Still going strong: Meents still having fun driving monster trucks

Monster truck driver Tom Meents gets a workout just using a pen.

The Paxton resident who has won nine Monster Jam titles can spend as many as three hours signing autographs before and after performances. That would be enough to make most people’s arms ache, but Meents enjoys it.

He prepares for the season physically because of the toll monster truck performances take on the body.
“It’s a young man’s sport,” the 44-year-old Meents said. “I know I can go hard until I’m 50, (and) I’m not going to be able to do it forever.”

Meents, who spoke last week to the Rantoul Exchange Club, said he has been working out seriously for the last seven years and ratcheted up the workouts even more the last three years “to work on my core. I really work on my back and abs to take all the impact.

“This body takes a beating,” he said. “It’s more about good cardio.”

While a quality monster truck performance can leave rabid fans breathless, the same can be true for the drivers — emphasizing the need for good cardio fitness.

“I think a lot of time when you’re (driving) you forget to breathe,” Meents said. “(Good fitness) helps you recover your breath fast. It’s a scary ride, and you’ve got a lot going on in a hurry.”

A major job hazard for monster truck drivers is the pounding their body takes, especially on jumps. Meents said he has not been seriously injured but has been knocked unconscious twice.

He said he is not seeing a difference in his performance as he gets older, and so far he has no aches and pains.

While Meents was born and raised in Paxton, he also has ties to Rantoul. Meents worked for former local car dealer Warren Manley for seven years and for Duane Shields for a year and half after Shields bought out Manley before Meents went into monster trucking full time.

Meents said he had wanted to be a monster truck driver since he was 10 years old and got the chance when he helped fellow mud racer Paul Shafer with Shafer’s monster truck, Monster Patrol. Meents helped Shafer build a new monster truck. Shafer gave him a chance to drive in 1993, and Meents has been doing it ever since.

Meents’ Maximum Destruction truck is a favorite in Monster Jam circles — in large part because of Meents’ fearless driving style and his creativity.

Meents and Maximum Destruction have won five Monster Jam racing titles and four freestyle titles — the most of any driver.

In March 2009 at the Monster Jam World Finals 10, Meents became the first monster truck driver to do a complete back flip in competition.

To some it appears that Meents pushes it to the max.

During the 2004 World Finals in Las Vegas, Meents was undeterred when his truck broke a wheel. He said he didn’t consider stopping for a second, and he went on to share a piece of the world freestyle championship title as he continued his run until the truck would go no more.

The fun isn’t just confined to the arenas either. In 2005, after building a new house, he needed to find a way to get rid of the old one that had been moved to a field south of his shop on Paxton’s southeast side. He decided to dismantle it himself.

Meents drove Maximum Destruction through the house, leaving nothing but rubble — but not before soaring over it by launching the truck from an earthen ramp. The monster truck cleared the house by more than a story.

The stunt was captured for Speed Channel and has more than 100,000 hits on YouTube.

Meents has cut back his schedule from his younger days when he was home only about 10 weekends a year. Now, he’s on the road about 30 weeks a year.

On show weekends, he is generally gone from Thursday to Sunday — often heading overseas. Europe’s interest in Monster Jam is approaching that of the U.S., Meents said.

Meents isn’t the only one driving a Maximum Destruction truck either. There are three of them. On a given weekend, Meents and drivers Neil Elliott, a Paxton native now living in Florida, and Craig Christensen of Utah will be performing at different sites.

“Long hours, long days,” Meents said of the performance season.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

During show day, Meents generally arrives at the arena about 9 a.m., starting with a drivers meeting. A pit party is held in the afternoon that lasts about four hours where fans can meet their favorite drivers, get autographs and see the trucks up close.

Changeover and set up follows, and the show typically starts at 7 p.m. and goes to about 9:30. But the drivers’ day is far from over. There are more autographs to be signed.

“You sign autographs anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 hours,” Meents said. “At Monster Jams it’s fans first. That’s the main thing. We’re not like professional athletes in other sports. We’ll sign anyone’s autograph that wants it. It’s the most fan-friendly sport in the world.”

Meents said at an event in Holland, he signed 700 autographs in one night. It took three hours.

But the fans are one thing that Meents enjoys most. And the competition. The money’s not bad, either.
“It’s a good living,” Meents said. “It’s been a very good living. The best thing for me, besides how good the fans are, is definitely the ability to have your favorite dream come true, and you can make a living out of it.
“I like to be competitive, and the competition is tougher than it’s ever been. That makes it that much more rewarding when you can win.”

After every show, there are repairs to be made. (The truck is known for its many crashes, in large part because of Meents’ driving style.) Sometimes major repairs.

“When it’s Maximum Destruction, the damage is catastrophic,” Meents said.

The repairs can range from axle housings to suspension link bars, shocks and springs. Years ago, Meents said, there were more transmission problems. But they don’t make things the way they used to. They make them better, and parts tend to last longer on monster trucks.

“We spend every day to make it better, developing it, researching it,” said Meents. “We’ve made tons of improvements. Whenever we get a part that’s good enough we drive that much harder.”

When Meents does hang it up, he doesn’t figure to walk away from the sport.
“I’ll still be very involved,” he said, “and have other drivers, try to teach them to carry on the destruction.”

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