Crushing cars for a living

Roseville native returns home to compete in Monster Jam

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 18, 2014

 Frank Krmel, a Roseville native, will be coming home to compete in the Monster Jam at Ford Field March 1.

Frank Krmel, a Roseville native, will be coming home to compete in the Monster Jam at Ford Field March 1.

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ROSEVILLE — From a young age, Frank Krmel knew he loved monster trucks.

The Roseville native, who first started going to monster truck rallies when he was a 2-year-old, is now one of the star drivers of the Monster Jam circuit, operating the Fox Sports 1 Cleatus truck.

Krmel and Cleatus currently are scheduled to participate at the Monster Jam event at Ford Field March 1 — the first time the truck has shown up at a Detroit event.

Krmel said with his dad taking him to monster truck events from a young age, he grew up interested in cars and racing. As he got older, he worked with go-karts, remote-controlled cars, and dragsters at school, but it was when he met the man who created the Avenger monster truck, Jim Koehler, of Columbus, Mich., that the idea of doing it for a living really hit home.

“He let me come to the shop after school, sweep up, clean up, and that’s how I got started,” Krmel said. “Then he let me drive for six-seven years, so 2002 was my first full-time year as a driver, and I’ve been driving Monster Jam trucks since.”

Krmel moved to Illinois to work full-time with the circuit, but he said he finds himself traveling across the world — a highlight of the job. He said he has driven in Monster Jam events across the U.S., in Europe and in the Middle East.

While currently driving Cleatus, Krmel said that he has driven a number of other vehicles, such as one themed on the Marvel Comics character Thor, while traveling overseas or filling in for other drivers.

“I think I’ve driven 30-32 trucks in my 12-year career,” he said. “El Toro Loco, Bounty Hunter — there are a lot of great trucks I’ve been lucky to drive. The Fox Sports truck has been my favorite so far — it’s the best equipment you’re going to get, the best team, everything you need to be successful.”

Much like a NASCAR racing team, Krmel said the driver is just one component of getting the truck running and winning. The mechanics and crew chief are vital parts that keep the monster trucks rolling.

Jamie Jakacki, the local Monster Jam promoter, said the event is split into two components. The first part is a race competition where two vehicles at a time compete on a track with the winner moving on in a single-elimination tournament. The second part is a freestyle competition.

“They get to race over hills, crush cars, do flips and do some really fun things, which earns them points,” Jakacki said. “And in the end, there’s a winner, the points are totaled and the winners compete at the world finals in Las Vegas (at the end of March).”

She said having local guys, including Krmel, at the March event will set it apart from the previous Monster Jam event held in January. Krmel said he enjoys the opportunity to do what he does in front of the people he grew up with.

In addition to enjoying driving the monster trucks, Krmel said he also likes the opportunity to give people an escape for a few hours from anything they may have going on in their lives.

“You come to Monster Jam, and you’re sitting there; you feel the power of the trucks,” Krmel said. “You can smell it, hear it — you just get to escape from reality.”

Even though he is on the road for at least 30 weekends out of the year, Krmel said he still has a few hobbies. He said he follows the Detroit sports teams closely and will check out Detroit Tigers games whenever the team plays in the same area he is visiting or if he has time to come visit in Michigan. He added that he has started running a legends race car in Flat Rock and elsewhere, and he still enjoys go-karts with his father.

“With as much as I travel, it’s just nice to spend time with friends and family, and grill out, and hang out,” Krmel said.

As a self-described “old-school racer,” he said he feels incredibly lucky to have landed his job.

“I’ve been lucky to do what I’ve gotten to do,” Krmel said. “I went to Wayne State University to be a schoolteacher, and I always wanted to have racing as a part of my life, and when I got the opportunity to do that, I jumped on it.”

Tickets for the Monster Jam are available at monsterjam.com and on ticketmaster.com, or by phone at (800) 745-3000. The event starts at 7 p.m. March 1, but a pit party is scheduled for people to meet the drivers and see the trucks up close from 2-5 p.m.

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