Nic Granlund
Pro Off-Road Racer

Nic Granlund and MonsterJam

History in the Making in Saudi Arabia

On March 14th 2017  I stepped on to an airplane to be a part of history in the making.  Winter storm Stella was raging in the eastern states, delaying and cancelling several flights, making my way to a new adventure even more challenging.  After flight reschedules and a new route through San Francisco and Istanbul, and then 24 hours of travel time, I was exhausted but it was well worth it.  I had made it for the first ever Monster Jam show in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.      
 
As the Monster Jam ATV coordinator, I have been fortunate to be a part of many Monster Jam firsts including shows in Mexico, Costa Rica, United Arab Emirates, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Holland, Australia and New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan and Spain and the but none have had the significance of this experience.

I learned while I was there, Saudi Arabia is a fairly young country founded in 1932 yet it has a strong cultural history.  Vision 2030, only established in April 2016, is a Saudi initiative to decrease Saudi’s dependance on oil exports and pave the way to introduce new industries including tourism and entertainment to Saudi Arabia.  Monster Jam is the very first entertainment event of its kind to occupy the King Fahd International Stadium.

​Prior to arriving in country, I was briefed on how to be culturally sensitive to the Saudi nation including dress codes and public behaviour.  I was excited but also uncertain of how this experience would turn out.  Arriving after midnight, I collected my bags and had a fairly uneventful trip through immigration and customs.  I met up with the Monster Jam security team and took the shuttle to the hotel.  This was my first chance to see the landscape and city of Riyadh.  It was dark but I was mesmerised by the lights and colour that adorned the freeways and buildings.​​
By 2 am I checked in to my room ready for some well needed rest as I would have an early shuttle in only a few hours to get my first look at King Fahd International Stadium.  In the morning I was joined by Jarad, one of my riders that also arrived a day early, to assist in the preparation of eight Monster Jam AVTs to be raced in the show.  While travelling to the stadium, I noticed an abundance of familiar businesses commonly found in the US and around the world including Dunkin’ Doughnuts, Baskin Robbins, Pizza Hut, Dominos and of course McDonalds.   I also saw major automobile dealerships including Toyota, Ford, GMC, Cadillac, Volvo, Mercedes, Ferrari, Bentley, Bugatti and several more high end supercars.  It felt like I was driving through Beverly Hills with a slightly different backdrop.  

The stadium, located outside of town is surrounded by an open landscape.  Pulling into the parking lot, I saw a large stadium with a large tent-like peaked roof providing shade and protection for the spectators.  The centre of the floor, however, is exposed to the elements.  As I walked out into the grass field at the centre of the stadium I was awestruck by the sheer size of the stadium floor and the 65,000+ seats surrounding it.  Soon the stadium would be transformed with hundreds of tons of dirt, safety holds and banners into the Monster Jam race course.  

After establishing our locker rooms, the long day of setting up the Monster Jam ATVs to be show ready began.   The ATVs are part of the Monster Jam international tour and were last raced in a show in the Philippians in June of last year.  The first order of business is always to either charge or replace dead batteries.  Next, we fill up the ATVs with fuel, start them and let them take in the first breath of Saudi air.  From there, we made a visual inspection assessing wear and tear, tightening any loose bolts or body work and fenders and replace any broken parts.  We also had to inspect the graphics and cover anything that would be deemed offensive by Saudi culture.  Specifically, graphics containing skull and cross bones amongst other things.  Once we accomplished this, I had eight ATVs show ready!


​As the sun was setting over the Saudi desert, I received word that the six remaining Monster Jam ATV riders completed their journey to Riyadh and had arrived at the hotel.  I grabbed a bite to eat at the stadium and then hopped on a shuttle to the hotel.  After a quick shower, Jared and I met up with the rest of my crew for a little pre show sight seeing at the Kingdom Centre Tower.  At the top of 99 floors is the sky bridge, offering 360 degree views of the city below.  Again, I enjoyed the many colours and spectacular view of Riyadh. 
The next morning began with breakfast with my crew and then off to the stadium for the start of show day.  We put on our race gear and each rider adjusted controls and tire pressure for personal preference.  Next up were the pre-show  pit parties.  The pit parties are one of my favourite parts of Monster Jam shows. Even though I have met 100’s of 1000’s of fans in my Monster Jam career, each time is a new experience.  I love to personally interact with fans and feel their excitement for the show.  It was no different in Saudi Arabia.  
   
During the pit party, I met a popular local ATV stunt driver with incredible videos on social media.  The kids are great too and getting to take photos with them on my ATV always brings big smiles to their face.  I cant imagine how many photos I’ve taken over the years.  This was also our first time to meet and interact with the Saudi Monster Jam fans.  They sure like to shake hands!  They were extremely friendly and gracious.  I definitely notice how times are changing and instead of sitting and signing autographs for hours, pictures and selfies are becoming the norm.  Instagram and Snapchat were amongst the favourite in Riyadh.
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The Monster Jam shows started a little later than normal each night and included extra  breaks during the shows to respect prayer time.  When the ATVs took to the field, we received a warm welcome from the 30,000+ fans.  And once the racing started, I could hear the cheers and excitement of the noise over the engines. After two exciting nights of close and tight racing, the Monster Jam ATVs had given the Saudi fans a great addition to the show.  

A different experience for myself and my riders was the intensity of enthusiasm from the fans.  They were completely awestruck!  Once the ATV portion of the show finished, I had the chance to catch my fellow Swedish Monster Jam competitor Alx Danielson win Monster Jam Monster Truck freestyle.  While in the service tunnels, as I make my way to the stands, I am constantly stopped by the behind-the-scene staff for photos and to once again experience enthusiastic hand shakes.  The overwhelming response from the promoter and the local support staff was amazing. 

Another favourite of mine is after the finale, all the competitors go out on the floor and wave goodby to the fans.  And again, the crowd waves back with loud cheers.  

Sunday morning my crew and I had some down time before our flights back to the US.  I was looking forward to the opportunity to see more of the city and experience the local culture.  We chose to hire a car and driver from Bangladesh that didn't speak any Arabic after living in Saudi for nine years.  Luckily, his english was understandable and he knew his way around.  We visited the Great Mosque of Riyadh but weren’t allowed to go in.  Walking through the old city centre, I could hear prayer chants coming through loud speakers as the local shops closed and customers and shop keepers make their way to the Mosque.  It reminded me of siesta in Spain.  

While we were travelling to our next destination, we saw a pack of camels in the distance and I asked the driver if we could get up close and stop. After a short off-road excursion through the Saudi desert, we stopped and climbed out of the car. After we began our approach, the driver warns us that some camels can be aggressive, might grab us and fling us around! We didn't care. We approached with caution while respecting their space. After photo ops and camel selfies, all eight of us climbed back into the car. 

 I would like to thank the Saudi General Authority for Entertainment, Monster Jam and it’s entire staff and finally the Monster Jam ATV crew of Freddie, Jason, Jarad, Tyler, Todd, Craig and Scott.  
   
We made several more stops including a man-made lake; a rare water sight in the desert.  During our tour, we could see a sand storm that we had been warned about brewing in the distance.  The sky was a mix of brown and pink.  Our final destination was to the historical district to view preserved architecture.  Our stop was brief as the winds picked up and I could feel raindrops.  On the way back to the hotel we found ourselves in a torrential downpour.  Once back at the hotel, I noticed something I had never seen before.  The raindrops, passing through the sandstorm, absorbed the sand and it rained sand and water, muddying anything it landed on.  The cars got dirtier and dirtier the more it rained.  It was quite a sight to see!

Reflecting back on my journey to Saudi Arabia, the biggest thing I can take away is the welcoming nature and friendliness of the local people. I was careful to be as respectful as I could and was given the same respect in return. I was told by many locals that they believe that Saudi’s are perceived as being inflexible to western culture but in fact they were very understanding. The first ever Monster Jam in Saudi Arabia was a huge success and I am looking forward to the opportunity to return again.