Boardman’s Joey Sylvester has a good ‘Bad Habit’
By John Bassetti
With names such as Bad Habit and Gravedigger, one is inclined to steer away from any association.
Throw in the word Monster and the Werewolf of London can’t be far behind.
But Joey Sylvester of Boardman isn’t shuddering at any of the ominous words or names.
The 29-year-old son of Joe and Kathy Sylvester of Boardman was in the limelight of the Monster Truck world when he competed in the Las Vegas Monster Jam world finals in late March in his Bad Habit vehicle.
“It’s the biggest Monster Truck event in the world,” Joey Sylvester said of the March 23 event, for which he qualified by winning the “Young Guns Shootout” the night before.
“I was the first truck to race and qualify my way into the world finals,” Sylvester said of his achievement.
“The series kind of picks who they want, so there are not really any qualifiers,” he said of the finals field’s selection process, which is usually limited to Monster Jam-owned drivers.
Friday’s Shootout comprised 12 trucks of up-and-coming drivers — some of the fastest in the country — and Joey topped them all. In Saturday finals, Sylvester was driving Bad Habit again, this time in a field of 28 trucks, which competed in two different formats: racing and freestyle.
Freestyle is an “expression session” when drivers have 90 seconds to put on a good show for the crowd and judges on a course of big jumps and obstacles.
“I finished with a score of 21, which was kind of in the middle of the pack,” Sylvester said. “It was a pretty crazy track and those jumps were big,” he said of the layout at sold-out, 40,000-seat Sam Boyd Stadium. “Those jumps are big, so it’s very hard on a truck. But I was able to go out and actually fill the clock and put on a good show and not destroy my truck,” he said of Bad Habit, which costs $150,000.
On Saturday, Sylvester was knocked out in the first round by Dennis Anderson and Gravedigger.
“I lost to him by less than half a wheel,” he said of the head-to-head racing style.
Sylvester first gained notoriety by setting a world-record jump of 208 feet in 2010, when Bad Habit beat Big Foot.
Although Sylvester competes in Monster Jam events on a regular basis during the series, he is unique, yet he doesn’t consider himself an outsider.
“I compete every weekend throughout the first quarter of the year,” he said of his inclusion in the Monster Jam schedule. “The difference between me and most of the other guys out there is that I own my own truck, paid for my own truck and built my own truck from scratch,” the 2002 Boardman High graduate said of his Sylvester Motorsports operation.
“Most of the guys out there drive trucks that are owned by Monster Jam,” he said of the Feld Entertainment subsidiary. “I’m competing against guys who have an unlimited budget.”
Joey said that his home-grown business has been in existence for seven years — the last five spent as a full-time occupation.
“I’ve traveled all over the country doing about 45 shows a year,” he said.
Now that the Monster Jam segment is over, Sylvester recently competed in Montreal at Olympic Stadium and he’ll continue to do shows through November.
On June 29, Sylvester is bringing a show back to the Canfield Fairgrounds.
“We’re promoting it along with the Canfield Rotary in conjunction with their 4th of July fireworks festival.”
The event will include eight Monster Trucks and a freestyle motocross.
“It’s going to be a pretty big show,” he said.
He was asked about the financial rewards of his job.
“It’s a tough business, it’s a lot of work,” he said bluntly. “There’s no 40-hour workweek — it’s more like 120 with no vacation. You’re on the road more than you’re home. It’s a very difficult occupation, but rewarding, but not monetarily. You’re not going to get rich off of it .”
What motivates him?
“Competition,” he said.
Sylvester started with dirt bikes and four-wheelers and he’s also done go-karts, motocross, cars and big-lifted trucks.
But Monster Trucks?
“It’s something I knew I wanted to do,” Joey said of pursuing his dream, starting at age 22.
He scoffs at the suggestion that Monster Trucks are just souped-up street pick-ups.
“It’s absolutely nothing like that,” said Sylvester, who explained that MT’s are purpose-built machines made from the ground up.
“It has a full-tube chassis and supercharged engine that runs on alcohol that makes 1,500-horsepower.”
He said the bodies are nothing but a fiberglass shell with no doors.
“There’s not a steel body like a regular truck and there’s only one seat,” Sylvester said. “There’s not a single part that’s off of a stock vehicle. We’re talking a 10,000-pound vehicle that goes from 0-60 in about four seconds and we’re launching them 30 to 40 feet in the air.”
Joey was asked if he lets anyone drive it.
“No, not yet.”
Sylvester Motorsports includes himself, his girlfriend and his family helping out whenever they can. He also has a few part-timers in the shop.
When its big tires are replaced with smaller ones, Bad Habit is hauled in an 80-foot, 18-wheel semi.
Sylvester was asked about the name of his Monster creation.
“A friend’s girlfriend was paging through a magazine and saw the title of an article, ‘Bad Habit.’ It was when we were trying to come up with a name for the truck, so she suggested it.”
Wouldn’t Frankenstein have been more fitting?
The team’s website is badhabit4x4.com.