By Keith Loria
If the thought of 10,000-pound trucks smashing cars, racing alongside one another and doing wheelies and other tricks excite you, then be sure to head out to the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, Feb. 12 and 13, as some of the most infamous monster trucks in the world compete as part of the Monster Truck Destruction Tour.
On hand for the event will be monster truck headliners such as Crushstation, Beast, Son Of Beach, Lumberjack, and Bigfoot.
Darron Schnell is the man behind the wheel of Firestone’s Bigfoot truck, having driven the legendary truck since 2008. He remembers watching old VHS tapes of Monster Trucks shows when he was a kid, dreaming of the day he could ride his own truck and compete.
He went to shows as a kid, and some of those he watched and cheered for are now his co-workers and boss.
”I started when I was 18, just volunteering for something fun to do on the weekends when I was going to college, and it sprawled out of control from there, so I’ve been doing this for almost 12 years now,” Mr. Schnell says. “Everyone has their little deal when they’re a little kid — some want to be a fireman, some want to be a cowboy, I wanted to drive a Monster Truck.”
Of course, he had to pay his dues like anyone, starting as a crew guy and display guy, but he knew that one day he wanted to drive for the best. He did his driver training and eventually worked his way into a race seat.
”I started out with a small team in Canada and they relocated to St. Louis, the home of Bigfoot, and I got to know the guys, and an opening came up, and I jumped at the chance,” he says. “This was the team I always wanted to work for.”
Mr. Schnell has had a noteworthy career on the circuit, beginning with the successful feat of jumping a bus during his first-ever weekend in a race truck. Over the years, he’s won the Monster X Tour Championship, finished second in Monster Nationals Racing Championship in Bigfoot #11, and has been a perennial top finisher every year. In 2015, he tied for the indoor championship.
”I’ve been lucky enough to live my dream. It’s quite an honor to drive for Bigfoot,” he says. “Win, lose or draw, we’re having fun.”
Of course, it’s a life you need to get used to. Last year, Mr. Schnell spent 230 nights hotel rooms, spending most weekends touring the country.
A big part of the fun of these events is getting to meet the drivers and pose with the trucks, which is why 90 minutes prior to each show, attendees can get the chance to do both by buying tickets ($10) to the Autograph Pit Party. As a special treat, some will even get to experience the ride of their lives on-board a real Monster Truck.
”The way it works is gates open at 6 and people can take photos, get our autographs and talk with us, and that’s really my favorite part of the event,” Mr. Schnell says. “Hearing their stories and seeing people from different parts of the country is great. I love watching the kids light up. I remember being that kid and walking up to drivers and they were my rock stars. If I can make a kid feel like that, all the travel is worth it.”
He describes competing in a truck as “the best roller-coaster and car crash all in one… Once the show starts, we’ll have three competitions,” he says. “We usually start with a wheelie competition, then go to side-by-side racing and at the end of the night, we do freestyle, where you get to go out and do whatever you want. Usually, things are in pieces, parts are broken and the fans are happy.”
Bigfoot is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and is one of the trucks that others in the Monster Truck game gear up to face.
”Every time you line up, you have a target on your back and you have to bring everything you’ve got every round,” Mr. Schnell says. “It’s going to be carnage. I’ll be shocked if my truck goes into the trailer in one piece. It’s a fun time and very unpredictable.”
The Monster Truck Destruction will be at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, Feb. 12-13, 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $24-$49; sunnationalbankcenter.com.
By Keith Loria