Monster truck driver Nicole Johnson talks rock crawling, four wheeling and positive publicity
Nicole Johnson was already a seasoned four-wheeler and champion rock-crawler, so perhaps it wasn't surprising that after a chance meeting with a monster-truck legend -- Dennis Anderson, creator and driver of "Grave Digger" -- the Las Vegas native wound up in the driver's seat of "Scooby Doo," a 10,000 pound, 1500 horsepower truck.
Feld Motor Sports
In advance of the Monster Jam racing series opening this Friday, February 8 at the Pepsi Center, Johnson took time out from a busy morning in Vegas -- she was opening her gun shop for the day, to be precise -- to talk about the path to monster-truck stardom and the importance of working hard and keeping a clean public image.
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Westword: What's your schedule look like throughout the year -- when you're doing Monster Jam and then, well, doing the rest of your life?
Feld Motor Sports
Nicole Johnson: It gets a little fun and crazy the first quarter of each year. We go on tour right after New Year's and then we wrap up our tour at the end of March at World Finals in Las Vegas. It's my hometown, so it's a really fun show to be at. I pretty much leave Vegas every Thursday and then I fly home Sunday or Monday, depending on what the schedule looks like. So I'm gone every weekend for that three-month period.
The rest of the time I come home, do laundry. We've got two kids and two businesses and so it's like, there's no day off. It's just go, go, go as fast has we can run. The rest of the year I do some four-wheeling, and again, run the business and hang out with the kids.
Do you have to train or practice with your monster truck throughout the rest of the year when you're not on this tour?
Not really? Practice is really hard to do, because it's expensive to set up or create the environment that we have at the shows. There's safety concerns. It becomes an extremely expensive undertaking, so pretty much our only time to practice is to have another show.
Sometimes there are sporadic shows in the summer months and Monster Jam does go to Europe and Mexico. So we'll have different shows to stay brushed up on our skills. But primarily it's just, here you go! (Laughs) You've just got to jump right back into it.
How did you get into Monster Jam, and the motorsports arena of monster-truck racing?
My husband and I have had a rock-crawling team and have done four-wheeling for several years. Rock-crawling competition is just driving over some crazy terrain -- sometimes we have great vertical climbs or crazy side hills. It's like jeeping, basically, but on extreme terrain. A course designer will set up a series of cones that you have to try to navigate through; it's about finessing your vehicle through these obstacles.
We've done that for several years; that's my background. I've been four-wheeling forever. I've built up a decent resume and portfolio and gotten some good media doing rock crawling. Then a couple of years ago, I met Dennis Anderson, the creator of "Grave Digger," and his son Ryan at an automotive trade show in Las Vegas. When I introduced myself, Ryan -- who drives "Son Uva Digger" -- said, "Hey, you're that rock-crawling chick, aren't you?" And I said, "No way! Wow, you've heard of me?"
They said, "Hey, you should drive a monster truck." A couple of weeks later, I found myself test-driving "Grave Digger" in North Carolina. And I got the job, I guess you can say. It was really a combination of building up a decent portfolio with my off-road racing and rock-crawling background and being at the right place at the right time to have that introduction and be able to get my foot in the door.
I wasn't necessarily looking for it; all the stars and planets aligned, and here I am in a monster truck.