is to offer up a better one than the previous one, and do an even better show the next time they hit the dirt.
For Whit, one of the best parts of Monster Jam, is getting to meet with all the youngsters who want to meet him and check out Monster Mutt close up and personal.
“I love the kids,” said Whit. “That’s the best of part… seeing the smiles and excitements… You don’t need to do much with the truck (than go fast) and they’re good to go.”
Whit gets to drive Monster Mutt, which Whit said is one of the favorites of the kids. It doesn’t even have to go out on track to pull the kids in. The kids just love its big tongue, wagging tail, and flapping ears, Whit said.
“It’s just a kid friendly truck,” said Whit, “after all, who doesn’t like dogs.”
Monster Jam is definitely about family entertainment, said Whit. There’s nothing at the show that might cause a family to think twice about bringing their young ones, he explained.
As the driver of Monster Mutt, Whit gets a chance to drive a tricked out vehicle each time out. (Monster Jam trucks are approximately 12 feet tall and about 12 feet wide.)
But what does Whit drive when he’s not putting on a Monster Jam show.
“I always have four wheel drive,” said Whit. “That’s how I roll.”
However, Whti admitted driving his own car is a bit of a “letdown” after he drives Monster Mutt. “I don’t have the same power.”
Whit and Monster Jam have been to Connecticut several times. It’s a stop on the tour, the drivers, including Whit, enjoy.
“In Connecticut,” said Whit, “they pack the stands. We always have a full show.”
“It’s good fun,” said Whit. “People love the trucks.”
Whit said, although the tour members like the South, they like to come up north especially in the summer time. “It’s beautiful up there.”
Feld Motor Sports presents Monster Jam at the XL Center, One Civic Center Plaza on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 8 and 9. Times are 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. The event will feature: Grave Digger, Monster Mutt, Illuminator, Heavy Hitter, River Cat, Thrasher, Higher Education, and Iron Warrior. The show also includes Quad Wars.
Tickets start at $10 for children ages 2 to 12. (There is a limit of four kids’ tickets per one purchased adult ticket. Offer not valid on Gold Circle Seats. Additional fees apply.)
The Pit Party, which gives fans the opportunity to view the trucks up close and meet the drivers, will take place on Saturday, Feb. 8 from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Tickets are $10, and available at www.XLCenter.com
Tickets are available at XL Center box office or by calling 1-877-522-8499 or visiting www.XLCenter.com
By MIKE CHAIKEN