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Safer than a Sunday drive

WANT TO GO?

Monster Jam

WHERE: Charleston Civic Center

WHEN: 7:30 Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: $25, $30 and $50, children (2-12) $5

INFO: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com

NOTE: A Pit Party pre-show runs 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday; adults $10, children $5 (2 p.m. show ticket required).

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The big, loud, mud-flinging machines coming to this weekend's Monster Jam at the Charleston Civic Center seem sort of dangerous and maybe should come out of the factory with some kind of sticker on them.

"Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that driving a monster truck is hazardous to your health."

Aaron Basl, the driver of Wolverine, just laughed.

"You'd think so," he said, "but I tell people these trucks are safe. These trucks are built for what we do. There's way more safety that goes into everything."

He listed a variety of safety features: driveline safety equipment, tethers to keep the wheels from going anywhere, an on-board fire suppression system and fire suits for all drivers.

"I tell people you're probably safer in one of these things than just driving down the freeway," Basl said. "You know what the truck is built for and what it can handle. You know the guys around you aren't purposely trying run into you.

"Going down the freeway? You don't know what the guy next to you is going to do."

The 33-year-old has been a monster truck driver for about 12 years. He and his twin brother, Daron, who drives Gravedigger, got their start in monster trucks through truck and tractor pulls.

Their family built two-wheel drive tractor pulls as a hobby and a diversion from the chores on their farm in Oregon. They took their tractor pulls out to local events and festivals.

"There were always two or three monster trucks there," he said. "And in our part of the show we'd get to do a little encore freestyle."

The brothers also got to talk to the monster truck drivers and crews. They asked the same basic questions over and over: how do you get into the business? What does it take to crew on a team? How do you become a monster truck driver?

"We'd talk to the drivers and help them look for parts if they were from out of town," Basl said.

During one show, they made friends with a crew from 2Xtreme Racing.

"They had Bounty Hunter and Scarlet Bandit," Basl said.

The brothers helped out with a lot of the manual labor like washing the trucks and doing odd jobs. By the end of the week, they exchanged phone numbers with the team and became their go-to guys whenever the teams were in Oregon or Northern California.

Months went by, and two slots opened up with the racing company -- one to drive and one to work on the crew. Basl's brother took a place behind the wheel for a Bearfoot truck, while he worked with the crew on Bounty Hunter.

"It was supposed to be temporary," he said. "But we did that for two and a half years."

After that, both brothers were offered driving jobs in Texas. His brother got Gravedigger, while he took a truck called Blacksmith that later became the Marvel comics tie-in vehicle, Wolverine.

Basl said every monster truck is sort of similar.

"Pretty much if you drive one, you can drive them all."

However, the trucks are personalized for performance or to a particular driver's taste. So, each handles slightly differently.

"You adapt quickly," he said.

And he loves driving.

"I never get tired of it," Basl said. "That and the fans are the best part."

The worst part?

"The only thing I get tired of is working on them," he said.

Over the course of three days, with multiple shows, the vehicles tend to get damaged and have to be repaired.

Basl explained, "In San Antonio, we rolled over both Gravedigger and Wolverine. We did the show until 10:30 and then had to fix them for the next day.

"We were up until 4:45 and then up at 8 to do a show at 2 p.m."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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