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Ryan Johnson, Published January 28 2014

Monster truck matchup: Truck, like those set to roar Saturday, goes head-to-head with Dodge Neon

FARGO - SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY!

Well, more like Friday and Saturday, but close enough.

Monster Jam will race into the Fargodome this weekend, bringing high-octane monster truck fun to the masses.

These massive trucks have been around in various forms for decades, the stars of large events that fill arenas across the country for a glimpse at the raw power and high-flying abilities of these supercharged beasts.

But for the non-mechanically inclined like me, it can be hard to understand just how much power is in these modern marvels.

I reached out to more enlightened experts to compare one of the newest additions to the Monster Jam fleet, the impressive Iron Man, to my beloved 1997 Dodge Neon Sport that’s served me well and taken me across the country since I bought it used in 2002 for $3,300.

Iron Man driver Dustin Brown and Kurt Jankowski, the service director of United Automotive Tech Center in Fargo and treasurer of Toppers Car Club, offered their take on this hypothetical (albeit ridiculous) matchup.

Size is everything

Without the tires, Brown said a Monster Jam vehicle looks just like a regular street truck. But add the 64-inch-tall and 44-inch-wide Terra tires and it becomes clear this is a monster.

Everything is bigger – the Iron Man is about 12 feet wide and 10 feet tall, while my Dodge Neon is less than 6 feet wide and 5 feet tall.

“If you stand next to one, they’re just huge,” said Jankowski. “It could drive right over your Neon like a speed bump.”

Perhaps the biggest size difference is found on the price tag. A new 1997 Dodge Neon Sport sold for a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $12,470, while Brown said a full-blown, state-of-the-art Monster Jam truck can cost $200,000 to $250,000.

Power

The transmission of a Monster Jam truck isn’t that much different from what we’d find under the hood of a new pickup, Brown said.

While the drivetrain has the same basic idea as a standard vehicle, he said everything is “so much bigger and beefier” – and the numbers prove that.

The drivetrain from a regular pickup might weigh 5 pounds; a Monster Jam drivetrain weighs 20. A pickup’s axle shaft might have a diameter of half an inch; a monster truck’s axle shaft is 2 inches.

Engine size and power also are in a league of their own for Monster Jam vehicles. My Dodge Neon has a 122-cubic-inch, 150-horsepower engine under its tiny hood, while the Iron Man has 1,500 horsepower from its 540-cubic-inch Merlin engine.

Smooth landings

The Iron Man can jump 125 feet and reach heights of 25 or 30 feet, depending on how hard the driver hits the ramp. Still, Brown said it’s a surprisingly smooth ride because of the high-tech shocks and custom-molded seats that hold the driver firmly in place, no matter how bumpy the track.

“Every now and then, you might do one jump in a 2-minute freestyle that you actually felt,” he said. “Everything else is kind of like landing on a pillow.”

The Neon’s flying abilities also depend on the driver, Jankowski said, but that’s not the real issue at stake here.

“Yeah, you could probably get your Neon to fly quite a ways,” he chuckled. “But it wouldn’t be drivable after you’re done. The landing would pretty much do it in.”

What makes a Monster Jam truck capable of reaching epic heights that would destroy my seemingly tough little car? Jankowski said the difference is in the suspension.

“The monster truck suspension is designed to absorb impacts,” he said. “Your car is designed to absorb cracks in the road.”

Maintenance

Every 3,000 miles or three months, the average vehicle undergoes an oil change that might take 20 or 25 minutes and require 4 or 5 quarts of standard motor oil.

But the Iron Man has a crew of one or two mechanics who spend two or three days after every performance fixing up the truck, changing the 12 to 14 quarts of straight 50-weight engine oil that doesn’t break down in the hot engine as easily as standard oil, and doing whatever else is necessary depending on damage.

With most of the Iron Man’s body and parts custom-made, maintenance can take much longer and cost much more than the relatively cheap bills I’ve faced to keep my old car on the road.

“It’s a lot more work than just changing the oil in a normal car,” Brown said.

Efficiency

Finally, a category that gives the Neon a chance to shine.

To properly compare the mileage of this little car and that giant truck, Brown said we have to understand that they’re running on different fuels.

When my 12.5-gallon tank runs low, I pull into the nearest gas station and top it off with the cheapest unleaded fuel possible. I can’t recall spending more than $45 – ever – to fill the Neon up, no matter how empty it was or how pricey the gas was.

But Brown said Monster Jam trucks run on methanol, which has a higher spark rating and burns better to make the motors run more efficiently. It also makes tune-ups easier, he said, because it’s less likely to sludge.

It has to be purchased in 55-gallon drums, and at $455 a drum, it’s not cheap – about $8.27 per gallon.

During a Monster Jam performance, each truck typically only runs for 3 or 4 minutes. In that short time, Brown said, the Iron Man could burn through 10 to 12 gallons of methanol – adding up to $82.70 to $99.24 of fuel alone.

“I think just on our team of two trucks in the four weeks we’ve done shows, we’ve already gone through 15 drums of fuel,” he said.

My Neon has achieved 43 miles per gallon on longer trips, and even its in-town mileage of 20 to 30 mpg isn’t bad. If a Monster Jam truck was taken out on the road for a long drive, Brown said it would likely get a half mile per gallon, or even less.

Neither vehicle is designed for high speeds – certainly not the Neon, with its small engine, nor the oversized Monster Jam trucks that can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour but only in short bursts.

“You probably get way better mileage, though,” Jankowski said.

If You Go

WHAT: Monster Jam monster truck series

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

WHERE: Fargodome, 1800 N. University Drive

TICKETS: Advance tickets are $10 for kids 12 and under, $20 for adults, $30 for Gold Circle seats and $45 for front row seats. All tickets will be an additional $2 the day of the show. Visit www.inforumtix.com or call (855) 694-6367 to purchase tickets.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587