Ross Collins was about 6 years old when he saw his first monster truck show, and he’s still enthralled 20 years later.
“People don’t see that everyday, trucks that big flying through the air, doing wheelies, crushing cars,” said Collins, 27, a truck driver from Calais. “I go to as many as I can.”
Collins drives the two hours to Bangor for four to six monster truck shows every year, and he’s likely coming to Portland this weekend. That’s because the Traxxas Monster Truck Destruction Tour will be at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland for three shows Friday and Saturday. The trucks, including some built and driven by Mainers, have names like Crushstation, Lumberjack, Equalizer, Anger Management and Temperature Rising.
Monster trucks are basically specially-built pickup trucks with 66-inch tires and nearly-indestructible bodies. They’re often 12-feet high and 12-feet wide and sound like Air Force jets.
Monster truck competitions and exhibitions have been around since the late 1970s, when super-modified trucks began appearing at truck pulls and other motorsport events. An important milestone came in April of 1981, when Bob Chandler’s Bigfoot truck became, experts believe, the first monster truck to crush cars by driving over them.
Greg Winchenbach was among the youngsters who grew up seeing monster trucks on TV and at speedway shows and was inspired. So inspired that today, at 44, he owns two of the monster trucks in the Portland shows: Crushstation and Lumberjack. He drives Crushstation himself but hires a driver for Lumberjack. He owns an auto repair shop in the Lincoln County town of Jefferson, north of Damariscotta. He also bases his monster truck company, Bottom Feeder Motorsports, there. Winchenbach started modifying pickup trucks when he was a teenager and worked at a local repair shop.
“I just kept making my truck bigger and bigger until the cops said I couldn’t drive it anymore,” said Winchenbach of his Chevy Silverado. “You could basically walk underneath it.”
Winchenbach started working on the monster trucks of various Mainers. He started driving his own monster truck at events around 1995, but wrecked it after a year. He bent the frame by taking a jump that was a little too high. He didn’t have his own repair shop then, so his dream of having his own monster truck died, for a while.
He continued to work on other people’s trucks. Then, in 2009, he built Crushstation for about $250,000. It’s a totally custom-built vehicle, not a stock truck all tricked out. In fact, the whole truck is made of the kind of tubing used in the roll cage of a race car. The lobster-shaped body is fitted on top of the bars.
Winchenbach has turned the truck over many times and never gotten hurt. He says it’s the safest vehicle anyone could drive.
That’s a good thing, because at monster truck shows, Winchenbach will jump over school buses, heaps of dirt, piles of logs, other trucks or whatever’s in the way. He’ll also use his giant tires to roll over and crush cars and vans. And he’ll do wheelies to the point where the truck is practically standing on its rear end, with its front end pointed to the sky.
“Kids like big trucks, and I’m still a kid I guess. If I see a cool car or truck in the street, I always stop and look at it,” said Winchenbach.
Katie Jewell Dakin of Searsport says she and her family began going to monster truck events about five years ago. She said her son, who was about 3 at the time, was “obsessed” with monster trucks. And as a family they liked race car events, so they figured they could “step it up” by going to monster truck shows.
Dakin says she and her family like going to the “pit parties” at monster truck events where, often for a fee, you can meet the drivers. She says Winchenbach has been especially kind to her family, inviting them to his shop to see the trucks up close.
Plus, there’s the sheer thrill of seeing what a monster of a truck can do.
“Who doesn’t like something that can crush a car?” Dakin asked.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Cross Insurance Arena, 1 Civic Center Square, Portland
HOW MUCH: $11 to $40
WHAT ELSE: “Pit Party” autograph session starts 90 minutes before the show and costs $10; rides in a real monster truck will also be available,for $10, cash only.