Few things quite capture the childlike glee of motor racing like Stadium Super Trucks. Robby Gordon founded the series to reboot the exciting short-track, arena-style truck racing where he cut his teeth alongside NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson. Gordon went on to race everything from Trophy Trucks in Baja (where he’s won the Baja 1000 three times) to the Indianapolis 500. When it came time to put the Stadium Super Trucks in front of an audience, Gordon managed to talk his way onto IndyCar support bills on temporary street circuits.
The street circuit races on the famous Long Beach street circuit use the traditional layout of close public streets, however the series add several ramps that can launch the trucks more than 15 feet into the air. With a suspension and chassis designed for off-road racing, tall curbs that bother the low-slung IndyCars barely register as speed bumps. That same suspension has more than two feet of travel, which means that turning corners can load the outside tires’ suspension enough to lift the inside-front wheel off the ground. Three-wheel action is par for the course here and the spectacle is incredible. There’s nothing else quite like it in the world and we were glad that photographer Larry Chen captured it in photos for us.
The trucks get their power from a race-prepared, dry-sump Chevy LS3 crate motor that makes more than 600 horsepower. Given that the trucks weigh only about 2,900 pounds, the racing trucks are real beasts. They do look plenty big on a street circuit, but the Stadium Super Trucks are essentially three-quarter-scale versions of Pro2 trucks like you’d find in The Off-Road Championship (TORC) or Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series. The series’ shop in Charlotte is the only builder for the trucks and they’ve turned out two dozen of them, 12 of which travel around for dates in the U.S. and another 12 that live in Australia to support a number of street-circuit events Down Under.
Since Stadium Super Trucks runs in both Australia and the United States, we thought we’d have a good chat with Matthew Brabham, a third-generation Australian-American race car driver who has raced in the Indianapolis 500. He comes from hardy racing stock: His grandfather Sir Jack Brabham won three Formula 1 championships and his father Geoff took home four IMSA GTP titles plus a win at Le Mans. Matthew is currently in the thick of the Stadium Super Trucks championship fight this year, so we asked him a bit about falling in with Robby Gordon’s series and what the trucks are like to race.
Roadkill: How did you end up driving for Robby in Stadium Super Trucks?
Matthew Brabham: It’s kind of an odd story, really. I was in Toronto driver-coaching for the Mazda Road to Indy and I saw the Super Trucks at that time going over the jumps there. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen so I went straight over to the paddock to have a look around and I definitely wanted to get involved and talking to all the other guys. It turned out that Paul Tracy had some commitments that came up and he couldn’t drive his truck, so I got to get in for the first time with like five minutes before the first practice session start. That was kind of it. I talked to some sponsors who got involved to do some more races and I’ve been in it since.
RK: Are they as fun to drive as they look they are?
Brabham: Oh, absolutely! They’re definitely the most fun I’ve had in the aspect of driving a car. I love the event and racing in IndyCar, but for pure enjoyment and just fun, the Super Truck is by far the best. There’s obviously such extreme conditions with jumps and dirt. All kinds of things are thrown at you and the racing is always super-close with competition yellows and making the fast guys start in the back. I love it. The trucks are so much fun to drive like a race car because they have such large shocks for the jumps that they just three-wheel around the corners. You can even two-wheel them.
RK: You’ve mentioned your background is in single-seaters; how abrupt was that change? Was the adjustment natural and do normal race car principles still apply?
MB: Some things were very natural, like braking and corner speeds and driving through the corners. What was new to me was the dirt-racing aspect with the jumping and the suspension travel and the way the trucks move around so much. That was the hardest thing to get used to. Driving them fast wasn’t so much the issue, it was just being under control and going over the jumps properly.
The off-road guys, they get that part naturally, but they don’t keep the corner speed as naturally. Driving a truck on a road course is quite a hard thing to do to get enough grip to go fast through the corners. It’s funny to hear how the guys come at it from different disciplines.They kind of struggle with that and I struggle with the jumps. After I got used to that—and it took quite a few races—I got quite comfortable and I was right there with them.
RK: Are the trucks really physical to drive? They look like they give the driver a good beating.
MB: They do if you get it all crossed up and you land a bit crooked on a big jump, but in the physical aspect, it doesn’t require too much physical fitness to race the trucks. We’ve got good power steering and the races are really short; we only have half-hour races. The physical side is not really comparable with IndyCar, where you have no power steering and the race goes on for three hours. The Super Trucks are physical in a different way; you have to brace yourself when you land and there’s a compression. That can knock the wind out of you a little bit, but that’s about it. All the guys seems OK once they get in; it doesn’t take people a couple of races to get up to being able to drive them. Everyone can jump in and get on it straight away.
RK: You’ve driven the trucks on dirt and on the road courses. How is that adjustment for both you and the trucks? Are there setup changes made between the two?
MB: They pretty much just let them race both in the same configuration. There’s not too many changes; the biggest one is mainly tire pressure to get more traction on the dirt. Most of the changes are to help the trucks jump nicer in the air, level and flat the way you want them to. There’s no real change to make them go faster or change from dirt to asphalt.
It’s a huge difference for me going to the dirt. I had to rethink my whole racing plan and strategy when I go out there because it requires a whole different driving style. It certainly took me a long time to get used to it and how the trucks perform. If anything, the trucks perform better on the dirt since they’re designed for the dirt stuff.
RK: When you mention “rethink your strategy,” that suggests you’re really competitive about this. Is it really competitive with the other drives, kind of a cut-throat thing?
MB: Everything on the track is pretty cut-throat and insanely competitive. Off the track, everything changes and we’re all good buddies. It’s like a night-and-day difference. The drivers are really good drivers, too. Robby is an awesome driver himself, obviously racing IndyCar and NASCAR and off-road. Then we have a lot of guys that come in like off-road champions and then guys like myself from the open-wheel side and people from touring cars like Paul [“The Dude”] Morris, who was teammates with my dad when he was racing in Australia.
There’s so many different racers and they’re all competitive. At the end of the day, it’s a serious championship and there’s prize money on the line. It helps me kind of make a living and the championship battle is a huge one. It’s really close at the moment; I think it’s me, Robby, Paul, and Sheldon [Creed] all pretty much even in the championship. We’re trying to win it and there’s good prize money for the end of the year championship. Also, we have a lot of sponsors that we want to reward with good publicity.
So on the track it’s super cut-throat, but not in the way that it’s dirty or we get upset at each other. There’s definitely some good competition and we’re pretty much passing at every corner and turning it to the inside. There’s not too many rules from stopping us, either. The only rule is pretty much that you can’t completely, deliberately drive up the back of someone and take them out, but if you can do a big slide job and door-bash them out of the way, that’s all OK. It makes for some great racing.
Follow Matthew Brabham on Faceook and on Twitter. You can learn more about Stadium Super Trucks on the series’ website and Facebook page. You can also watch full races on the Stadium Super Trucks YouTube Channel.