As the ground shook and the air vibrated with ear-rattling sound Saturday afternoon at the Santa Maria Strawberry Festival, kids of all ages kept bouncing out of the Minetti Arena and heading for the grandstands with big grins on their faces.
Monster Truck Madness, one of the new attractions the Strawberry Festival brought to the Santa Maria Fairpark this year, hadn’t even started yet.
But those “kids,” ranging from age 4 to their 60s, had just experienced something most people have not.
They’d just gone for a ride on a Monster Truck, and their adrenaline was pumping.
Four-year-old Mason Jerez of Santa Maria couldn’t stand still. He jumped up and down, ran around the field and scampered up and down the bleachers.
“Mama, mama, that was so fun!” he yelled to Monica Jerez, who chose not to join him on the ride. “It was so fun I was dying! I was scared! But it was so fun!”
Mason had just gotten off The Extinguisher, a Monster Truck built from a 1947 Mack fire truck by Jake Blackwell of Riverside.
For $10 a person, Monster Truck fans could climb a mobile metal stairway to 14 seats mounted down the center of the truck 12 feet above the ground.
Once everyone was securely belted in, Blackwell would fire up the 454-cubic-inch Chevy engine and set out on an eight-minute spin around the arena floor, the high-pitched screams of children audible even over the roar of the 400-horsepower motor.
The 32nd Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival — a three-day celebration of all things strawberry, the Santa Maria Valley's iconic crop — kic…
The rumbling former pumper truck swayed atop its 66-inch, 800-pound tires as it lumbered over mounds of dirt in the center of the arena, accelerated past the grandstands and turned figure-eights amid clouds of dust.
By Monster Truck standards, it was a tame ride — no heart-stopping launches off the dirt ramps, no cringe-worthy flights through empty air, no death-defying vertical landings on the front tires.
The tires, in fact, never left the ground, but still, even adults were thrilled.
“I enjoyed it very much,” said a smiling Kevin Oltman of Lompoc who took 4-year-old daughter Dallas along for the ride. “It was rough. Yeah, rough and fast. But it was good. Yeah, it was fun.”
Oltman said taking the ride was a surprise for Dallas.
“She loves the Monster Trucks on TV,” he explained.
A little shy, Dallas just smiled and nodded.
Blackwell said he’s been doing this for 22 years, and The Extinguisher is his fourth truck. He rescued it from the jaws of a car crusher at a wrecking yard in Fontana and turned it into a Monster Truck in his welding fabrication shop.
He’s been giving rides on it for the last 12 years.
“This will probably be my last one,” Blackwell said of the truck. “I’m thinking of retiring next year. I used to be a competitive driver.
“In fact, The Enforcer — not that particular truck, but an earlier Enforcer — used to be my truck,” he said, pointing to a Ford F-150 Monster Truck with a police black-and-white paint job parked across the arena.
“But I got hurt,” he said. “I hit the cars and broke my back, broke a vertebra. So I just do this now.”
“This” is putting big smiles on people’s faces, even if they only watch their children go for a ride.
“I just think it’s bitchin’ to let the kids go on this,” said Gabe Elizaldi who was there with Ramon Garnica, both of Carpinteria, and his son, two nephews and a friend’s daughter, ages 4 and 7. “But I’m not sure if I have to go.”
Since Garnica had a broken arm, Elizaldi was going to ride with the kids until he found out they could ride alone.
“I can save 10 bucks and get another beer,” he laughed.