Iron Man monster truck makes Pittsburgh debut at Consol
Though the next “Avengers” blockbuster won't be in theaters until next year, Iron Man is visiting Pittsburgh this weekend.
The annual Monster Jam spectacular stops by Consol Energy Center Friday, Saturday and Sunday and features the Steel City debut of Iron Man, the superhero-themed truck driven by Lee O'Donnell. Among the trucks scheduled to appear are Grave Digger, Monster Mutt, Razin' Kane, Ice Cream Man, Illuminator and Instigator.
While the Penguins are taking a break for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Consol center will be transformed into a dirt racetrack with a series of obstacles. Preparations get under way Thursday morning when 100 truckloads of dirt will be dumped onto the arena floor in advance of the racing and high-flying aerial displays.
O'Donnell, a New Jersey native, has been competing on the Monster Jam circuit since 1999, but didn't land his own full-time truck until Iron Man in 2010. For the first 11 years, O'Donnell was a substitute driver and won multiple Monster Jam events as a hired gun.
“I guess the biggest difference (being a full-time driver) is the stability of having my own truck,” O'Donnell said last week. “I have the same truck, crew chief, my set-up. All these things make it possible to be a successful Monster Jam driver.”
O'Donnell said his truck is “definitely a crowd favorite,” and that often provides him with additional support at the Monster Jam tour stops.
For the uninitiated, Monster Jam events are broken into two segments — racing and freestyle. In the former, competitors go head-to head in a breakneck lap around the dirt track before going airborne to cross the finish line. The contestants are whittled down, bracket style, until the final two trucks square off for the racing title.
In the latter, each truck gets a set amount of time to complete as many tricks, jumps and stunts as possible. Fan judges rank their performances and the highest cumulative score is freestyle champion.
“I'm a racer for sure,” O'Donnell said. “In a stadium you only get one shot at winning, where in an arena you have a few shots to get it done. An arena, to me it's more personal. The fans can see inside the trucks because they're so close to the action, and I think that's pretty special.”
With the average Monster Jam truck checking in at 12 feet high and 12 feet wide — and weighing 10,000 pounds — O'Donnell and his fellow drivers take their lives in their hands every time they hit the track. Safety is paramount on the Monster Jam circuit, but it also takes nerves of steel.
“It's funny, I watch some of the things other drivers do and think, ‘I would never do that,'” O'Donnell said. “But when you strap yourself in and put your helmet on, something changes in my personality. On top of all that, I hate losing!”
Evening shows are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at 7:30, with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2. Tickets are $12 for kids and $25 for adults. For the Saturday and Sunday matinees, an extra $10 will gain you admission to the Party in the Pits. From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day, pit partiers can step onto the track, collect autographs, take photos and explore the obstacles the drivers will encounter.
And if you can't wait till the weekend to get a Monster Jam fix, there's a free Superheroes & Sweethearts Valentine's Party Thursday from 6-8 p.m. The family-friendly event includes free treats, face painting, balloon artists and superhero-inspired Valentine's Day activities and crafts.
For every person who attends Thursday's party, Monster Jam will donate one ticket to the Pittsburgh-based charity Tickets for Kids.
RSVP for the party by visiting the event page on MonsterJam.com, or by showing up Thursday at the Trib Total Media gate entrance. Doors open at 5:45 p.m.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952, or firstname.lastname@example.org.