Grave Digger driver Dennis Anderson says there’s one major difference when he’s behind the wheel of a car and when he’s behind the wheel of a monster truck.
“When you’re driving a car, you have to be very careful not to hit anything,” said Anderson. “When you’re driving a monster truck, you try to run over everything.”
Anderson is one of the legendary drivers in the Monster Jam series, which is in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena this weekend. There was a Monster Jam show last night, and another one is set for today, Jan. 4, at 1 p.m.
Anderson took a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk to the Standard on Wednesday from his home near Kitty Hawk, N.C. He said he competes in about 25 monster truck events a year and the thrill of catching big air and crushing cars never gets old.
“I’m nervous every time I go out there so I guess you could say I’ve been nervous for 33 years,” said Anderson, 54. “The biggest challenge is to go out there and do great stunts while keeping your truck together. The freestyle segment of the show is what fans love the most. You try to put a series of tricks together, like a big jump and then follow it with a wheelie, while not breaking anything. But if I break something, I just keep going as long as I can. That’s when it gets exciting and the fans really get into it.”
Anderson says the most challenging trick to perform is a complete backflip where the truck makes an entire revolution and lands on its wheels. He said there is not enough space in smaller arenas like Nashville to attempt such a trick.
Such high-flying stunts have led to Anderson being injured on several occasions. He said the sport has emphasized safety in recent years and new safety measures have worked to drastically reduce injuries. Still, Anderson says he’s been hospitalized six times from monster truck injuries, which include breaking his back, several ribs, his arm, knee and shoulder.
Anderson says fans in Nashville will be in for a treat because he will be competing against one of his sons, Ryan Anderson, who drives Son-uva Digger.
“We have a real father-son rivalry on the track,” said Anderson. “These competitions are not at all staged. They’re real. He wants to beat his old man every chance he gets and I’m pretty competitive myself. I don’t like to lose.”
Other top-name trucks scheduled to be in Nashville this weekend are Monster Mutt driven by Rod Schmidt, Bounty Hunter driven by Jimmy Creten, and Barbarian driven by Devin Jones.
Anderson got his start in the early 1980s as a mud bogger, a sport that’s popular in Warren County. At one mud bog, a scheduled monster truck failed to show up and give a demonstration. Anderson, who already had large tractor tires on his pickup, offered to crush cars in the absence of the full-sized monster truck. The rest, you can say, is history.
Grave Digger became a complete monster truck in 1986. Back then, Anderson said his main rivals were Bigfoot, Barefoot, USA 1, and Awesome Kong.
“Now the biggest driver rivalry people want to see is between me and Tom Meents, who drives Maximum Destruction,” said Anderson. “Tom and his team will go all out and do anything. That’s what makes them so tough.”
Anderson says there are now 10 different Grave Digger trucks that make appearances around the country. The monster trucks weigh over 10,000 pounds, are 10 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
“I love the fans and I thank the fans for everything I have,” said Anderson. “Every bolt on my truck and every shingle on my house I have thanks to my fans and I want them to know they are appreciated.”
Anderson says the show in Nashville will consist of four segments – donut contest, wheelie contest, a race, and the freestyle segment.
Tickets are available at the Bridgestone Arena box office or online at www.bridgestonearena.com and through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or (800) 745-3000.