Ask Joe Sylvester and he will agree Bristol Motor Speedway is the perfect place for a monster truck freestyle session. He returns to the July 29 Thompson Metal Monster Truck Madness as the defending freestyle champion.  

In just five short years, Sylvester has turned himself into one of monster truck racing’s up-and-coming freestyle stars.

“Last year (at Bristol), was great, especially for the first year,” he said. “I won freestyle last year, so I’m hoping to repeat that. The truck is working better and we have another season under our belt. I’m ready to come back and put on a good show.”

Sylvester’s success in freestyle probably can be attributed to the fact that he sees it as an opportunity to showcase the abilities of himself and his truck, named Bad Habit.

“Freestyle absolutely is my favorite,” Sylvester said. “It allows the drivers more creativity and allows us to show our personality a little more on the track. It is good for our sponsors too, because we have a few minutes where you are the only truck out there. Everyone on television and in the stands is looking at one truck. From a sponsor standpoint, that is really cool. I think freestyle is where it is at with the trucks…I try to concentrate my game on freestyle.”

Even more impressive than his freestyle skills, the 26-year-old from Boardman, Ohio is the youngest owner/operator in the monster truck business. An acute business sense helped him achieve his goal of racing monster trucks.

“Since I was a kid,” he explained, “I’ve been around vehicles and machinery. I started running machinery when I was five. I’ve always liked monster trucks since I was a kid. I’ve raced cars, bicycles, motorcross. I did freestyle on bikes and quads. I decided I wanted to move on and monster trucks were the next thing I wanted to do.

“I worked with Randy Moore from Bristol. He helped me get my feet wet. I went to college for a few years. My family is involved in business with a construction company, and I’ve got a business mind. I was able to propose a business plan to the bank and was able to get the funding for a professional monster truck team. I bought a used monster truck team. I’ve got a different hauler now, and I built a new truck last year.”

Sylvester completely funds the business himself. He also drives the monster truck and the transporter. Not only does he work on the truck, he completely built it. With such a hands-on knowledge of the sport, Sylvester knows exactly what it takes to keep the machines running at the top of their game.

“It is a never ending battle,” he said. “The way we drive is hard on the trucks. You have to plan ahead to make sure you have spare parts on the trailer and back at the shop. The more fabricating and things you know how to do yourself helps. It is more cost effective and you don’t have to rely on anyone else.

“We build our own parts, we keep up on maintenance and we go over the truck with a fine tooth comb every week. If something looks like it is about to break, we replace it before it becomes a problem.”

Fans will have a chance to see Sylvester’s handiwork up close during the pre-race pit party at Monster Truck Madness.

“There is no other sport that offers something like that where fans have that hands-on experience with the drivers,” he said about the pit party. “It is cool to meet our fans and talk to them and answer their questions. It helps them relate to us and realize we’re all just regular guys trying to put on a good show for them.

“In today’s economy, people work hard for their money and they want to see a quality show. That is all part of the show we give them. We like to be personal with our fans and see what they are about and let them see what we are about.”

Sylvester has experienced much success in his relatively brief career, and he offered a few words of advice to kids hoping to find themselves in the same place.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” he said. “Keep your head up and keep a positive mental attitude. Don’t let drugs or alcohol get in the way of your goal, because that stuff will only hinder your performance and hold you down like a boat anchor from accomplishing your goal. Keep a positive outlook. When someone talks down to you, let it go in one ear and out the other. As long as you are willing to work and not let anything stand in your way, you’ll accomplish it. It is a mental thing.”

Eight of the biggest names in monster truck racing come to town for a show that will be just exciting as the ones on television. Trucks currently scheduled to appear are War Wizard, Avenger, Brutus, Equalizer, Rammunition, Tailgator, Raminator and Bad Habit.

Fans will see the trucks go head to head in racing, followed by freestyle.

For those that want to get even closer to the action, the pre-race pit party allows fans to come to the infield of the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” to meet the drivers, get autographs and pose for pictures next to the trucks. Merchandise from the drivers also will be available for purchase.

In addition, the Team FMX freestyle motocross team will put on a stunning display of awesome jumps and stunts just like the ones seen on TV. The routines are always a crowd-favorite and the Team FMX riders always are happy to put on an amazing show for their screaming fans.

New to this year’s event is a junk car burn down. A jet car, chained to an old junker, will turn on the afterburners and torch the car until it melts to the ground.

The evening ends with a fireworks show to light up the skies above BMS.

The Monster Truck Madness Pit Party begins at 6 p.m. and takes place on the backstretch. Racing action begins at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the gate. Coupons for $5 off adult admission tickets purchased on the day of the event will be available at Thompson Metal Services in Kingsport, Roadrunner Convenience Stores, and area Fas Mart locations. Children 10 and under are only $5.

To purchase tickets in advance, please visit the BMS ticket office located on the first floor of the Bruton Smith administration building or call (423) 989-6900.