Speaking with Cynthia Gauthier immediately breaks all preconceptions of who monster-truck drivers are or can be. And it isn't because she's a woman: Any '80s child who watched the cartoon Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines and witnessed the antics of twin sisters Red and Redder knows ladies are as capable of driving heavy machinery as any musclebound man.
It's actually Gauthier's French-Canadian accent that's prone to throw people for a loop: One doesn't usually associate Canucks with this most American of pastimes, where 12,000-pound trucks leap into the air and smash whatever might be lying beneath them.
Gauthier — who was born in Quebec but resides in Parrish on the Gulf Coast of Florida — found her way onto the monster-truck scene after injuring herself badly two years in a row as a motocross racer.
"I wanted something safer," she tells New Times. One doesn't normally equate monster trucks with high safety standards, but Gauthier insists otherwise. "We have the best safety. It's almost the same equipment as NASCAR." She shares that she walked away unscathed from one of her first jumps as a monster-truck driver, a smash that ended so dramatically it earned the nickname "the French Crash."
Gauthier learned to drive the 1,500-horsepower behemoths mostly through trial and error. "There's a university where you take classes, but you learn the most from mistakes on the track." She says one of the most difficult aspects for a newbie driver was controlling the front and back wheels separately. In particular, it took a lot of technical practice for her to figure out how to navigate the joystick that maneuvers the back wheels.
Despite the learning curve and imposing nature of the machines, Gauthier says fear was never an issue for her. "It's an adrenaline rush every time I drive one. I love to do the big jumps. That's what people know me for."
Miamians can witness Gauthier and her floppy-eared truck, Monster Mutt Dalmatian, get vertical when Monster Jam comes to town this Saturday and Sunday at Marlins Park. Guests who arrive early can even meet the drivers and gaze upon their monster trucks up close.
The main event is a two-hour show where audiences can see drivers in quarter-million-dollar monster trucks compete in three events.
"We're a big family backstage, but on the track, we want to win," Gauthier says. One of the events is a straightforward speed-centric race, where the first truck that crosses the finish line wins. There's also a skills competition where spectators can use their phones to vote for the winner, and then there's freestyle, which happens to be Gauthier's favorite. "That's the one with the wow moments. You do backflips and try to show off fun tricks."
Gauthier is known for a number of crowd-pleasing stunts, including bicycles, where she maneuvers the truck on only two side wheels, and the moonwalk, where she shifts the vehicle into reverse and drives with the back wheels in the air.
This weekend's Monster Jam will be Gauthier's first time competing in Miami, and she hopes to put on a memorable show. "I have a lot of family in Hallandale," she says. "My whole family stays in Florida in the winter." Whether you're a member of the Gauthier clan or simply an enthusiast of comically large vehicles, monster-truck-size thrills are all but guaranteed this weekend.
Monster Jam. 7 p.m. Saturday, February 22, and 3 p.m. Sunday, February 23, at Marlins Park, 501 Marlins Way, Miami; 305-480-1300. Tickets cost $15 to $75 via purchase.tickets.com.
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