As a first generation Chinese American, I grew up in a household where my parents listened to classical music and opera. I played the piano and of course I hated it. I did not get to watch movies in theatres until I was twelve years of age. My parents were not square, they were just adapting slowly to this mysterious foreign land of rock music and monster trucks. So hearing those ever enticing radio spots crushed my little piano playing heart. “SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY” but Sunday would never come. Watching monster trucks or any type of stadium racing was out of my reach. Until now…
I had the pleasure of photographing round 4 of the Stadium Super Truck series in San Diego California at Qualcomm stadium.
Beautiful isn’t it? There is something special about an object in the air that is not meant to fly.
It kind of reminds me of when I ask people to jump up in the air so I can capture that split second of them floating. I just love looking at their faces, because all they are thinking about is landing that jump, nothing else. So they make a funny face.
So what kind of faces are these drivers making while they are clearing a 23 meter gap? I don’t know, but I have an idea, ‘O’ face maybe? Either way I was diving into a world of unknowns. I tried my best to continue to photograph, but at the same time fulfil my boyhood dream of watching jumping trucks in a stadium.
Qualcomm is the home of the Chargers Football team and the last time stadium style truck racing graced this venue was back in the ’90s with the Mickey Thompson series.
Back then at one of those races sitting in the stands as a little boy was Jarod DeAnda, the voice of Formula Drift and now the voice of Stadium Super Trucks.
It was very nostalgic for him to see stadium truck racing again in his hometown, but to now be a part of the show was the icing on the cake.
The series is the brainchild of off-road legend, Robby Gordon. It was his dream to bring back off road racing to stadiums ever since the Mickey Thompson series went under.
Robby raced alongside Mickey back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and just like how Mickey raced in his own series, Robby will be racing alongside the field of professional off road racers.
Stadium trucks is really the best way to bring racing to the city and instead of watching cars zip by at the speed of sound, you get to see all the action from any seat in the house.
It’s easy for any fan or spectator to assume that the track just happens to appear and the drivers come out and launch off cool jumps with ease.
But what they don’t see is what goes behind the scenes. Robby originally had constructed a main jump with a ridiculous gap, probably one of the largest ever in a stadium setting.
Robby took the initiative to test out the monster gap that he created and landed short. Even legends have facepalm moments.
Much of the day was spent on fixing the course for safety and for flow. After all, at the end of the day it’s about the show and there is no point if the racing does not look cool.
Little by little Robby directed the earth movers to modify the course to his liking. It was a long and tedious process for sure.
Once the jump was shortened and the course was modified the fearless leader went out for another jump, and this time he soared in the air like a bald eagle. God bless jumping trucks.
Before the other competitors did the same, they went out for a course walk of their own. You don’t actually realize how large even the smallest jumps are till you stand next to one.
Hello dirt guy? Yeah I’d like to order more dirt…
One by one the drivers had a few practice laps before qualifying to test out their trucks and the course.
These are spec trucks and each competitor gets to race a 100% identical vehicle.
The teams are only allowed to adjust things like ride height and suspension settings, the motor is left untouched.
They are running 600hp spec V8s. Which is more than enough power for these lightweight chassis’.
Since the course was part asphalt and part dirt, the teams had to compromise on their suspension setups. It is very important to be fast on the pavement because that is what is laid out in front of the two jumps.
The interior of the trucks is the definition of function over form. Simple and clean, just the way I like it.
During practice I could see how dynamic these trucks really were. It’s just crazy, especially because they don’t have their fiberglass body panels on.
There was no point in damaging the fiberglass body in practice and qualifying, but I thought that they looked great.
No matter how much water is sprayed over the course, it was very easy to get pelted in the face with rocks when one of these trucks go by.
It sure makes for a spectacle. In drifting the smoke trail behind the car is an extension of the vehicle. With off road trucks like these the rooster tail is just as much a part of the vehicle as the bumper or the tires.
No matter how much travel the shocks have, it’s still a very hard impact for these guys when they hit the ground. Just check out all that dirt coming loose under the chassis from the impact of the landing.
One by one the drivers qualified. The field was quite small as the series is in its infancy, so all of the drivers get to be in the main show, but qualifying still decides the order in which you will start for the heat races. I am sure by the end of this year’s race season there will be many more drivers joining the field.
By the end of qualifying the temporary pavement was really torn up. Repair crews worked through the night to fix it.
For the main event all of the competitors brought their vehicles onto the track, so the fans could check them out before the race. You can kind of see how the track layout was. They really used all of the area that was available to its full potential.
The drivers’ briefing were pretty straight forward. Don’t bump each other in the air, and put on a great show for the fans.
Big and small, they had it all. The fans were even allowed to sit in the monster trucks. I may have snuck in and made motor noises with my mouth.
It must be nice to be sponsored by an entire country. What’s next getting sponsored by the whole sport of racing?
Pretty soon the entire race course was flooded with eager off-road fans. Nevermind that these are the coolest trucks in the world, just sitting around waiting for you to climb in, let’s play with dirt said those kids.
The first heats were starting, so I wanted to get a good overview of the track to really show how close the racing was. There were constant position changes and lots of bumping. Rubbin’s racin’ right?
This is why you don’t bump in mid-air. It was very likely that you could land on top of another car. Which happened once or twice.
Right off the bat there were some pretty good traffic jams and carnage ensued.
As always in off-road racing there was a fair share of off course excursions and a few flips. It’s a good thing these trucks were designed to withstand a roll over.
There were a few celebrities in attendance including driver, Nick Baumgartner, who has a gold and silver medal from competing in Winter X-Games for snowboarding. As well as fan of off-road racing and all around cool guy Bill Goldberg.
Nick took some really hard landings and he was taken out of the finals after suffering from mechanical issues. Check out that huge olympic ring on his finger from when he competed in the Winter Olympics back in 2010 in Vancouver.
Also racing was Mike Jenkins who is the owner of Traxxas R/C cars. He is a sponsor of the series, but he is also heavily into off-road racing himself.
I really liked the fact that even though Robby Gordon owns the series, the entire field throws that out the window when they drive against him.
No matter who you are, if you are slower, you better get out of the way or else you will be pushed out of the way.
One of my favorite guys to watch was Ricky Johnson, in the Jegs sponsored truck. He is a legend on two wheels and I can see that he has brought over some of his style from his Motocross days.
I just love the way he drives this truck, like it’s constantly on its tippy toes, just dancing around the track.
My boyhood dream was fulfilled. In between the SST heat races they brought out these 10,000lbs monsters. What an amazing sight. I just could not believe how much power they had.
They were surprisingly quick and agile for their size due to gearing and four wheel steering. Check out this guy giving his competitor a kiss on the forehead! How nice of him!
It was amazing to see how much of the landing impact was soaked up by the massive tires.
I feel like more racing events need to have monster trucks as a side show. Who doesn’t like monster trucks?
It’s all business from this angle. I love all the exposed components. That is how a race truck should look like.
They competed in ‘Chicago style’ which is basically two trucks on the same course. The first truck to make one complete lap from where they started wins.
Seeing these makes me want to check out what it’s like at a Monster Jam event. I am already pretty close to one of the drivers.
One of the other side attractions were the Super Trophy Karts. They are modified UTVs and the drivers range from 10 to 16 years old.
It was quite the spectacle and to think that kids were driving these things. Although due to the low ride height and the short wheel base, they would constantly get high centered and get stuck.
The course was designed extremely well, and there are multiple options on where you can go depending on which route has less traffic.
The fact is no matter which route you take, it seems to be around the same speed around the course. It must take years of building off road short courses to achieve that kind of balance.
For example this was a pivotal point in the heat races that night. This was the last chance qualifier race and Robby Gordon took the inside hairpin instead of taking the outside, for the lead.
The outside is much wider, and it is just as fast, and there is much less of a chance to get stuck in the 180 degree hairpin. So it could go either way depending on your driving style.
Another support series that was running that weekend was the SST Super buggies. These are powered by 200hp ecotec engines.
They were super fun to watch and the racing was very close. The way they jump makes them look like grasshoppers.
There were many different classes which provide the teams with more economical ways to compete in the series. However, due to their small size they did not take the huge gap jumps.
Before I knew it the trucks lined up for the main event. The drivers were already a little bruised and battered from the heat races, but that didn’t stop them from going all out during the 30 lap free for all.
Little by little Robby Gordon in the bright orange Speed Energy truck worked his way up the grid.
This is what I love off-road racing. There are just so many variables, and I love the fact that the course changes over time and the trucks get faster as the jumps get more and more flattened.
The race was actually long enough for me to come down from the stands to ground level. I wanted to get as close to the action as possible.
There were a few restarts, but It made the racing even better because it would bunch everyone up again.
I could literally feel the cars as they passed by due to how much rocks and dust they would kick up. I wore sunglasses and kept my mouth closed, so I would not get pelted in the eyes.
It wouldn’t be much of a main race if there were not any flips. Lucky the staff was nearby to flip the trucks upright.
With just a few laps to go, Robbie was right on the tail of race leader Ricky Johnson. It was a very close three way battle for 1st place. Just when I thought things could not get any better Robbie made the pass for the lead.
I figured there would be no way that Ricky could make a pass, as there were only a few laps left and Robby was driving absolutely perfect.
Boy was I wrong. Robby got stuck at a hairpin which allowed Ricky to make a pass with less than 3 laps to go.
The three guys were so fast that they caught up to race traffic very quickly even after the restarts.
Then it happened. On the very last run-up, to the very last corner, Ricky had a puncture which allowed Rob MacCachren in the Traxxas car to take the lead. I nearly dropped my camera I was so amazed. The crowd went absolutely nuts.
On the last lap of the race Adrian Cenni also known as the “Wildman” got into an incident with another driver causing him to flip over. It was a real ‘Ricky Bobby’ moment as he literally ran after the guy all the way to the pits where he gave him a nice big hug and probably a kiss.
As the top three guys pass the finish line, the fireworks went off. What an amazing sight. This was what off-road short course racing was all about.
Understandably so, Robby Gordon was very pleased. You could not even plan something that perfect. The fans got to see a great show and in the end of the day that is really the only thing that matters.
Robby and the rest of the guys involved in Stadium Super Trucks are really paving the way for the young off-road fans. Any one of those kids in the stands could be the next off-road legend. It makes me wonder how I would turn out if I went to one of these events when I was just a kid. Would I find myself behind the wheel of one of these things? I can only dream….
Being old enough to have attended the original Mickey Thompson Off Road series (as an adult) probably puts me in a sound minority here. It was a fun series that gave rise to the Stadium Truck phenomenon in RC racing among other things. Seeing and meeting Ivan "Iron Man" Stewart was a great experience, and seeing the trucks, buggies and motorcycles up close was great. Still, the series failed for a variety of reasons back then and it is hard to believe it can be reinvented and made successful now. The close quarters racing is exciting, but also damaged a lot of vehicles and contributed to escalating costs. Having Toyota factory involvement did not help costs either, but without a large purse it is difficult for an independent to justify the costs or land sponsorship.
Anyway, I hope it does well but have my doubts. I would prefer to see more cooperative investment with the GRC as opposed to what amounts to a competing series that has its roots (and fan base) in the upper Midwest.
Seems like a huge production for such a tiny amount of spectators. Too bad. I would gladly join and watch the craziness.
@larry Chen, probably the only one but I don't care much for monster trucks. Anyone else surprised at how old Robby Gordon is looking?
Been following this since its inception when it was touted as the modern-day Mickey Thompson Off Road Series. Great to see the series get featured on Speedhunters!
Nice coverage! Guy in the blue is PJ Jones, Parnelli Jones' son. We sponsor him at Airaid and co-develop UTV intake kits with him.
Hey larry, you think you could schedule a full feature on one of the trucks? I think everybody here loved the features on rallycross cars, or onto the formula drift ones, so... why not? =) i think every inner child here will like it
There's something photogenic about all that dirt flying around! Makes me want to go rallying a bit! Great work Larry!
For lack of a more appropriate word, your introduction is alluring . You have a great sense of humor buddy!
And 3 new desktops. There is something about cars/trucks in mid-air. Fascinating. Great post Larry! Will you cover another round?