Monster Jam – the car-smashing, high-flying, wheels on steroids sport – is adding a Latino-themed truck to its lineup.
In an effort to appeal to a growing Latino audience, Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam introduced El Diablo, which will be the company’s first driver who is fluent in Spanish.
Although the company currently sports El Toro Loco, El Diablo is unique because its name was voted on and chosen by fans.
Mark Abernethy, a brand marketing director for Feld Motor Sports, says the company is revving up its efforts to reach Latino households.
“We’ve made an effort in the last 10 years in cities with large Latino fan bases, like Anaheim, San Diego, El Paso, Phoenix, and Houston, to bring in more Latino families,” he said. “But this year, we’ve gotten very serious about it.”
J.P. Ruggiero, the handsome and personable stuntman who is piloting El Diablo, is new to Monster Jam but is a veteran stunt driver. Monster trucks aren’t the easiest vehicles to maneuver, but when the company auditioned and hired Ruggiero, a fluent Spanish speaker and Southern California native whose family is from Argentina, they knew they’d found their guy.
Ruggiero is both a stunt man and stunt driver. He’s appeared in films such as Spiderman, Transformers, and the Italian Job. He’s no stranger to driving fast and hard – he began riding dirt bikes when he was 7 years old. By 17, he began off-road driving, commandeering a Baja Bug.
Today, in addition to driving El Diablo, Ruggiero is working toward his goal of racing his 1987 Jeep CJ-7, a vehicle he built from the ground up.
“The suspension on the Monster trucks is very similar to my jeep. The jeep drives on 42-inch tires, El Diablo’s on 66-tires,” he said. “I feel very comfortable with the kind of free-style jumping, climbing, and racing of El Diablo.”
The sport appeals to Latinos on many fronts, particularly because of its affordability. Unlike Nascar or many other professional sporting events where ticket prices can be in the hundreds, Monster Jam ticket prices average $16 for adults and as little as $5 for kids.
Over four million people attend Monster Jam shows each year, with a presence in every state in the U.S. According to Abernethy, both Ruggiero and El Diablo have helped with an uptick in sales to Latino fans.
Ruggiero said he’s been getting positive feedback from Latinos, who come up to him speaking Spanish.
“If feel like it’s such a great avenue to be able to reach out to Spanish speakers and to watch the kids and parents faces light up knowing we can easily communicate,” he said. “It’s like they feel ‘he’s one of us.’”
Rebekah Sager is a writer/editor for Fox News Latino. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager