Before Frank Krmel seized the wheel of Blue Thunder, he drove a different 1,500-horsepower truck called Donkey Kong. Before Donkey Kong, he manhandled a rig called Hot Wheels, and before that he drove Del Scorcho. At 31 years old, Krmel (pronounced Kremmel) is a big-league monster-truck driver with five consecutive world finals under his belt and eight years spent behind the wheels of a 10,000-pound vehicle. He can do slap wheelies by jumping over an obstacle at high speed and using the bounce to send his truck vertical, standing on two wheels. He can spin doughnuts, kicking up clouds of dust that would blind anyone within a ten-foot radius. He's been known to jump distances of 100 to 125 feet, and to get a truck up to thirty feet off the ground. He's scaled rows of cars, vans, buses, and giant dirt obstacles. Krmel's most gut-curdling, hair-raising, heart-stopping trick — the sky wheely — requires him to ram into a crushed car, slam his foot on the throttle, and propel the truck up on its tail.
Such high-stamina maneuvers require self-discipline and derring-do. Krmel had the latter by nature. The former he honed over years on the race track. "I come from a motor sports background," Krmel said, explaining that his dad raced hydroplanes and that he grew up in a part of Detroit where dragsters, go-carts, and dirt bikes were all the rage. Krmel started on a go-cart at age fifteen, then did a little stock car racing. A few years later, he joined the crew of a Michigan-based monster truck called the Avenger as a mechanic. At that time, he still hoped to get a job in the straight world. "I was going to be a schoolteacher," he said. "I was all set to have a regular job. Then I started working on monster trucks and realized that's what I would want to do."
The life he chose is no joke. Krmel does about thirty Monster Jams a year, competing throughout the United States, Europe, and Latin America. He races trucks with 800-pound tires, giant dragster engines, and fuel tanks that carry twenty gallons of gas (most drivers fill up before the show and throw in another five gallons during intermission). He competes against multi-time world champion trucks like Grave Digger and Maximum Destruction ("the Yankees of monster trucking," Krmel said), and a whole slew of other formidable foes: Bounty Hunter, El Toro Loco, Monster Mutt, The Patriot, Obsession. January through March is the equivalent of monster-truck playoff season, when anyone could destroy anyone else. Krmel is sanguine. "We all want to beat each other on the tracks," he said. "Behind the scene we're friends." The Monster Truck Jam comes to Oakland Coliseum (7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland) on Saturday, Feb. 27. 7 p.m., $7.50-$30; $125 for all-access pass. MonsterJam.com