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Dirt in the Dome: Monster Jam comes to Syracuse on Saturday

Monster trucks Grave Digger, Max D and more are once again set to take over the Carrier Dome this weekend.

Monster Jam - Melbourne Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

“Imagine that moment, you get to the Dome, you get that energy, like with basketball and football, you feel it,” Bryce Kenny, driver of Great Clips Mohawk Warrior, a monster truck competing in the Monster Jam series said. “You can almost smell the dirt. Then you get to your seats and you see the eight-foot-high jumps.”

For one night every year, the Carrier Dome transforms from a court or a field to an obstacle-filled, dirt racetrack for monster trucks.

“I like to say: It’s an assault on your senses.”

That’s how Kenny, who has been driving in the Monster Jam circuit for three years, describes what any Syracuse Orange fan who might just have some free time this weekend should be thinking if they venture inside the Dome. The man who will be throttling down this Saturday at 7 p.m. with other monster trucks like Grave Digger, Max D, Monster Mutt, and Zombie said newbies to the Jam scene will experience it all: sights, smells, hearing, tastes, and touches.

“You’ll never forget seeing your first monster truck jump,” said Kenny.

The former Division One soccer player is now driving one of the most recognizable trucks in the sport. His Great Clips Mohawk Warrior is a black truck laced with blue and white trim. An eye-catcher in a world of eye-catching, jaw-dropping super-sized vehicles. But what really separates the Mohawk Warrior from the others is its... mohawk. The bristles on top of the nearly 10.5-foot truck add another two feet or so of “look at that!”

Regardless of accessories, they’re all riveting. The 12,000-pound behemoths sound like a combination of a construction site and aircraft carrier. Yet somehow, they’re able to gracefully jump twenty to thirty feet in the air, and make hairpin turns inches from concrete barriers.

Of course, that ballet-mixed-with-WWF type of maneuvering will take place where the field and court normally reside in Syracuse, an area now covered by dirt. Truckloads of dirt. Which is a sight to behold in and of itself for Orange fans. Gone is the turf and the orange markings. Buried is any semblance of endzones, courts, or areas to get some beer and food. It’s really a whole new world inside when the monster trucks take over.

The Monster Jam crew has been coming to Syracuse for nearly a decade now, attracting 30,000 or more spectators at every single show through the years. In fact, 38,547 people crammed into the Dome to watch the trucks roar back in 2011. A crowd size Syracuse University officials would love to see for football games (although that might be on the small size for some games this upcoming season).

Hot Wheels takes a tumble in 2017
Matt McClusky

And 14 of these Monster Jam trucks are expected to be at the Dome this time around. All of them competing in a racing tournament (one-on-one until a winner is crowned) and a freestyle free-for-all where the truck that does the craziest stunts (getting big air on jumps, doing back-flips, or even “walking on two wheels”), earning the biggest cheers, will be the winner.

The Dome, though, does present a little different setup than the drivers are used to seeing in larger arenas throughout the world. Kenny says the freestyle portion of the evening is more of a “square than a rectangle,” meaning that the area in which the drivers have access to is a little wider but not as long as normal. That’s not a deterrent according to Kenny, who said the track is suitable for all drivers to accelerate enough to hit the jumps and pull off some big air.

Mohawk Warrior, fourth from the left, sits in the “bullpen” during last year’s event at the Dome.
Matt McClusky

“The walls are oozing with history,” Kenny said about what it’s like to drive in a facility like the Carrier Dome. “It’s not too old, but there is such of a feeling of a historical monument in a way.”

Who could blame the Duke Blue Devils basketball fan for holding a special place for Central New York and its dated Dome in his heart. Kenny actually won his first ever freestyle title inside the building just last year.

“I hit the back-flip ramp. I actually under-rotated it a bit. But when I landed, I landed on two wheels,” Kenny explained about his bring-down-the-house-moment.

The Greensboro, NC native (hi, Jim Boeheim!) actually collected himself after the first flip, despite the two-wheeled landing, and was able to pull off another back flip in succession. It was something that the observers weren’t expecting to see. Something that the observers probably weren’t totally sure they saw even after watching it all unfold.

“I could hear them over the roar of my engine!”

Those type cheers are different than when Eric Dungey would risk his body on some highlight of a play for the Orange. And the noises are not anything like after a big Tyus Battle bucket. Furthermore, the fans themselves, with their Monster Jam gear, which typically has very little orange in it, are not what you see inside the building from August through March. But all of that doesn’t make the experience any less interesting, exciting, or intriguing.

Just the same, while there is racing involved, this won’t be a typical Saturday night at the track. Don’t expect to see what might be standard on some type of paved oval down south. This night each year in Central New York is distinctive all the way around.

“We’re not competing against NASCAR,” Kenny explained, “we’re not even competing against other forms of motorsports. We’re competing with families who are sitting home and binge watching shows. If we get them to come watch, we’ll give them real-life memories. We want them all to be talking about what they saw on the way home.”