Jeremy Slifko is always ready to jump into the fire.
Slifko, 22, will heat up the Times Union Center in Albany on Friday and Saturday, as he revs up the fiery “Backdraft” during the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam Thunder Nationals.
Slifko’s “Backdraft,” a 12-foot tall, 12-foot wide, 10,000-pound monster truck, is dedicated to firefighters. The red and silver machine carries the number “343,” in honor of the 343 firefighters who died during the World Trade Center attack of Sept. 11, 2001.
Both Albany shows will begin at 7:30 p.m.
Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam Thunder Nationals
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
HOW MUCH: $42-$12, box office
MORE INFO: www.timesunioncenter-albany.com
“Every time I come on the floor, my biggest thing is I try to run as hard as I can,” Slifko said. “Those guys don’t leave anything laying on the table when they go in after people in a fire; they need somebody to cheer for. So I can’t leave anything laying on the table when I run.”
Slifko was born to run. He grew up working on “Eradicator,” the monster truck owned and operated by his father, Andy Slifko. He’s been competing in Monster Jam events since 2008, and his current seat is the one he wants to keep.
“ ‘Backdraft’ has been around since 1998,” Slifko said in a telephone interview from home in Pottsville, Pa., just back home from a show in San Antonio.
Keeping the name
“In 2005, my father and I acquired the name from the previous owner. We didn’t want to see such a great name go to the wayside. We picked it up, and to tell you the truth I’d never drive another truck in my life. It will always be ‘Backdraft.’ These firefighters are out there every day protecting us without a ‘thank you,’ and they help me do what I want to do. This is how we say thanks to them.”
The 1,650-horsepower “Backdraft” will have company on the Times Union Center’s floor. “Eradicator,” “Prowler,” “Predator,” “State of Destruction” and “XXX” will all be gassed for glory during freestyle racing, wheelie and doughnut contests. The trucks sit atop 66-inch tall tires and are built for short, high-powered bursts of speed. They can reach 100 mph.
Slifko likes to see the veteran names in competition.
“We’re a privateer team, totally independent; everything we do comes out of own pocket,” he said. “There have been guys who have been privateers who hung it up because is just got too costly for them. There are names that are sitting dormant that were top names 10 years ago. ‘Monster Patrol,’ ‘Barefoot,’ a couple of trucks like that were icons in the day.”
Meeting the fans
Slifko loves the experience of switching on “Backdraft’s” 22 lights and top bar of rolling lights. That’s just part of the thrill.
“It’s not so much the fun of driving the truck, I could do that in my backyard,” he said. “Monster Jam is very unique in what they do. They have a pit party before the show, most of the time before the Saturday night show. They let all the fans come down on the floor, the trucks are all put on the racing surface. We sign autographs for an hour or two. We meet and greet with everybody and take pictures, we do the whole deal.
“Another unique think about Monster Jam which you’ll never find in any other kind of sport is at the end of the show, all of the drivers go up on the concourse and sign autographs until every last person has left the business.”
The San Antonio show ended at 5 p.m. Slifko and other drivers signed and talked until about 9 o’clock. In Albany, the “party in the pit” will be held Saturday from 4 until 6 p.m.
Slifko said kids are among the sport’s biggest fans. Because so many kids seem to like fire engines, he believes that’s one reason his rig remains so popular. Others enjoy the skill behind the wheel.
“It’s quite a feat to see a truck get driven around a football stadium, let alone inside a little building,” he said. “It’s an adrenalin, on-the-edge-of-your-seat type of thing. When you go to Monster Jam, your seat doesn’t really get used that much.”
The latest version of “Backdraft” was just recently completed. Slifko ran the new truck for the first time in San Antonio; the Albany shows will be its second outing. The body will be replaced several times this year, there’s a lot of hard turns and landings ahead.
“This truck is built for destruction,” Slifko said. “We’re figuring we’ll get about five years out of it.”