Friday, May 6, 2016

Monster Jam with Kids (even if you're not a motorsports family)

The quick and dirty about Monster Jam with kids:

1. Monster Jam is a loud monster truck rally. Bring ear protection. Your hearing is important, and while you may be able to handle the noise, small kid's ears are more sensitive, and you don't want to have to leave because they can't.

2. Monster Jam is at it's core, a "motorsport". There will be trucks crushing cars and making wild jumps, but there will also be racing. Tight circles, driven on a dirt track, by trucks with tires as tall as a grown man.

3. Monster Jam is family friendly. No, really, I promise. Except for the introduction, the house lights are always on - they want you to be able to see the trucks and the dirt, and the jumbotron, and the concessions. Vendors will sell everything from Grave Digger hats and Maxx D shirts to those headphones I told you to bring in point 1, and toy versions of the very trucks you're going to watch for the next few hours. Plan on being entertained.

4. The best is always saved for last. If there's a truck name you recognize, expect them to be the star of the show, and to get the prime slots in the competition. Plan bathroom breaks and concession visits for early in any segment of so you don't miss the grand finale.

5. The show is broken up into two segments: a regular bracket style racing tournament (first around the course twice), and freestyle. If trucks driving in circles isn't your thing, consider coming late for just the freestyle. This part of the competition often leaves a literal graveyard of trucks, as they try to push their jumps higher, and won't hold back on driving through or over another truck broken on the course. Skip the circles if you expect your kid to have a short attention span for the racing. 

Keep reading if you want a first hand experience from a dad who didn't consider point 5!

This was how our Monster Jam experience started.

I fell in to a pair of Monster Jam tickets, and immediately thought of taking my son. After all, he's been a fan of trucks since before he could crawl! The only problem is that while trucks are his thing, motorsports have never been on his radar. Getting my son excited for a monster truck show was not going to be a problem however, as Monster Jam trucks sell themselves (seriously, they've come a long way since the time of Big Foot). Naturally, we already had a few monster trucks in our box of Hot Wheels, and I checked the listing for the local show to see if any of the trucks we had were going to be at our venue.

The list was easy to find, and I discovered that we had none of the trucks coming to town already in house. So, when I went out to pick up some hearing protection (those things get loud, really, loud) I also grabbed a Monster Mutt Junkyard Dog from the toy department. Like I said, the Monster Jam trucks sell themselves.

While there were meet and greets available with the drivers (and trucks) before the Jam, we headed down to the arena only focused on the main event. With young kids, thats not a bad idea, as the whole Monster Jam runs a few hours so you're sure to get your money's worth.

Before the big dogs come out to play, the arena is being run by Mega Trucks, a sort of undercard to the main event. These bigger than street, smaller than monster trucks have their own tournament bracket to compete in, and keep the crowd entertained while waiting for the stars of the show to come out.

My son was eyes wide open to everything going on, as the trucks sped through the course, jumping and turning to the roar of their over-sized engines. He had his Monster Mutt in hand, noise-cancelling headphones protecting his little ears, and was loving the spectacle. Once show time came around, the monster trucks came thundering out to great fanfare, music and pyrotechnics. As the crowd cheered, we leaned forward in our seats, pumping fists as Grave Digger finished his first race sideways, and on top of his competition.

Then things got boring for my young non-motor-sports fan. You see, Monster Jam is as much a tournament race as it is jumping and smashing cars. Unfortunately, an hour and a half of tight left turns, left my son pining for a nice quiet dog show. The trucks had to work through their tournament bracket, facing off against each other in slow succession. The only thing that got his attention back, was when a truck flipped trying to take a turn to tightly and the rescue trucks had to come out to save the day. Watching several tow trucks attach cables to Monster Mutt to right the canine crusher while small bulldozers replaced his divot in the track got him engaged again. Soon though, it was back to racing, and interest was lost.

We made our way to the concession stand to take our pick of pretzels and soda and walked the concourse to take in the environment while the race finished up. Then it was back to our seats to watch as the track was meticulously converted from tight track, to freestyle course. This was a highly choreographed dance of five full-sized payloaders, several bobcats, and dozens of foot soldiers working together to take down the inflatable starting gates, reform the dirt jumps, and smooth any ruts made by the first part of the show.

Once intermission ends, the Freestyle competition begins. This is where the show really started for Godzilla. He really wanted to see these trucks jump, break axles, do flips and crush other cars.

At this point, we've been here for nearly three hours, and there is probably an hour of freestyle left, as each truck gets the floor to itself, and it's late, and it's loud, and the first two hours were spent watching left turns. My son had enough. Even with the headphones, his head was starting to hurt, and he was bored waiting for the trucks to get their turn, as any mechanical error added delay time to the trucks making their runs. After four or five trucks, he asked if we could go home.

Honestly, and this is where you should listen up, if you want your kid to remember an experience fondly, even if it hasn't been as well received as you hoped, pay attention to when they're done, and let them be done. By leaving early, we beat the traffic flooding out of a packed stadium, reinforced the idea that I listen and hear what he's saying, and gave a fighting chance to the experience being remembered fondly. Because it was fun, and pushing to stay would have left the final impression of a tired kid, into being the only impression.

On our drive home, he rested his eyes in the back of a dark car while I gushed over how exciting the trucks jumping and crushing cars and flipping over and catching fire had been. We talked about what his favorite truck had been, and made wild predictions about how big of a jump the monster trucks might actually be able to attempt. Finish it all off with an ice cream, and retelling the experience to his mom and sister, and by the time he crawled into bed, the headache and occasional boredom had been forgotten, and another exciting adventure with dad was in the books.

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