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The lure of flying monster trucks


There's something unusual about a 10,000-pound truck jumping 20 feet in the air to crush a row of cars and then rising up on its back wheels like a wild mustang rearing. But sometimes it takes a 16-year-old to put it into perspective.

"I know when I'm watching from the crowd, you're looking for those moments when you think they can't come back, when they took it too far over the edge," says Rosalee Ramer, a high school student in Watsonville.

She's seen it from both sides — a lifelong fan, she's also the youngest professional monster truck driver on the circuit.

This weekend, jacked up 10 feet in her Wild Flower truck, Ramer will be racing with a dozen other drivers in the Monster Truck Spring Nationals at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. In three separate events, trucks with names like Iron Outlaw, Wrong Way Rick and El Perro Loco will fly through the air, jumping semi-truck trailers and mashing stuff up in muddy mayhem. And one of them, Bounty Hunter, will even attempt a back flip.

In the late 1970s and early '80s, when monster trucks with names like Bigfoot and King Kong rolled out of the backwoods and into arenas, a sport based on gas-guzzling destruction seemed like it might be a fad. But more than 30 years later, monster trucks are here to stay, with more than a dozen promoters and a massive Monster Jam series. Marketing includes Hot Wheels, video games, apparel and phone apps to keep super fans happy.

"I'm actually surprised we've made it this far and that we'll go through a recession like this and still see full stadiums," says Jimmy Creten, driver of Bounty Hunter, who has raced in more than 1,000 shows.

"I think I understand it a little bit more now that I have a son. My little guy likes to watch them hit the school buses. He likes to watch that truck on edge. He likes to watch the crashes and the saves and he's only 3."

In 2014, it's not just a Wranglers-n-boots rural pastime any more.

"It depends on where you go," says Ramer. "We do shows at Angel Stadium in Anaheim and you have every stereotype from the city that you can imagine. And then you go out to county fairs and it's definitely a little bit redneck and country."

She grew up on the circuit, watching her father, Kelvin Ramer, race his Time Flys monster truck around the country. At 7, she sat in his lap while he drove. At 11, she drove his truck solo in the pits. By 13, she mastered her first car crush. And at 14, she got her own custom seat and drove a monster truck in an air show — long before she earned her California driver's license.

For her, the scariest thing is running up to a 15-foot jump.

"It looks like a big wall when you're in the truck and the last thing you do before you hit the wall is hit the throttle."

So what should we expect this weekend?

"Last time I raced in Santa Rosa, I rolled my truck over, so it's a lot of fun," says Ramer. "I was drifting around the corner and I went over a set of cars a little bit sideways and corkscrewed and landed on my roof. Rolling over is a ton of fun."

For the wily veteran named Creten, things might get a little more intense when he goes for the back flip, which he's crashed a handful of times.

"Here's the deal," he said. "You've got 10,000 pounds and at one moment it's above your head — OK? If things don't rotate and you land it all on your head, it can get nasty."

That's exactly what the fans are paying to see.

<i>John Beck, director of "The Monks of Vina," writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014 or john@ beckmediaproductions.com.</i>