For many of us that grew up in the 1970s and 80s, the recent slew of TV commercials for this weekend’s “Monster Jam” monster truck event in Oakland has been bringing back a flood of fond memories, with the overly-exaggerated and amped up announcer wildly informing us about the stampede of horsepower that is about to come thundering into town — though it’s Sat/26, not SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY as it seemed most of the ads back then proclaimed.
Generations of kids have undoubtedly imagined being in the driver’s seat of Bigfoot, Grave Digger, or one of the other many colorful and burly monstrous machines over the years, going to live shows, watching them on TV, or playing with their Hot Wheels toys in the backyard.
One Bay Area native who has gone on to actually become a professional monster truck driver is Kelvin Ramer, who was born and raised in Corralitos, down in Santa Cruz County. Ramer’s retro cool custom creation is Time Flys, a monster truck based on the body of a 1934 Ford pick up, which he drives for his own family-run team, the appropriately named Living The Dream Racing.
Ramer can trace his racing and automotive roots back to high school, where he spent a lot of time in the auto shop, and got his first 4x4. He then attended UTI, worked as a mechanic for several years, opened his own shop, Auto Care Towing, and gradually became involved with the local auto racing and monster truck scene.
Finally, about 14 years ago, he bought the first part to start building his own monster truck — but it would be another 7 years before it was completed.
“I started buying parts and saving money and building, saving and building until it was done,” says Ramer, who now takes part in about 30 monster truck events each year, some part of the famous 'Monster Jam' series, others at smaller, independent events, fairs, and festivals.
Considering the humble beginnings of his truck and team, Ramer has come a long way, having travelled all throughout the western United States with Time Flys — and now he even has his own official Hot Wheels car — Mattel approached him last year about making a replica toy of Time Flys, and he excitedly approved.
“From where we started to where we are now is sort of surreal. They’ve actually made a Hot Wheels of Time Flys! It’s sort of unbelievable that something I designed is a Hot Wheel. It’s like, ‘I’ve really made it big — I’ve got a Hot Wheel!’”
This weekend’s show will be somewhat like a hometown event for Ramer, who with his family and team, does all the work on the 10,500 pound, 1500 horsepower truck at his shop in Watsonville. On Saturday he’s expecting that he’ll probably see many of the same fans that have come to meet him before, which thrills him — and he always enjoys meeting new ones as well, and likes to use the opportunity to help inspire people, in several different ways.
“I had a whole bunch of Boy Scouts come up at the last show I was at — they were about the right age for algebra and calculus — so I started talking about how my shocks work, and how the pressures change in the shocks from the accumulator from the nitrogen side to the liquid side. I started giving them the numbers, and they realized that there’s a lot of mathematics involved in monster trucks and understanding how to adjust these things and tune them — you can actually lay it all out on paper mathematically.”
He also makes side trips to meet with some of his fans, such as a young boy in Turlock, who has had to have multiple heart surgeries, and he sees him every time he’s in town. He’s gotten to know the family over the past couple of years, and recently the boy’s mom told Ramer that her son won’t wear a nice shirt to the first day of school, he’ll only wear his Time Flys shirt.
Ramer says that it’s things like this that are really what he appreciates about being in the position that he is, whether it’s helping out charities, visiting one on one with fans, or simply getting out there and smashing some cars and blowing off some steam in front of thousands of spectators.
“To me, it’s really cool that I have the ability to let people forget their troubles for a few hours, and bring a smile to their face.”
"Monster Jam 2011"
Sat/26, 3 p.m. pit party; 7 p.m. main event, $7.50–$30
7000 Coliseum Way, Oakl.