It is a small rule of life that anything that requires a crotch strap is something you should have thought harder about doing.
“You’re going to have to pull on that,” Paul says. Paul’s a mechanic.
“I’m pulling pretty hard.”
Paul’s getting you ready for a leisurely 1,500 horsepower spin around the floor of the Rogers Centre in Northern Nightmare, the dirt chewing champion monster truck driven by Calgary’s Cam McQueen. He was in Toronto this past weekend as part of the Monster Jam tour, deafening the hungry masses.
First thing — a fire suit.
“Nobody’s ever actually caught fire in one of these, have they?” you wonder hopefully.
“No,” says Paul, then a pause for clarification. “Not on a ride.”
McQueen and his team designed Northern Nightmare with passengers in mind. There is a pair of jump seats behind the driver’s perch.
Fire suit. Check. Fire retardant gloves. Check.
Now getting into the damn thing. There are no doors. You have to climb through a small panel in the flooring and haul yourself up using the frame as monkey bars. Once you’re in the back seat, you begin to appreciate the modern toddler’s pain.
Paul crawls in behind you and begins tugging at the five-point harness.
“This needs to be really tight.”
The two of you are wrestling with that crotch strap for a while.
“I’m going to invade your space,” Paul says delicately.
No problem. If this aids in a mutual quest to keep you unignited, you’re good with that.
Once the straps are buckled, you tug at a winch to tighten them to breathless levels.
Lastly, the helmet and the neck brace. McQueen climbs up in front of you. Paul closes the hatch. The two of you are straitjacketed on top of a rocket ship.
“Once I start this up, we won’t be able to hear each other. So just slap me if something goes wrong,” McQueen says.
Things don’t go wrong, do they?
“I flipped it last week,” McQueen says brightly. Before you have a chance to really absorb that idea, he’s gotten the Go sign and hit the ignition.
The engine in a monster truck is in the rear. So, right over your shoulder. Imagine strapping a snow blower to your back. You don’t hear it. You feel it with your ears. It hurts.
Once McQueen hits the gas, each of the four 1,000 lb. tires start churning dirt and the G-force hits you like a falling piano. Your innards are in a paint shaker. The truck catches traction and lurches forward. You’re thanking God for that crotch strap now. Were you not tied down, you’d be floating through the front windshield like a cruise missile.
McQueen takes the truck the length of the Rogers Centre floor — a couple hundred metres — and begins to pull donuts at the end. The neck guard is the only thing keeping your head attached. Your girlish shrieking is drowned out by the engine noise. You hope. Later, he will tell you the truck maxed out around 70 km/h. It feels like 700.
They are videotaping this with a Go-Cam strapped inside the chassis. You make a mental note to destroy this video immediately.
Before you got in, they made you sign an ominously capslocked waiver. The undersigned is aware that this totally fun experience “may involve the risk of SERIOUS INJURY or DEATH and that the INJURIES RECEIVED may be COMPOUNDED or INCREASED by NEGLIGENT RESCUE OPERATIONS.”
You can’t see Paul. The truck is still spinning out there like Sputnik caught in a solar wind. But he can remove a hatch from a burning truck and pull a 200-pound man out of the metal jigsaw inside, can’t he? Sure he can’t.
Once you get used to tugs of acceleration, you want a little more. You’re ready to crush something. This truck can get 30 feet in the air when it encounters the resistance of, say, a half-buried schoolbus, and travel well over a hundred feet once it’s airborne. McQueen can’t do that today. The cowards at State Farm or Lloyds of London or wherever won’t let him.
McQueen jets around for two minutes, giving you the slightest hint of what this is like when you’re doing it for real. You’re beginning to understand the attraction. This is going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but with crumple points and safety harnesses. This is tempting death from behind the yellow line.
Once it’s over, you’ve moved to the sad point of begging. Can’t we just crush something small? A Mini? Or a fridge? How about a fax machine? Nobody needs those anyway.
As you leave, Paul is kitting someone else out with their fire suit.
“I’m claustrophobic,” she says. Paul doesn’t even blink.
You lock eyes with him and shake your head. Rookies.
- The Star's Cathal Kelly took a ride in the Northern Nightmare monster truck driven by Canadian, Cam McQueen at the Rogers Centre. (Randy Risling/Toronto Star)