Bari Musawwir was “always in love with anything on four wheels,” drawing cars and trucks as a child while collecting toy and model vehicles. When he began driving radio-controlled cars, though, he never imagined that competing in RC competitions would grab the attention of Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam.
Making his debut driving Backwards Bob in 2010, the 32-year-old Orlando, Fla., resident is now the driver of the popular Spider-Man truck. In anticipation of Monster Jam at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on March 8-10, The Weekender talked with Musawwir about fulfilling his lifelong dream, the hardest part about driving a massive truck, and his newfound appreciation for an iconic wall-crawler.
THE WEEKENDER: Tell us about that first freestyle monster truck competition you were in. What was that like?
BARI MUSAWWIR: It was just excitement. You know, the first show I did was out of the country, so you had that dynamic paired with driving this truck in front of thousands of fans. That was actually in Panama City, Panama. Once I knew the truck wasn't going to hurt me when it landed, I was like, “All right, game on. Let's go do this and have fun with it.” I did, and I had a blast. It was almost surreal because I was living a dream at the same time.
W: When you first drove a monster truck, what was the biggest challenge?
BM: I think the biggest challenge is just visual, being able to see out of the truck. It's not like driving a normal car where your vision is pretty good, where you have rearview mirrors and side-view mirrors… You're sitting up high, and you're going around obstacles that sometimes you can't see. That was the hardest part, and getting used to the rear steering. It takes a lot to get used to that, too. And then driving on dirt as opposed to driving on asphalt or concrete – it's definitely a different feeling.
W: Do you feel like driving RC cars prepared you for that in some way?
BM: Definitely in some way. I mean, the laws of physics still apply, so when you're jumping an RC truck, it's similar to how you can control the real truck in the air when you're positioning the truck, as far as tapping the breaks or giving it throttle and just the amount of speed you carry… It's almost like a simulator. But, just getting in a truck and doing it – there's no substitute for that at all.
W: Are there still challenges you have to face every time you drive, or is it like riding a bike now?
BM: Yeah, it's like riding a bike, but there're always still some things. Track conditions always change, and you're always making sure that all the little gremlins that come along with a piece of machinery are under control… I've got a good crew behind me, and they make sure the truck is 110 percent every time we go out.
W: What is your favorite trick to do?
BM: I like doing slap wheelies, which is when you jump a truck and try to get the front end to slap down, and then you get back on the gas, and hopefully, if the rear tires are planted, you can ride the front wheels in the air.
W: What gets the biggest reactions from the crowd?
BM: I would say if you're on that ragged edge and you flip the truck over, the fans always love that, but if you can almost be on the ragged edge and then save it to where you're still back on four wheels, the fans love that even more, I think.
W: What is it like doing an arena show like this one as opposed to an outdoor event?
BM: It's a smaller venue, so we try to get a truck that accelerates faster. We'll do a wheelie contest, see which truck does the best wheel stand, and then we'll do the racing bracket… and then a freestyle competition, where each truck comes out individually for 60 seconds and just does as many tricks and keeps up as much momentum and noise as possible.
W: How did you end up driving the Spider-Man truck?
BM: Well, after my rookie season, after I won the “Rookie of the Year,” they approached me and they said, “We would sure like you to represent our Spider-Man theme for 2012,” and I was like, “Well, that's a no-brainer. Let's do it,” and here I am, two years later.
W: Were you a Spider-Man fan before you drove the truck?
BM: Not like a huge comic fan, but I always liked the movies and stuff, but now that I'm in it, I can definitely see it's a global brand. I mean, there's Spider-Man merchandise everywhere you go, and the fan following of it is amazing. The fans show up at the pit party with the kids in their Spider-Man Halloween costumes on, so it's pretty cool.
W: What is it about monster trucks that fascinate both you and those fans?
BM: Just the sheer size of the trucks, first of all. They've got five-foot, six-inch tires on them, so that right there makes them recognizable, and they weigh 10,000 pounds, so they're huge. And then they have 1,500 horsepower, so they're loud. They're something you can't ignore. That's what grabs me, even at the early age of six. You can't turn away. You've got to look. When you see something like that flying through the air and landing and being as agile as they are, it's kind of amazing, especially if you've never seen it before.
Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam: March 8-10, 7:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 2 p.m. Sat. and Sun., Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza (255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre). $10 kids, $25-40 adults.