NEESES - Johnny and Matt Bonnette are much like any other father-son combo who operate a race track.
They want people to come enjoy a family-fun experience around racing, while cheering on vehicles and drivers, witnessing the speed of competition and - to put it simply - the best mud-slinging events around.
That's why they are helping bring the fastest, most-exciting mud truck racing the Palmetto State has ever seen right here to Orangeburg County this month.
This coming weekend, on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25, the Thunder Valley Mudplex venue at 289 Ada Road in Neeses will host the first Mega Truck Series mud racing in South Carolina. The track measures 250-feet wide by 500-feet long, with four pit areas, and a full half-mile obstacle course with six jumps and eight turns.
If you need a description of the trucks in the MTS events, they have as much horsepower (1,000 to 2,000 horsepower) as monster trucks (around 10,000-plus pounds) dropped into trucks half that weight (around 4,800 to 5,000 pounds).
Safety is the first priority, with extreme fun the focus for everyone involved. Drivers and their trucks are fully available for fans to take photos, have conversations and get autographs throughout the racing events.
With MTS competitors coming from as far away as Texas for the opening race on the Mega Truck Series 2017 calendar, Matt Bonnette will be right there in the running with his Slime Time truck - the fourth-place finisher in the 2016 MTS race standings.
"At the last race of last season, we were there racing and they (MTS) knew we had a track here, so they asked if we could host the first race of the 2017 Mega Truck Series season," Matt Bonnette said this past week. "We agreed to it and we've been building up the track (enhanced guard rails, brighter lights for night racing, improved sound system, etc.) to what they wanted for the event.
"It brings in quality trucks from all over the country - Texas, Michigan, Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama, Maine, North Carolina, Florida and all over. With it being the first race of the season in the series, everybody has their equipment in great running order and their trucks are ready to get started."
Even competitors who have raced here at Thunder Valley in the past have called and signed up to come compete based solely on the excitement that MTS racing brings.
"Some MTS trucks have come and run in our events here at the track in the past, but this is the first time the series has come here for one of their events," Matt Bonnette said. "We started with the Mega Trucks in 2008 and now, with Slime Time, this is the third truck we've built for the series."
Slime Time was built at the Bonnette's Bull Swamp Fabrication location just outside Orangeburg, including the house-built chassis and the wheels.
"We've had success with this truck and we've had some issues, flipping it a few times and putting new bodies on it, that kind of a deal," Matt Bonnette said of Slime Time. "It's won races, it's been competitive and it's been consistent.
"That's helped with the points standings in the Mega Truck Series. Consistent is good, even if you don't win a race."
Matt Bonnette started "messing with mud drags" around the year 2000. From there, the interest and the truck builds just "kind of progressed."
Other racing series have held races at Thunder Valley, including Southern Mud Outlaws, based in Louisiana.
"It seems like the racing and the interest and the excitement at Thunder Valley has just grown each of the last few years," Matt Bonnette said. "Mega Truck Series will get us started this season, and then we've got two Southern Mud Outlaws races on the schedule for later this year.
"We have five events a year at the track, generally about six to eight weeks apart. You can bring your camper out to the track and hang out all weekend. We've got food for sale, bathrooms and showers for people to use."
Friday-only tickets cost $10, Saturday-only tickets cost $25, while two-day tickets for all the racing cost $30. Children ages seven and under will be admitted for free, while children ages 8-15 will be admitted for reduced prices.
"Thunder Valley MudPlex is one of the most family-friendly tracks around, and it's right here in Orangeburg County," track announcer Dave Renfroe said. "That's what this track was built for, so families can come out and enjoy racing together."
Primitive camping areas are available for fans to reserve to stay on site overnight on Friday.
From here, the Mega Truck Series will race in Waynesboro, Tenn. on March 25, South Pittsburg, Tenn. on April 8, Rush, Kentucky on April 29, Tallapoosa, Ga. on May 20, and Fort Worth, Texas on June 10.
Thunder Valley MudPlex Schedule 2017
Racing dates: Feb. 24-25, May 6, June 3, Aug. 4-5, Oct. 7
For more information, visit Thunder Valley MudPlex on FaceBook.