On a clear-sky Saturday, the only clouds in sight were the trails of red clay dirt trailing behind a team of monster truck drivers at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.
The smell of methanol and funnel cakes swept through the stands as drivers jumped over dirt hills and raced through the track. But in his Chevy Silverado monster truck, Brandon Derrow was having a full-circle moment — and it wasn’t from the donut tricks.
Derrow was driving on the dirt he grew up on and the Elkton native was having the opportunity to perform in front of his friends and family.
Before the track became unrecognizable after the first show, Derrow and four other monster truck drivers were meeting with fans and signing autographs on T-shirts, racing flags and hats. For every toddler that approached the team, Derrow felt a sense of nostalgia.
“I had always dreamed of driving monster trucks ever since I was little,” Derrow said. “My dad took me to my first show when I was 1 and a half years old. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
Saturday marked the first time the Monster Truck Racing League held a show at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds and brought out a crowd ready to enjoy the festivities.
The league is made up of five national TV monster trucks, Virginia’s only pro mini monster truck driver and extreme pro quad racers on ATVs. Featured monster trucks included Backdraft, Muddy Girl, Bad News Travels Fast, Instigator and Walking Tall.
As visitors filled the fair’s grandstand for the early afternoon show, drivers were experiencing one of their favorite parts about the show — meeting the fans.
“The pit parties are my favorite, especially at the local events,” Derrow said. “I get to see people I haven’t seen in a while and I get to meet fans from other states.”
While Derrow was the only local monster truck driver racing Saturday, he wasn’t the only Virginia native.
Tucker Rife, 12, of Moneta, is the state’s only pro mini monster truck driver and travels with the league. Tucker drives Top Dog, which is a tribute to his dog Roxie.
Tucker has been driving monster trucks for seven years and got involved after his dad, David Rife, also had a history of driving monster trucks.
“I enjoy interacting with the fans,” he said. “And I like putting on a good show for the fans.”
The driver behind Walking Tall, Tyler Wind, comes from the town of Tappahannock and carried a lengthy resume. Besides driving monster trucks, Wind is an orthopedic surgeon, a farmer and owner of Wind Vineyards at Laurel Grove.
Wind’s background alone makes him stand out among a crowd, but his moves behind the wheel of a monster truck take the cake.
During Saturday’s event, Wind continuously rallied up the crowd with his flying speed and high jumps that left him airborne for seconds at a time. It wasn’t until operational difficulties left him watching from the sidelines as the other four drivers continued on the show.
Wind said he got involved with monster truck racing because he enjoyed entertaining children, and had a friend looking to sell a monster truck.
“I wanted to keep the truck in the community,” he said. “And I love putting a smile on a kid’s face.”
People of all ages were enjoying Saturday’s monster truck event. For Kathy Carter, it was the first event she had attended in person since 2019.
Carter, of Goochland, has frequently visited the Rockingham County Fair in the past and when it was announced the Monster Truck Racing League was coming to the fairgrounds, it was a perfect opportunity to combine her love for monster trucks and the Shenandoah Valley.
“It’s nice to be out with a crowd,” she said.
As she walked around each monster truck before the show started, Carter said the truck standing out the most to her was Bad News Travels Fast — Derrow’s truck.
Carter said she was also a fan of Backdraft, which was a monster truck disguised as a fire truck that came with its own stuffed animal dog sitting by the window.
Backdraft, with its fire truck sirens and flashing red lights, was driven by Paul Breaud. Breaud is the owner of Xtreme Monster Sports based out of Airville, Pa., and monster trucks Muddy Girl and Instigator.
As an owner, Breaud is not only responsible for driving his own monster truck but making sure the needs of the other two monster trucks are met as well.
“Everything is running as a business,” he said.
Breaud is joined by Ty Cornelius, driver of Instigator, and Anne Streatch, driver of Muddy Girl.
Streatch started driving monster trucks in 2019 when she filled in for Breaud’s daughter, who originally drove Muddy Girl, for one of their shows. The temporary replacement later became permanent and Streatch became a part of the monster truck family
Streatch said one of the big misconceptions of monster truck racing is how much work goes into the job behind the scenes.
“It’s maybe two hours of fun and working at 2 or 3 a.m. to fix the truck,” she said. “But we can’t do the shows without the people.”
And the people make the show worthwhile. Both of Saturday’s races were sold out and showed a promising outlook that shows would pick up slowly as COVID-19 restrictions are loosened and vaccinations increase.
In the past, the league would host 40 to 45 events throughout the year, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the brakes for a period of time. As shows pick up again, Derrow said he was thankful for the fans, family and sponsors for supporting the industry.
“It’s not just a job,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle.”