BY CATHERINE RAINEY, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Loud engines, the smell of exhaust, screaming fans — these may be the first few things that come to your mind when you think of monster trucks. But that’s not all you’ll witness at the TRAXXAS Monster Truck Show Jan. 19 at the Mobile Civic Center. “One of the neatest things is the size,” remarked Tony Maderazzo, chief operations officer of the TRAXXAS Monster Truck Tour. “When those trucks start up, it’s a completely different sound and feel. You can literally feel the engine in your chest. It’s a rumble you can feel in your body!”

These 10,000-pound vehicles range from 10 feet tall to 13 feet wide with a minimum of 66-inch tires. Of course, any truck with tires smaller than 66 inches wouldn’t be considered a monster truck! The astonishing sight of the trucks launching in the air is compounded by their gigantic size. In fact, what seems like an impossible feat is executed quite gracefully and impressively.

“It’s like the aircraft carrier. It shouldn’t float! But its engineering allows it to do what it’s supposed to do,” Maderazzo said.

These trucks are custom-made from the ground up. They’ve come a long way from the start of the sport 30 years ago. Every driver is also the technician.

“For the most part, in order to be successful in the industry, you have to be the mechanic.” Maderazzo said. “When they started, you’d get a brand-new, super-duty pickup truck and you’d change it and lift it and add some chassis, but now they’re all truly custom machines. They are the NASCAR version of trucks.”

The truck is usually a fiberglass body and no lights, unless they’ve been installed later. They run on about 1,500 to 1,800 horsepower, use alcohol as fuel and have nitrogen gas shocks. But they also have features that keep the driver and spectators safe.

“It’s not about if they’re going to break, it’s when. We ask, when a drive shaft breaks, how do we contain that and make everyone safe? Over the years we’ve learned that there are drive shaft loops and wheel tethers — when a hub breaks, the tire gets held to the truck.”

Even more astounding is if, for example a transmission fails, the driver can change it as quickly as an intermission interval.

“These guys are amazing; you obviously don’t have to lift the truck up,” Maderazzo laughed. “You drop the transmission and they put a new one in. They can even do an engine swap.”

In the last several years, businesses have started to make specific-sized wheels and parts for monster trucks.

Although the monster truck show will include tricks and car crushing, there’s even more you can take part in. A “pit party” will be held beforehand. Here, you can go down onto the track where the trucks perform, but nothing is moving yet. You can talk to the drivers, take pictures and ask them all the questions you might have about their trucks and what they do.

“If you don’t know anything about monster trucks, you might wonder why is this here or how does that hap- pen,” Maderazzo said. “And if you’re a fan or fabricator — well, of course you have questions for these guys!”

The trucks will do three sorts of events. First, they race each other. The second portion of the show involves a two-wheel competition where the drivers attempt to drive on two wheels and get the truck as vertical as they can. The third is when the monster trucks come out in an untimed solo performance for the fans and really lets them see all the truck can do. Again, this is where the fans go wild and ultimately choose the champion.

But the main focus is the audience.

“[The drivers] are racing for points and a trophy at the end of the year, but that’s not why they’re doing this. They’re doing this to entertain the fans and to keep them involved in the entertainment as much as possible.”

From building the beasts themselves, to pushing them to their limits in daring stunts — the drivers are close to NASCAR caliber. It’s not just a show, it’s a sport.

Of course, a monster truck show is no quiet experience. If you’re bringing a little one — although they recommend not bringing children under 2 — they suggest hearing protection, which will be available at the event. Sound attenuators, which reduce the sound in an enclosed space, are also present.

General admission for adults is $17-22 and for children $10-15. Pit party passes are $10. VIP tickets, which include the pit party and a monster truck ride, are available for $30.

Visit mobilecivicctr.com for more details on where to get tickets and specific times.

UPDATE: TRAXXAS Monster Truck Tour will invade the Mobile Civic Center tomorrow evening, and the tour is inviting federal employees affected by the government shutdown to attend the show at no charge. The tour has made 500 complimentary tickets available for fans who have been impacted by the shutdown. Beginning at noon Saturday, federal workers can visit the Mobile Civic Center Box Office (401 Civic Center Drive) and receive two complimentary tickets with a valid government ID. Tickets will be issued on a first come, first served basis.

“All of us at the TRAXXAS Monster Truck Tour want to help our fans that are affected by the government shutdown,” said Chief Operations Officer Tony Maderazzo. “We may not be able to get Congress and the White House to agree on a budget deal, but we can offer those that are struggling through this difficult time an opportunity to enjoy a great evening. We all need to support each other and rally together at times like this. This is what defines us as Americans. When the chips are down, we stand together.”