CARS HOMES JOBS

Show time is culmination of lots of hard work for monster truck competitors

Thursday, January 16, 2014
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Tim Mente’s “Storm Damage” monster truck makes a jump during a recent show. Mente, who has been competing in monster shows since 2007, said caring for the trucks can be time-consuming, but repair jobs are not work-intensive.
Tim Mente’s “Storm Damage” monster truck makes a jump during a recent show. Mente, who has been competing in monster shows since 2007, said caring for the trucks can be time-consuming, but repair jobs are not work-intensive.

Taking care of 1,500 horses is hard work.

But those horses take care of Tim Mente.

Mente will be at the wheel of “Storm Damage,” a 1,500 horsepower machine that will roar and roll Friday and Saturday at the Monster Jam truck show at the Times Union Center in Albany. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. both nights; advance adult tickets range from $22 to $42, and kids younger than 12 are $12. All ticket prices increase $2 on show days.

Monster Jam is a gathering of 12-foot-high, 10,000-pound trucks with large tires and even larger engines. At most events, trucks meet in several competitions, including racing and freestyle. Racing is traditional bracket racing — the first truck to cross the finish line with the least number of penalties is declared the winner. Freestyle runs allow the trucks time on an open floor to show off driver skills through stunts and tricks.

Monster Jam

WHERE: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

HOW MUCH: $44-$22; $12 for kids 12 and younger

MORE INFO: 487-2000, www.timesunioncenter-albany.com

For Albany’s show, Gary Porter and “Grave Digger,” Whit Tarlton and “Monster Mutt,” Greg Winchenbach and “Crushstation” and Brandon Derrow’s “Bad News” are among the featured performers.

The “pit party,” where fans can tour the arena floor, see the monsters up close and talk to drivers, will be held before the Saturday show, from 4 to 6 p.m.

A better edge

Like other drivers on the monster circuit, Mente does all the maintenance on his rig.

“It helps you to be one with your truck and be able to tell what’s going good or bad with it,” said Mente, 46, who lives in Maryland and has been driving monsters since 2007. “I started out crewing with ‘Black Stallion’ before I ever owned a truck. I’m a firm believer that having a mechanical knowledge in crewing gives you a better edge in being a driver.”

Mente was at the right school. “Black Stallion” is Michael Vaters’ truck, and Vaters is a multiple Thunder Nationals champion.

Mente is also bringing “Hurricane Force,” a Ford F-150, to Albany. He said people might think the trucks mean hard, dirty, hot work — but maintenance is not that difficult.

Coming up with fearsome names for his trucks isn’t tough, either; Mente also owns a tree service, so the weather-related names reflect his other line of work.

“We’ve changed transmissions in 15 minutes before, where you couldn’t do that on a personal auto,” said Mente, as he took a break from driving a tractor-trailer carrying his vehicles to a show in North Carolina last week. “Everything’s bigger and heavier, but they are easier to work on than your average car you drive up and down the road.”

That wasn’t always the case. When “Monster Jam” motoring first became popular 30 years ago, Mente said, trucks were tougher to fix and maintain. But advances in engineering over the past three decades have made rigs more user-friendly.

Mente’s trucks come up with different problems.

“‘Hurricane Force’ is more common for, like, a steering line to blow,” Mente said. “‘Storm Damage’ is more inclined to break an axle once in a while. Some of that’s not only the trucks; it’s the driver’s driving style.”

Wheel man

Mente doesn’t dread any particular repair job. He tries to duck some of the driving, though.

“Sometimes, I’d rather not drive the semi to the show,” Mente said. “But it’s all part of the package. There are some drivers who have the ability to fly in and out of some shows, but that’s not the case with my team. All key players need to be able to drive the monster trucks, be able to work on the monster trucks and be able to drive the semi.”

Taking care of the trucks, and moving them around the country, takes up a lot of team time.

“On average, a monster trucker puts in 80 hours a week,” Mente said. “They’re a lot of work, and it’s not all wrenching them. It’s calling for parts, it’s driving to and from shows, it’s working on them. There’s only a small part of this that is actually driving. The lion’s share is getting to and from shows and working on them to get them at 100 percent before every event.”

Monster fans who show up on arena floors during the pit parties always want to take a look at the assorted valves, gears, hoses and pistons.

“Most monster trucks have the engines in the back where the pickup bed would normally be,” Mente said. “Both my trucks are rear-engine trucks.”

There are never that many questions about repairs. Mente said people want to know how much the 51⁄2-foot-tall tires cost and how he maneuvers himself into the cab on top of his 11-foot-tall vehicle.

“The tires range anywhere from $250, buying them used, to $3,000 apiece, if you buy them new,” Mente said. “Getting in, you climb up through the floorboards, kind of like a jungle gym.”

Drivers will help out pals whose monsters are on the repair slab.

“Last weekend, there was another team that was struggling, and I lent them a hand,” Mente said. “We’re all there to give everybody a hand. We’re one big family, until the helmet goes on and the light turns green. Once they stop, we’re family and friends again. That’s the competitive nature of a racer, though. ... When the green flag drops or the green light turns on, you’re out there to win.”

 
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