Joe Sylvester’s favorite film is Smokey and the Bandit. And other than his family, the only two people he ever looked up to were Evel Knievel and Dale Earnhardt.
So is it really surprising that the 30-year-old from Canfield, Ohio, near Youngstown, chose a career that involved racing and stunt driving?
Sylvester is a Monster Truck driver who competes in a specially built vehicle perched atop tires the size of rhinos in three Monster Jam events: the wheelie contest, a two-truck race to a finish line, and a 60-second freestyle run through a course.
While most of us can only imagine what it’s like to control a truck the size of a dinosaur, Sylvester said it’s an experience best summarized as “violent.”
“They are unlike anything else you can drive; no race car, go-kart, or motorcycle can prepare you for these beasts,” he said in an email interview. “Just like anything, you get used to them after you drive them for a while, [but] when you first start they are definitely a handful. They accelerate hard and jump even harder. They are very violent machines and you need to have a good feel for the boundaries of the truck before you can really push its limits inside a smaller venue.”
Sylvester competes this weekend in his Bad Habit Monster Truck as Monster Jam comes to Toledo for five shows at Huntington Center: 7:30 p.m. Friday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets are $27, $40, and $52, and $7 for kids ages 2 through 12, and can be purchased at all TicketMaster outlets, ticketmaster.com, the Huntington Center box office, and charge by phone at 800-745-3000.
As for the dirt, local construction supply firm Kuhlman Corp. is providing between 800 and 1,000 yards of a clay-based mix for the Monster Jam track and Thursday will import the material into Huntington Center. As for the dirt-removal process, a special tool called a bucket mod, which is attached to the bucket of a CAT excavator, will be used.
A motorsports enthusiast — race cars, go-karts, and pretty much anything that requires a safety cage — Sylvester said he always wanted to race monster trucks.
He started out as an independent owner and driver and with his Joe Sylvester Motorsports built two trucks at his in-house shop in Ohio. But after eight years of going it alone, he sold his monster truck and joined a team so that he could concentrate on short course off-road racing in the summer.
“I still perform on the Monster Jam tour in a Bad Habit truck but it is owned by 2Xtreme Racing out of Kansas,” Sylvester said. “My teammate is the World Champion Bounty Hunter truck, and the team takes care of the trucks and gets them prepped for the weekend.”
It’s worked out well so far: Sylvester is the 2013 Monster Jam World Finals Young Guns Shootout Champion. And in 2010, while still on his own, he launched a 10,000-pound beast 208 feet through the air to set the record for the longest distance jump in a monster truck, a feat no one has thus far bested.
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No longer converted pick-ups, today’s monster trucks are "fully purpose built machines made to take the rigors of modern-day Monster Jam shows," he said, which require considerable work to maintain.
"Monster Jam has come a long way over the years and it is far more than just a bunch of trucks driving over cars," Sylvester said. “Pretty much every weekend the truck gets torn up and we have a few days to get it ready for the next performance, which is usually the following weekend."
As the shows have evolved to become bigger entertainment spectacles, so has the motorsport’s fanbase, expanding far beyond its stereotype gearheads with mullets to include a wide range of spectators, including families.
“The excitement level is through the roof from beginning to end and our fans are of a very broad demographic, ranging from young kids to grandma and grandpa,” he said. “The show is perfect to take the whole family out to. The trucks are modern mechanical marvels that cost almost $200,000 to build and take a very skilled driver to perform safely but at the same time entertain the fans.
“Once you see a show you will be hooked, but if you haven’t seen a show yet, just go to mon-sterjam.com and check out some of the videos and pictures from past events. I am pretty sure you will be sold.”
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734.