For monster truck’s pilot, championship is in the family _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ --- Thousands of auto fans fill up the Louisiana Superdome for the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam Party in the Pits that lets fans get a close up look at the trucks and meet the drivers on Saturday, February 23, 2013. ”MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/ LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC./GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT/225/10/12/IN REGISTER/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/ MANDATORY CREDIT THE ADVOCATE/ELIOT KAMENITZ

NEW ORLEANS — At the Advanced Auto Parts Monster Jam on Saturday night, it was all about the fans.

Thousands flocked to the Superdome not only to watch the giant trucks demolish and crush cars and race, but also to get up close and personal with the drivers and their vehicles.

Each year, more than 4 million people come out to see the 10,000-pound trucks compete in two fan-favorites — the racing and the freestyle competitions.

Monster trucks are about 12 feet high and 12 feet wide. They are built for short, high-powered bursts of speed and can generate 1,500 to 2,000 horsepower while getting up to 100 mph. Monster trucks can fly through the air 125 to 130 feet, a distance greater than 14 cars placed side by side and up to 35 feet above the ground.

The jam kicked off with a pit party, a three-hour event before the racing started that allowed fans the opportunity to walk the floor of the Superdome to meet the drivers, take photos and get autographs. The family-oriented event also featured seven crushed cars that fans could sign, a bouncy slide and a kid’s area set up by the Louisiana Children’s Museum.

“It’s a really good event, we’re having a lot of fun. We had the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras and everyone had a good time and now we get to do something with the family,” said Dallas Fowler, who attended the Monster Jam for the first time with his wife and two daughters.

One of the most popular trucks was Zombie, the “Fans Choice” truck that was unveiled five weeks ago. The one-of-a-kind truck features zombie arms extending from the side mirrors and a gory zombie face. It was driven by Sean Duhon, a New Orleans native. Unlike other trucks in the jam, the Zombie truck has only had one driver.

“We came to see Grave Digger, but the Zombie truck is really kicking off and it’s great to see a New Orleanian driving,” Fowler said.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the debut of the monster truck Maximum Destruction, driven by Tom Meents. The truck made its first appearance Jan. 4, 2003, in the Houston Astrodome. Meents won the 2012 championship driving Maximum Destruction. To celebrate the truck’s 10th anniversary, Meents attempted a back flip for the first time in the Superdome.

The Monster Jam was a great event for children and adults alike.

“We came to bring the kids. The trucks are big and loud, once they start they engines they get really excited,” said Gretchen Watson, who attended with her family.