For couples who find dinner and a movie, well . . . super lame, grab tickets for Monster Jam this Valentine’s Day weekend at EnergySolutions Arena. Feel the roar of the motors and witness insane sky wheelies at the family-friendly monster truck event Feb. 14–16.
Practically a local, Nicole Johnson is excited to return to Salt Lake driving Scooby-Doo. A California native, she graduated from BYU and now lives in Las Vegas. Her first year driving monster trucks, Nicole broke the record for the most amount of racing wins by a rookie or a female in a single season. I interviewed Nicole about her history with motor sports and why she loves driving monster trucks.
What were you doing before you drove a monster truck?
"I was travelling with my husband to rock crawling competitions when someone asked me if I would like to drive their vehicle in the 2004 Women’s National Rock Crawling Championship, of all things. Of course, I had four-wheeled recreationally up until that point, just not in a competition. I replied, Yeah, sure,' and I won the event. That was probably the start of my desire to compete and get into real motor sports. It so felt good to win; I just wanted to do it again. I dabbled with rock crawling for a couple of years, not going totally pro, until 2007 when I committed to a full season and we purchased a competitive vehicle. All of a sudden, we were getting on the podium and getting noticed. I worked really hard to make sure our image was something that our moms could be proud of, keeping it family friendly and wholesome."
When did you make the switch to monster trucks?
"About three years ago, I met Dennis Anderson, the creator of the Grave Digger Monster Jam truck, and his son Ryan. It was actually a coincidental thing. When I said my name, Ryan said, 'Oh, you’re that rock crawler chick, aren’t you?' It was then that I realized all my work had paid off; someone outside my sport knew who I was. They told me they were looking for females and I said, 'It’s not like I know how to drive a monster truck, but if you’re looking for females, here I am.'
"Two weeks later I was sitting in my first monster truck ever, test driving Grave Digger. After two days of driving, they offered me the job. When I say two days, I mean like 30 minutes. After a few minutes, the trucks overheat and you have to let them cool off for 30 minutes to an hour.
"So when they offered me the job, I asked, 'What does that mean?' I hadn’t been to a show before, so I didn’t know what to expect. They told me I’d be touring the country and driving every weekend from January to March. I replied, 'Okay, great, let’s do it. When will I get to practice again?' They replied, 'Well, you won’t. The next time you’ll drive is your very first show.'
"Of course I said yes to the job because I was so thrilled, but I had some buyer's remorse. For the next two or three weeks until the show, I was at home crying, wondering what I had gotten myself into. That was three years ago and this is the start of my fourth season with Monster Jam. Now, I don’t cry when I go home. It’s been fun ever since."
What was your biggest hurdles as a monster truck driver?
"The biggest obstacle is probably just getting over the nervousness. There’s nothing that I’m actually afraid of; I’m used to looking at the different ramp angles and knowing what they’ll do to the truck and I know about how much throttle I need when I’m approaching a specific obstacle. It's just the mental game, in those few moments before the show starts that are the hardest part of the weekend. But as soon as we fire up those motors, man, it’s game on, it’s all adrenaline and all those nerves go away.
"The very best part of every weekend, and I’m not just saying this to pump the Pit Party, has to be when we have our Party in The Pits before the show. We’re going to have four performances while in Salt Lake and the Saturday 2 p.m. show will have a two-hour pit party beforehand where all of the kids and fans can come and meet the drivers, get their pictures taken next to the trucks and get autographs on all of their T-shirts. To me, that’s the best part. When we have a show with a pit party, all that nervousness before the show totally goes away because I’ve just spent two hours interacting with fans who are so thrilled to be there. When I get to meet little girls that are looking up to me and excited that they have a female driver to root for, then all of my nervousness goes away and I just want to put on a good show for them. When we have a pit party, I get so pumped that I forget all about my nervousness."
Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. (Pit Party at 11 a.m.); Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, 1 p.m.