Put yourself in Bill Wirth’s place.
You’re watching an off-road truck race with your wife. But as much as you like racing, you’re simply not impressed with the action.
In passing, you make a seemingly harmless boast:
“I [could] beat all those guys with that truck I’ve got.”
You have, after all, recently purchased a new, four-wheel-drive Ford Econoline Van. But you don’t really, well, mean it.
Yet as it happens, one of the show’s promoters chances to overhear your comment.
“Put your money where your mouth is,” the man scoffs, openly challenging you to come back and compete with these professional racers the very next night.
Maybe — if you were in Wirth’s place — you would have then rethought your boast. After all, these were professional racers trained to make vehicles perform incredible feats. Were you in his place, you might very well have backed down.
But if you had, then you wouldn’t be Bill Wirth.
“I brought the truck in the next day,” he recalls, “and I beat them all.”
Things have changed greatly for the New York state-based driver since that day more than 20 years ago. Wirth has moved from racing stock trucks to their meaner kin, the giant-wheeled, car-crushing monsters that go by names like Bearfoot and The Boogey Van.
Or, in Wirth’s own case, The Mummy.
And he’s still as passionate about racing as ever.
“Once I had that first win, that fueled the fire,” he reveals. “I’ve been driving ever since. It’s kind of hard to get out once you get in.”
Monster trucks are a part of American culture typically relegated to the extreme low end of low brow — racing them is a pastime that rides the ever-stigmatized line between NASCAR and professional wrestling. After all, a monster truck is, as Wirth describes it, little more than “a glorified pickup truck with big tires and a big motor.”
These vehicles’ sole purpose is to run over obstacles, usually hills of dirt, puddles of water and — most dramatically — other cars, and to complete their journey of terror faster than the next monster.
It’s not a complex sport, but it’s a cathartic one — these machines are so huge as to be almost unstoppable. Somehow we know they would never, ever have to suffer getting stuck in traffic — but that doesn’t mean they get off easy inside the ring. According to Wirth, the fans demand that the trucks do impossible things.
Not literally, of course. In this case, it’s more of a jump — but the more “hang time,” the better.
“The more air you get, the happier the people usually are,” Worth explains.
And the danger element is a natural part of the appeal, of course.
“A lot of fans come to the show expecting to see us wreck these things — you know, crash ’em and tear ’em all up,” Wirth admits.
When you have several large mechanical behemoths feverishly racing one another, accidents will happen — but that’s all part of the drama. And while watching a monster truck leap over crushed cars and manufactured hills provides a high for the audience, operating such a monster requires a steadier head than you might expect, Wirth notes.
“You have to drive accordingly, because you don’t want to get hurt, and you don’t want to hurt the vehicle, either,” he elaborates.
Nonetheless, he favors the freestyle section of the show over the race: It allows him to cut loose and just drive.
“You look as out of control as you can, while still being in control of the truck,” Wirth explains. “That’s what the crowd likes to see.”
But, he maintains, the rush is worth the risk.