FYI WIRZ: Monster Jam on Tampa's NFL Turf Takes Mammoth Piles of Dirt

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIIJanuary 14, 2011

Dennis Anderson in the Grave Digger Monster Truck going airborne over dirt
Dennis Anderson in the Grave Digger Monster Truck going airborne over dirt

Monster Jam is about to roar into Tampa Bay for two big shows at Raymond James Stadium, Jan. 22 and Feb. 5. The United States Hot Rod Association campaigns a Monster Truck tour that pleases large crowds.  The facility will undergo dramatic changes.   

The stadium was built to host NFL and college football games, as it is the home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and University of South Florida Bulls, but the arena can be converted for other purposes.  According to Wikipedia, the largest crowd ever on record at the stadium was in October 2009 when a U2 concert drew more than 72,000 people.  Normal seating is 65,857.   

Monster Jam has drawn substantial crowds at the comfortable facility in the past, often in the 60,000 plus range. 

Monster Truck big tire racing features a timed race over a course requiring jumps over tall mounds of dirt and stationary objects like stacked cars and school buses.  It’s visually engaging and powerfully noisy.  Getting all the dirt in place is no simple task.

The RJS field is natural grass, Tifway 419 Bermuda, and has been touted as the best grass playing surface in the NFL.  

So how do they pile all that dirt onto a pampered field without destroying the grass?  The answer might seem simple, very carefully and very fast, but decades of show preparation have developed proven techniques.  

Monster Truck legend Dennis Anderson, the Grave Digger, explains the process and the enormity of the logistics.

Anderson, 50, has been a Monster Truck favorite since 1981 when he created the Grave Digger from discarded parts and boasted to competitors, “I’ll take this old junk and dig you a grave.”

Anderson has always had plenty of dirt to accommodate his claim. He explained the time line of moving all that dirt. 

“Well, what it is there is window of time to get that stuff in there,” Anderson said. “Sometimes on certain turf you can’t leave that stuff on for like 48 hours. Sometimes they’ll have 72 hours to get it in and get it out.”

The process requires an experienced crew with the right equipment.

“They lay down two thick layers of poly,” Anderson added. “They lay on two layers of ¾ inch plywood.  They’ll run one layer of plywood West and East.  Then they run a layer North and South.  Then they’ll haul in the material, bring in the dirt and pile it on top.  Once the show is done, they come out with big excavators and dump trucks, and they start hauling it off.  They have 12,000 yards of dirt that they haul in and haul out.  Basically it costs right around $40,000 to do that.”

Anderson has deep appreciation for his many fans and shared his thoughts about the crowds.

“We’ve got 60,000 to 70,000 fans at Raymond James Stadium coming soon,” Anderson said. “Florida is my most favorite state in the U.S. for Monster Trucks. Those people dig it. They’re mud people first and Monster Truck people second.  They are hard-core motor fans down there. 

“We have super fans of all walks.  We’ve got the good old guys that live on the back road.  We’ve got concrete crews, and moms and dads.  We got soccer moms bringing their kids to the shows now.  A long time ago it was just the good old guys on the back roads. It’s grown in leaps and bounds, and it’s still growing.”

“Even with the economy like it is, we’re still selling out these Monster Jams.”  

After the two monster shows come and go and all the dirt is removed, the Tifway 419 Bermuda grass field is once again under the expert care of diligent crews. 

Photo credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.