"Yeah, K.J.?"

"You know what I don't get about Batman Begins?"

"What's that?"

Nancy, K.J., Jake, and Tod at the family’s warehouse.
Michael McElroy
Nancy, K.J., Jake, and Tod at the family’s warehouse.
K.J. signs pieces of a foam school bus.
Kevin Berryman
K.J. signs pieces of a foam school bus.

"Nobody found out about Batman, but there was a big hole in the ground, where he was building his bat cave. There were all these people coming and going." K.J. pauses to think. "Unless... he did all the construction work himself."

"Alfred, you know, the butler? I'm sure he knew," Nancy suggests.

"He probably did," he admits.

K.J. points to the yellow scab on his elbow.

"I had a big crash on my bike, and I was trying to steer myself forward, and I hit a rock, and I didn't see it, and I flew off the bike and scraped my elbow like this."

K.J. shifts in his seat and points his bony joint in the air, proudly, as if holding up something for show-and-tell.

The family pulls onto the fairgrounds. K.J. roars out of the door and rushes toward a red four-wheeler. He zips around the grass, making his way toward a group of junked cars next to the track. There are two minivans, with the word fag scrawled on one of them in spray paint.

Nancy excuses herself. She has to go to Walmart and get some cold cuts for the boys' lunch. As she steps away, Tod, with his easygoing tan and boat-moc-style Crocs, wraps up a conversation about merchandising. What he eventually envisions, he says, is a kids' monster truck league in which children can compete alongside K.J., using trucks supplied by his family's business. In the motorsports world, they already have junior-drag-racing leagues, he says, and junior quad competitions but no junior monster truck leagues. In the long run, he says, he and Nancy would like to set up a kids' monster truck camp on their land in Ocala.

"Right now, K.J. is in a league of his own," Nancy says plaintively.

The goal of these weekend expeditions, Tod says, is to get K.J. exposure and, with that, long-term commercial viability.

Other pros say that K.J.'s got what it takes to do that. Robert Parker has been driving monster trucks, including the famed Gravedigger No. 8, since 1984. Parker — who drove Pouncer that weekend but normally works as a professional catfisherman — sees a bright future for K.J. Some pros get involved in monster truck driving during their teenaged years, and there's one 14-year-old driver on the circuit, but K.J. is the youngest monster truck driver yet.

"He's going to be a world champion. Getting him started at that age, getting him behind the wheel so young," says Parker. "That kid's got talent. He'll be someone to reckon with when he gets of age."

By phone from Indiana, legendary monster truck driver Paul Shafer paints a grimmer picture of career monster trucking. Shafer's Monster Patrol is said to have been the third monster truck ever. (The truck was originally built by Fred Shafer, no relation, in 1979.) Shafer says that small promoters like Old Skool Motorsports — the group behind the Cedartown event — and himself are getting pushed out of the industry by entertainment conglomerates. Feld Entertainment, which puts on Monster Jam events, has changed the nature of the competition, Shafer says. Before Feld, people used to see the artistry of the custom trucks and the skill behind tricky jumps. At stadium events, though, the audience wants to see crashes and rollovers, which take place when a driver turns too quickly, causing the top-heavy truck to land on its roof.

This technique costs about $10,000 per truck per show, which small promoters just can't pony up. But it's the roll trucks, Shafer laments, that fill big, metropolitan arenas with up to 80,000 spectators. This leaves monster truckers like him with far less lucrative carnivals and the demolition derby circuit.

"You've got the big corporations around, and they're crashing the trucks, and it's all about the money," he says. "They do a show, and they roll over five trucks, and they do quite well. The private guys like me, we can't. A truck used to entertain people by going over cars, and the drivers would wave and sign autographs. Now, people go to the show and they want the trucks to hit a brick wall, to roll over and crash."

K.J. and Tod remain undeterred.

"What we eventually want are Kid K.J. Dolls or action figures," he says. "We're still looking for that sponsorship."

Nightfall at the fairgrounds. Pickup trucks crowd the parking lot. A faint westerly breeze carries the odor of funnel cake and burned hamburger to the stands. Nancy and Jake sit impatiently in the bleachers, waiting for this Friday night's exposition to begin.

Meanwhile, Durty Dingus McGee, a clown with smeared face paint and a live hen sitting on his head, calls kids to the track. Two adolescents descend. Durty Dingus, who refused to give his legal name, also out of concern about stalkers, puts a balloon on their heads, then pops it. Baby powder explodes out, all over them.

A little after 7 p.m., the announcer officially starts the show with a salute to the troops. "Without them, there wouldn't be any monster truck shows like tonight's," he says.

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