Veteran driver: Kayla Blood takes wheel of Soldier of Fortune in PPL ‘Monster Jam’
The Chinese recognize the year 2020 on their calendar as the “Year of the Rat.”
In the United States, one could easily say the past several years have been the year of the woman. Female visibility is on an upward trajectory in areas once thought to be the sole province of men.
In literal upward movement, astronaut Christina Koch recently crushed the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman; descending to earth after 328 days aloft.
The sports world witnessed an historic first this year when Katie Sowers, assistant offensive coach of the San Francisco 49ers, became the first women and the first openly LGBT person to coach in the Super Bowl.
While motor sports are still largely associated with male participation, women have competed in various forms of the sport for more than 100 years.
“Monster Jam, Triple Threat Series” 7 p.m. Feb. 21; 1 and 7 p.m. Feb. 22, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at PPL Center, Allentown, will feature top female and male drivers competing for a spot in the “Monster Jam World Finals” in Orlando, Fla., and the title of World Champion.
There will be high-flying trucks, mud, sweat, cheers and gears when “Monster Jam Triple Threat” makes its annual return to Allentown. Drivers will also be competing in ATV and Speedster class events. Be sure to pack ear plugs because it’s going to get loud inside the PPL Center.
Fan favorite Kayla Blood returns for this year’s event. “I am now in a new ‘Monster Jam’ truck. I am behind the wheel of Soldier of Fortune,” says Blood during a phone interview. “I used to drive El Toro Loco.”
El Toro Loco is now being driven by Armando Castro. “He’s a phenomenal driver and just represents El Toro Loco so well,” she says of her successor.
“It’s a tribute to the men and women in the military,” Blood says of Soldier of Fortune, the camouflage-bedecked monster truck.
“[Because of] my military background they [‘Monster Jam’ officials] asked me if I would like to drive Soldier of Fortune.
Blood served for six years with the Louisiana National Guard at Camp Beauregard, Pineville, La., beginning in 2009.
“It’s been an honor to represent the men and women of the military, especially being a veteran myself.”
Blood has been piloting the four-wheeled behemoths for five years and approaches each event as an opportunity for growth as a sportswoman.
“I’ve definitely learned as a driver that you are going to have your high moments, those moments where everything is going really well. Then you’re going to have those moments where you have, maybe truck issues, or just different things happen in a competition that are really going to get you down.
“But,” she adds, “you ultimately have to remember at the end of the day why we’re here and, you know, why we love our job.
“For me, that’s to be there to represent for females and especially when you have the audience that we have, the fan-base that we have, which are mostly kids and to have the little girls that come to ‘Monster Jam.’ I have to remember that I’m representing them.
“The fact that I’m even getting out there and attempting to do all the things that these men are doing, that’s inspiring them.
“I’ve definitely learned to just kind of not put so much pressure on myself.”
To become a successful “Monster Jam” driver, one must gain an understanding of skills beyond driving.
Prospective drivers start their journey at Monster Jam University, a training facility at Team Meents Shop, Paxton, Ill.
Instruction includes fundamental driving techniques, eventually progressing to mock events along with learning microphone skills and taping promotional videos. The goal is to groom the student to be event-ready behind the wheel and in front of the camera and fans.
“They’ll take you out there for a few months at Monster Jam University, and you’ll go through lots of training whether it be training in all three [types] of the vehicles, athletic training, media training, learning how to eat healthy, and being on the road and stuff.
“You really do get a leg up on a lot of things that a lot of the veteran drivers never did because Monster Jam University had never been there.”
Landing an audition for a coveted spot in the training program can be accomplished by persistence.
“I always tell them to get involved in motocross and start racing; build up a racer’s resume,” Blood advises wannabe “Monster Jammers.”
“You just have to put yourself out there. For me, I was racing my ATV at a ‘Monster Jam’ event, and that’s where I was scouted.
“Whether you are doing that, or whether you’re a mechanic working on a truck ... Whatever it is, you know, you’ve got to let people know that you are interested because so many people just go on without saying anything, hoping that someone will see them and at the end of the day it’s not [always] going to work.”
Blood stresses the importance of creating a body of work, an athlete’s resume, videos, anything that can be sent out to contacts in the sport.
“Some of these kids are messaging me, and the more and more I see these names and I see their commitment, I’m like, ‘All right, I’ve got to help them.’”
She recommends fans attend either of the pit parties that will be held prior to the 1 p.m. “Monster Jam,” Feb. 22 and 23. A separate admission is required for the pit party in addition to a valid ticket to the respective 1 p.m. main event.
“We have two pit parties, one on Saturday and one on Sunday before the shows from 10:30 [a.m.] to 12 [p.m.] and that’s just a really good opportunity to come out there and actually walk on the competing floor.
“All the ‘Monster Jam’ trucks, and their drivers will be set up on the floor and we’ll be signing autographs and taking pictures. It’s just a really good time for everyone to come out and to see the ‘Monster Jam’ trucks [up close].”
Tickets: PPL Center Box Office, 701 Hamilton St., Allentown; PPLCenter.com; 610-347-TIXX.