published Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Big fun at Monster Jam

IF YOU GO

What: Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam Thunder Nationals.

When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday; pit party 5-6:30 p.m.

Where: UTC McKenzie Arena

Admission: $27 (Gold Circle) and $22 adults, $7 ages 2-12. Pit Passes: $10 adults, $5 kids.

Phone: 266-6627.

Website: www.tickettracks.com.

WHO'S COMING

* Bad News Travels Fast/Full Boar, driven by Ed Eckert

* Iron Man, driven by Scott Buetow

* Monster Mutt Rottweiler, driven by Charles Benns

* Stone Crusher, driven by Morgan Kane

* Virginia Giant, driven by Diehl Wilson

Drivers who climb into the cabs of monster trucks for the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam Thunder Nationals may seem like daredevils, but safety is a priority, said Morgan Kane, who drives Stone Crusher. The supercharged truck rumbles with 1,500 horsepower atop 66-inch tires.

Kane said he is strapped into a seven-point harness and wearing a fireproof suit. Each truck is set up with a remote ignition interrupter that gives Monster Jam officials the ability to turn off the motor of the truck at any time if they see a problem. Each truck is put through tech inspection before each performance, and safety equipment is checked. All drivers wear a HANS (head and neck support) device like in NASCAR, and the seats are specially designed.

"A lot of it is also in the driving and saving yourself out of a rollover," Kane said. "That part takes a lot of practice."

Kane has never been seriously injured in an event. "I've had bruises and gotten knocked around a lot though," he said.

Training includes testing drivers "in a large open field set up to be an arena so that we can learn the boundaries and the power of the truck," he said.

Kane, 21, is one of the youngest drivers in the series (the average age is 30).

"I've grown up in the Grave Digger shop ... but this is my second year actually driving for Monster Jam," he said.

Besides a basic knowledge of auto mechanics, drivers have to stay physically and mentally fit, he said. "It's hard during the weekends due to the long hours we put in."

The trucks used in competition are more than just tricked-out street trucks, Kane said. Each truck is custom-designed and built by the driver and teams.

Monster Jams are an all-ages attraction, Kane said, but they seem to be especially popular with youngsters.

"I feel like kids are who attract everyone else," Kane said. "They bring the family, and the gearheads get into the science behind the machines and horsepower."

Kane said it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the "raw power" of the show. Audience members can also meet the drivers during the post-show autograph session.

"Nothing else compares to it," he said.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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