Trucking mayhem: Bigfoot vs Sling Shot
A slice of Britain: Thousands gathered this weekend to watch monster vehicles burn rubber – and the crowd included one newly converted cyclist
Sunday 13 September 2009
The mob waited in near-frenzy: gathered yesterday afternoon under a brilliant Lancashire sky to see the "original conqueror" Bigfoot take on the "no fearing, no respecting" Sling Shot. The most surprising thing about all this was my own lather of anticipation. After all, these people were getting het up about, well, lorries. Big lorries.
My only previous experience of trucks was an unhappy hitch-hiking journey from London to Edinburgh that ended up as a 36-hour, sleep-deprived nightmare.
Thousands of men, women and children gasped when Bigfoot cleared four cars in his last jump to win the first round of Monster Mania at this year's Truckfest North-West. Not only did I gasp; I jumped up in delight and applauded. City-dwelling cyclists like me are not, it would seem, immune to the joys of burning rubber and huge, pulsating engines.
For truckers, truck chicks and truck kids, this weekend is truck heaven. More than 500 vehicles of all sizes enter competitions such as "show and shine" and "best owner-driver".
But the monster trucks are the royalty. The colossal beasts – often about five tons of gleaming metal, can shift their considerable mass from nought to 60 in just over five seconds. There are only eight in the UK, compared with 400 in the US where the phenomenon originated 25 years ago. UK fans must travel far and wide to watch the metal titans leap over and crush puny motor cars.
Nigel and Lisa Morris make a living from Bigfoot which they describe as the 17th descendant of the original monster truck built by the American Bob Chandler. Mr Morris built Bigfoot in 2003; its body is a 1971 F150 Ford but with crop-sprayer tyres which cost almost £9,000 for the set.
Mr Morris, 48, is a three-time European champion who started racing motorbikes at the age of eight. He and his wife, both self-confessed petrolheads, have done 33 shows this year. "My passion was always for two wheels, but as I got bigger, so did the vehicles and now I love nothing more than seeing faces in the crowd as I crush the cars," said Mr Morris. "Eight- to 80-year-olds, they all love it. There's too much doom and gloom in this world so I love being involved in something that makes people happy."
There are no female monster truckers in the UK but three or four really good ones in the US, according to Mrs Morris, who, wouldn't you know it, doesn't drive at all. The most famous is the scantily clad, former WWE wrestler Madusa, who can help pull in a crowd of 100,000 for a single race. I'm a little ashamed to say that even such testosterone-filled tales failed to curb my enthusiasm. Two hours from my eco-friendly, vegetarian life in London, I seemed to have morphed into someone else.
Truckfest UK is in its 27th year. The biggest of five annual truck shows takes place in Peterborough and attracts in excess of 110,000 fans. Sandwiched between Warrington and Wigan, yesterday's event at Haydock Park racecourse is the smallest of the five, but more than 20,000 were expected over the weekend.
What started out as a low-key opportunity to meet fellow truckers, spend time with the family and admire a few shiny trucks has turned into a massive business opportunity for the road haulage industry. Recovery truck manufacturers, tyre companies and mat makers are all here hoping for a sale. The family atmosphere has not been lost. Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are out in force, showing off their wagons to wide-eyed little boys and their dads who then happily walk across to the fun fair.
There are plenty of WAGs here, too. Some may have been dragged along but most are just as awestruck as their men. By mid-morning the beer and merriment are flowing freely, while the smell of barbecued meat gets stronger. There is not a falafel in sight. This is no place for vegetarians: by the time I leave I am famished.
But it is an event for families. The majority of the 500 truckers here for the weekend have brought theirs along. Most are sleeping in their wagons, so-called "trampers" for the weekend. The lucky ones with corporate hospitality have tents provided by their employers.
Previous Truckfests can boast Take That and Boyzone as special guests. This year's celebrities include Rick Yemm, star of the cult series Ice Road Truckers, which began its third series on Five last week. Sporting a blue Mohican, multiple piercings and tattoos, he admits to feeling a little weary of his new-found fame. You can see why: I'd never heard of him before but four families approach him for a photo in the space of five minutes. "I feel sorry for the British truckers," says Yemm. "The driving legislation here is unbelievable. Me, I'm not really into following rules. We can drive for 13 hours without stopping."
Another attraction is Sally "Traffic" Boazman. Truckers love her and she loves them back. As Radio 2's traffic presenter for the past 10 years, she has relied on the drivers calling in with updates. "If one of my regulars calls in to say the M6 is jammed, I don't need to wait for the police report; they're always accurate. That's why I like to come and say thanks."
There is a genuine feeling of inclusiveness and fun; "a good day out" which I enjoy as much as any of the diehard fans. After all these years, I find that I'm actually an environmentally aware, vegetarian, bicycle-riding, egalitarian trucker chick. Who would have thought it?
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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