Monster miracle? Injured emcee should make 'full recovery'
The monster truck emcee struck and rolled over by one of the trucks in the Friday, March 12 show at John Paul Jones Arena remained hospitalized in serious condition at UVA hospital on Tuesday, March 16, and according to a representative for the company responsible for organizing the weekend's two shows, the prognosis for the injured man, Ken Dickinson of Lyndhurst, is bright.
"I had the pleasure of speaking with him Saturday at intermission," says Zane Rettew, safety and entertainment director for Checkered Flag Productions. "They expect him to make a full recovery."
According to Rettew, Dickinson is an experienced and respected monster truck emcee who's been announcing for more than 20 years.
"He's one of the nicest, most polite gentleman I've ever met in my life," says Pennsylvania-based Rettew, who was in Charlottesville for both shows. "Everyone loves him like a dad."
Despite Dickinson's veteran status, Rettew says he became "distracted" and somehow stepped in front of one the massive vehicles–- the lobster shaped Crushstation–- just as it began to move forward.
Unveiled seven months ago, Crushstation is a labor of love owned by Maine native Greg Wechenbach, who, according to an article in a hometown paper, spent a decade and about $250,000 customizing the vehicle.
Because of the height of the Crustation, whose cab rides at least eight feet above ground, Rettew says Wechenbach couldn't see Dickinson and was relying on another ground official, who was motioning the red truck forward.
"There was no way Greg could have prevented anything," Rettew notes, adding that monster trucks, so tall that some drivers enter through a floor hatch, have a blind spot as as much as 25 feet long. Wechenbach, who has a private Facebook page, did not respond to a reporter's request for comment.
As the crowd, including many children, watched Friday, the approximately 10,000-pound truck first knocked Dickinson to the ground, then rolled across his body. A photo provided by an audience member shows Dickinson lying on the concrete floor, tread marks on his clothing, a bloodstain nearby.
While it might seem unbelievable that anyone could survive, Dickinson had the laws of physics on his side.
At 66-inches tall and 43-inches wide and filled to less than one third the pressure of the average car tire, monster truck tires distribute their weight over a much larger area, according to famed UVA physics professor Lou Bloomfield, author of How Things Work.
"You can tolerate pretty substantial pressures across the entire body," Bloomfield notes, adding that the average adult is carrying 20,000 pounds of atmospheric pressure at all times. Of course, he points out, that pressure is exerted equally over all sides of the body, so it cancels itself out.
While each of the truck's four massive tires might be carrying as much as 2,500 pounds, including the estimated 900 pounds for the tire's own weight, the force is spread over the tire's huge surface area; so, Bloomfield estimates, each square inch of rubber would only be carrying 10 or 20 pounds–- "not a big deal," he says, if the tires themselves were soft and if they roll over a soft, giving surface. But if rolled over an inflexible area of someone's body–- like a pelvic bone–- the pressure on that smaller area, Bloomfield says, would intensify to the point of broken bones.
A Facebook post made by someone claiming to be Dickinson's daughter, Suzie Dickinson Mawyer, says he would be having surgery on Monday afternoon to address five fractures in his pelvis. She promised that her "hard-head and strong" father–- who describes himself on Facebook as "an 18-year-old kid trapped in a 65-year-old body"–-was determined to recover.
Mawyer, contacted by email, and Dickinson's wife Sandi, reached in a UVA Hospital family lounge, both declined comment on the accident other than to express gratitude for the public's well wishes.
Whatever the cause of Dickinson's survival, Checkered Flag's Rettew says monster truckers are "ecstatic" that their friend and colleague is alive and doing well, and Rettew stresses that Dickinson's injury (and the crash of a motorcycle rider who broke his arm the same night at the Arena) are the first serious incidents in the company's two-decade history.
Other monster truck companies can't say the same. In January 2009, a six-year-old boy at a Tacoma, Washington, show sponsored by Feld Motor Sports was killed when a piece of debris struck him in the head. Eight days later, a monster truck promoter in Madison, Wisconsin, was killed after he was crushed by a truck during a show.
"Because of the sensational nature of our sport, we are extraordinarily proactive in our attempt to prevent any sort of injury to anyone," says Marty Garza of the Monster Truck Racing Association. "We're happy that we have the best track record in the motor sport industry."
As for questions voiced on television news about whether John Paul Jones Arena is simply too small for such events, both Garza and Rettew deny that space restrictions of the basketball-centric arena played any role in the Friday night accidents.
Rettew says the motorcylist's vehicle stalled mid-air, causing him to "ditch" it upon landing. He, too, is expected to recover fully, although the stunt was canceled for Saturday night's show.
"He'd practiced that jump 15 or 20 times earlier that day with no problem," says Rettew.
As for Dickinson, Rettew hopes he'll get soon get back to the emceeing he loves.
"His morale was very high," says Rettew of his conversation with the hospitalized Dickinson. "He's very thankful to be involved in an industry where everyone's so tight knit."