Originally created 02/11/00

Monster Mash



Like the automotive personification of its namesake, the World Wrestling Federation Stone Cold 3:16 monster truck is a menacing presence, even when quiet and still. Its silent snarl seems to telegraph "I like to kill cars" -- an activity for which it is singularly qualified.

Serving as the centerpiece for the Monster Truck Challenge Saturday and Sunday at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, the Stone Cold truck will join such monster truck luminaries as Bigfoot, WWF the Rock and Wildfire for two nights of high-jumping, car-crushing action. The events will also feature appearances by WWF wrestlers Mick Foley, who appears under the nom de rings Cactus Jack, Mankind and Dude Love, on Saturday and Stone Cold Steve Austin on Sunday. It will be Mr. Austin's first public appearance since his highly publicized spinal surgery last month.

The shows will also include motorcross and quad racing and motorcycle stuntman Sky Walker. On Saturday an episode of MTV's Road Rules, pitting members of the current cast against locals in a series of monster-truck-related challenges, will be filmed.

But the real attraction is the trucks, which will engage in a freestyle contest, judged by the audience, and a racing event judged by an impartial clock.

Weighing in at close to 10,000 pounds, standing 11 feet high on 66-inch tires and powered by a 572-cubic-inch, alcohol-injected engine capable of summoning 1,800 horses of power, the Stone Cold truck is at once a quick-off-the-line racing vehicle and a go-anywhere truck more inclined to drive through or over an obstacle than around it. Just don't think you can use it for hauling lumber. Built with a fiberglass body and no bed, monster trucks are usually trucks in name only.

"It's a monster truck," said Stone Cold owner and driver Calvin Carrington, explaining his hybrid's place in the world. "This is really a racing vehicle."

Mr. Carrington owns four of the custom-built trucks, each boasting a price tag that hovers around $120,000. It costs about $130,000 a year to take the truck on a circuit that includes 60 to 80 appearances. Costs include the expense of traveling with a crew of drivers and mechanics, the costly alcohol/methanol fuel the trucks run on and the constant need to replace parts. Mr. Carrington said the feeling he gets when he's behind the wheel makes it all worthwhile.

"I like to crush cars," he said. "It's like a high to me. The racing for me is immaterial. I mean, I like to race 'em, but I love to entertain a crowd. That's where it's at -- entertaining."

Be it the speed -- many monster trucks can accelerate from zero to 60 in less than five seconds -- or the cathartic joy of the jumping, crushing and high-speed bouncing the trucks are built for, drivers of these machines feel fortunate to be doing what they love.

"The first time I got into one of these trucks, that was it," said Tony Stephan, a new driver on Mr. Carrington's team.

Augusta marks his third week on the circuit. His first week was marked by his first wreck and the opportunity to race against Bigfoot, the monster truck that started it all.

"When they told me I was going to race Bigfoot, I was almost in tears," Mr. Stephan said. "I mean here I am, almost 34 and I felt like an 8-year-old kid."

The profile of monster trucks has been raised in recent years,thanks to the support lent to the sport by wrestling.

"It's been amazing," Mr. Carrington said. "I mean kids love monster trucks already, and to be able to tie monster trucks with wrestling has been a great marriage."

It's a relationship that has taken wrestlers out of the ring and put them behind the wheels of the trucks. Both The Rock and Mr. Austin have made regular appearances showing off their car-crushing skills in the trucks bearing their names, and Mr. Foley is ready for his chance to show off.

"I'm really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of one of these trucks," he said. "Show 'em what a wrestler can do."

Mr. Foley said he appreciates the opportunities offered by his Augusta appearance.

"These monster-truck challenges are a lot of fun for me. They let me meet the fans, and they get to see me in a different light."

Mr. Carrington said he didn't know whether Mr. Austin would take his place behind the wheel.

"He and I talked about it, and he wants to drive," he said. "He might even crush a car. We won't really know until Saturday, when we see how he feels. I don't want to do anything to jeopardize his injury."

Should Mr. Austin decide a little car crushing is in order, Mr. Carrington said his chariot will be ready to dish out whatever punishment he sees fit.

"The Stone Cold truck is the best," he said, sounding more than a little like a proud father. "It can do stuff that will amaze you. It's just a bad ride."

Monster trucks

What: Monster Truck Challenge

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where:Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, 601 Seventh St.

Admission:$18 reserved, $15 general admission and $50 for Sunday VIP seating. VIP tickets include admission, a T-shirt, a Stone Cold Steve Austin picture and an opportunity to meet Mr. Austin for an autograph. Call 828-7700.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626.