Alex Belmonte punches out after 10 1/2 hours of painting Toyotas and Hondas, making them look like their sensible selves again.
Inside the bathroom at Cook’s Collision II on Chiles Road, he tugs off his work boots and blue work shirt. He pulls on Oakland Raiders shoes, takes from a hanger a white football jersey emblazoned with safety Jack “The Assassin” Tatum’s black number 32.
Then, outside, Alex, who’s 52 with short black hair and gray in his mustache and goatee, turns the ignition on his 1999 GMC Sierra pickup.
Its engine sounds low and musical and menacing. Silver and black flames lick the white truck’s side.
With sunglasses perched on his nose, and a skull perched on his dashboard, Alex steers toward Woodland.
His daughter Lorena gave the truck its nickname: The Beast.
Its license plate: DA RDRZZ.
“Some of us represent being Raider fans harder than others,” Alex says. “It’s a fine line between fan and fanatic, and I think I’m teetering on that line.”
But The Beast represents far more than loyalty to his favorite team.
Back in the day
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, the second youngest of 10 children born to Emilio Belmonte, a farmworker, and his wife, Juanita, a homemaker, Alex came to Oakland at age 10.
The family lived in the rough Barrio 60s neighborhood. Alex played football in the streets — the kinds of games where a quarterback might tell his receiver to go long, then hook left at the green car.
Alex loved the violence of the game, the hitting. And he loved the Raiders.
Though his family didn’t have much money, he made it to most home games.
“I had my little hustle on. I had a paper route, did yard work and stuff — whatever I could. (Tickets) were cheaper back then.”
At 16, he started painting cars, making them into moving murals.
“Back in the day, when I got into it, I painted a lot of lowriders with the graphics and the bright colors and the candies and stuff. That was satisfying to be able to look at a car and say ‘I did that.’ ”
After graduating from Fremont High School, he enrolled at Heald Institute of Technology. He earned an associate’s degree in electronic engineering technology, then started on a bachelor’s before deciding that it wasn’t for him.
He got married. And he got out of Oakland — that’s how he describes it, off-hand, not so much as moving away from a hometown but as if he and most of his siblings escaped the neighborhood, one by one.
He took a job repairing Pac-Man, Q*Bert and other games at Chuck E. Cheese’s. He kept Chuck E., the mouse, Jasper T. Jowls, the dog, and other characters singing for pizza-eating kids.
In 1988, Alex and his wife, Yolanda, settled in Woodland, to be near her mother, the late Grace Sanchez. Along with Alex II, now 27, and Lorena, 25, the couple has a third child, Monica, 21, and a granddaughter, Angelica. She’s 7 — and “an avid Raider fan, as well,” Alex says.
Alex left behind beeping video games and Whac-a-Mole. He returned to painting cars.
A team effort
Alex bought his pickup used in 2002. He’d had a couple of lowriders before, sure; but for this truck, he visualized something more ambitious.
He set about transforming it with the help of his son, Alex II, friends and co-workers at Hayes Brothers Collision Repair in Woodland. They put maybe 350 to 400 man-hours into the project.
Most of the work was done for free. An auto paint rep donated about $3,000 worth of supplies. Alex traded labor, too, swapping his painting skills in trade for, say, a buddy doing body work.
On went a new exhaust system, cold-air intake, 20-inch rims. Off came the Sierra’s front end, replaced with that of a 2006 GMC Denali, and its tail lights, replaced with a pair salvaged from a 1999 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Door handles and fuel cover were shaved smooth.
Then, the painting: the Raiders’ shield logo on the hood, flames on the flanks and maybe 200 hours worth of airbrushing.
The tailgate features a pair of grim reapers. Between them, Death himself wears a Raider helmet. Swirling around him are ghoulish faces inside of helmets — ghosts of Raiders past.
Airbrushed onto the tonneau cover that fits over the truck’s bed is the team’s pirate, exposing a skull beneath the familiar face and eyepatch.
“He’s taking off the mask of a nice guy and revealing his true identify underneath,” Alex says.
The Beast was born.
Driving to the Oakland Coliseum, that’s like going home again.
Amid the brats and burger smoke, not far from an inflated Darth Vader and a drum and bugle corps tuning up to play “The Autumn Wind,” the team’s unofficial battle hymn, rests The Beast.
Nearby, men pose for photos in spiked shoulder pads and face paint, looking like silver and black extras from a “Mad Max” movie.
Tailgaters pause and circle the truck, taking pictures and peppering Alex with questions.
This is more fun, Alex says, than the games themselves. Especially lately. Over the past decade, Raider Nation has suffered through eight losing seasons. The team is 1-2 this fall.
Alex misses the Super Bowl-winning teams of old, misses stars from the ’70s and early ’80s, men like Tatum, tight end Dave Casper, wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, cornerback Lester Hayes.
“Nowadays, you get turf toe and you’re out for a year, you know what I mean? Guys used to play with broken legs back then.”
Alex has never splurged on season tickets. It never made sense, what with Yolanda and him spending so many weekends driving The Beast as far away as Texas or Colorado so they could root on their children playing football, soccer, softball, basketball or cheerleading.
Their youngest, Monica, became the first Woodland girl to play Pop Warner football. She delivered hits from the safety position — like a little Jack Tatum.
“She was bad, dude,” Alex says.
He makes it to a handful of Oakland games each season, usually AFC West games against the hated Broncos or Chargers or Chiefs. In a throwback jersey and dangling Raider earring, he and Yolanda serve up ribs, links, carne asada.
Other fans may be strangers, but they’re also family.
“We welcome everybody to come and join us in the tailgating and partake of our food, anything we have to share,” Alex says. “(The truck) just draws more friends.”
Silver, not gold
Two years back, a friend in Woodland’s Aztecas Car Club nudged Alex to enter The Beast in a show.
“My truck’s not a show truck,” said Alex, who then, as now, drove it daily.
“Your truck is bad,” his friend said.
Alex has since entered his truck into six competitions, each time taking home a plaque for a top-three finish. His wins include one during the 35th anniversary Lowrider Magazine Tour and two at Streetlow Magazine events.
Most days, he parks The Beast outside Cook’s (formerly Davis Autobody), as he has for about eight years. He hangs up his Raider shirt of the day (“It’s not just for game day, bro.”), punches in at 7:30 a.m., then starts returning other people’s cars to normal.
His own truck has a dent on one side — he bumped Yolanda’s van — that he’s not had time to repair.
For all the admiring looks The Beast gets at the Coliseum, Alex has done little painting for other fans.
“Times are tight. Times are hard. And that’s expensive work.”
Not long ago, Alex did get approached about a custom job by his brother-in-law Frank Gonzales, who is a San Francisco 49ers fan, of all things.
When their teams used to face off on the gridiron, the pair sat together.
Now, though, here was Frank with a new truck — in Niner red.
“He asked me if I’d put some gold on it,” Alex says.
“I told him, ‘Not a chance.’ ”
— Reach Cory Golden at 530-747-8046 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden.