Monster-truck driver Cam McQueen is revved up for the Maple Leaf Monster Jam Tour

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In the car-crushing, gear-grinding, dirt-chewing world of monster trucks, it’s as close as Cam McQueen ever gets to a home game. So when the 34-year-old from Kelowna roars out onto the floor of B.C. Place Stadium as one of the headliners of the Maple Leaf Monster Jam Tour on Saturday (January 26), it won’t just be the 540-cubic-inch, 1,500-horsepower engine of his behemoth Northern Nightmare that’s fired up. McQueen, a rising star on the monster-truck circuit and the reigning World Jam freestyle world champion, will be revved up to put on a show for the Vancouver crowd.

He’s not only excited to have the chance to make the short trip down from the Okanagan—he’s also returning to the place where his monster-truck career began.

“The first show I ever did was in Vancouver back in 2008,” he tells the Straight in a telephone interview from his Kelowna home before heading back out on the road as part of a three-month North American tour. “I had been working to try to get into this sport for quite a while, but the company that was putting the shows on had plenty of drivers and didn’t need me. I was actually working for another company in Las Vegas when I got the phone call asking me if I could be in Vancouver, and I said, ‘Heck, yeah.’ That was my first true Monster Jam show that I ever did.”

McQueen jumped at the chance to drive one of the mighty machines that night, and he hasn’t looked back. And as he rose through the ranks, rolling over parked cars and his competition, he eventually earned the opportunity two years ago to get behind the wheel of his own truck. Now he’s the very proud man behind the wheel of Northern Nightmare, the only Canadian-themed truck out on tour.

Although he lives his dream, travelling the world, the hard-driving McQueen maintains he will always have a soft spot for Vancouver.

“It was a big show, especially for my first time in a real competition to roll the truck out into the stadium there and see all the fans, and I had a bunch of family and friends that had come down to watch,” he recalls fondly. “Now that we’re back in Vancouver again, it’s fun to relive that first experience in the truck. It was definitely a little nerve-racking. I didn’t have any practice, so I just strapped myself into the seat and it was showtime. But once I fired up the motor and the adrenaline started pumping, there was no holding back.”

McQueen has quickly become one of the faces of the monster-truck world, making a name for himself and earning a legion of fans by becoming the first driver to complete a back flip in competition, at a show in Jacksonville, Florida, three years ago. It’s a move he continues to use to wow audiences, but he doesn’t want it to be his greatest accomplishment in the sport.

So he and his team are constantly testing the boundaries of both man and machine to see what they can dream up next.

“We’re always pushing the envelope,” he explains. “The back flip was kind of a benchmark in our sport. It had been a while since something new like that had been seen. It was something the sport kind of needed to push it that much further, and now it’s not that the back flip is old news but it’s been seen enough that, as drivers, we’re thinking, ‘What else can we do to raise the bar?’ It’s always changing, and that’s one of the exciting parts about our sport.”

The Monster Jam shows consist of two types of competition: speed races and freestyle, where drivers get the chance to perform stunts of their choice. McQueen drove Northern Nightmare to the freestyle title at the world finals in Las Vegas last spring, and he has his sights set on defending the championship later this year. In order to qualify, he first has to earn enough points at individual shows like the one he’ll compete in at B.C. Place. And with the tour coming back to town, McQueen is ready to go full throttle, because in the world of monster-truck shows, bigger is better. And the size of the stadium here gives drivers the chance to put the pedal to the metal.

“The floor in Vancouver is one of the biggest we see throughout the season, and when we get a big floor space, we’ve got more room, which means more speed and we can get bigger jumps and more air,” he says, a hint of giddiness in his voice. “We have a lot more room to play around compared to the hockey rinks we often perform in. As a driver, it’s a lot easier when you can keep your momentum going. And it’s great to be able to keep the truck going and keep the fans going, because, ultimately, that is our goal.”
Obviously, monster trucks aren’t for everyone, and McQueen understands that. But he’s amazed at the cross section of fans he meets in pit row before every show. And as much as he loves climbing into the cab of his truck and doing his job, he gets a huge kick just out of seeing the look on children’s faces when they get the chance to get close to Northern Nightmare.

McQueen knows that feeling well. He, too, has loved trucks since he was a kid. And he’d always dreamed of one day sitting in the driver’s seat of one of those mighty machines. It means something special to be performing in Vancouver again, knowing that this is where that dream came true.

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