Fans see the fun of monster trucks, not the work, longtime Louisville driver says

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comFebruary 27, 2014 

Driver Derick Anson, who's been in the monster truck business for 26 years, brings the Heavy Hitter to Rupp Arena this weekend.

COURTESY OF MONSTER JAM

  • IF YOU GO

    Monster Jam

    What: Monster truck rally scheduled to feature Heavy Hitter driven by Derick Anson, River Rat driven by Stevie Snellen, Thunder 4x4 driven by Jim Bendzick, Stone Crusher driven by Steve Sims, Hooked driven by Steven Sims, and Rap Attack driven by Dave Rappach.

    When: 7:30 p.m. March 1, 2 p.m. March 2

    Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St.

    Tickets: $25-$75. Available at (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.

    Also: A Party in the Pit pre-show event will be 5-6:30 March 1. Passes available to ticketholders for March 1 show.

Don't misunderstand: Derick Anson loves monster trucks. Loves them.

There's not much he likes to do more than work on or drive one of the rumbling mechanical beasts. By the time the Louisville-area resident drives into Rupp Arena this weekend as part of Monster Jam, he'll have been crashing cars and causing controlled mayhem for 26 years.

He can't imagine a life in which he isn't strapped into a "hooker harness" rolling through a big arena in his Heavy Hitter, a beast with 51/2-foot tires. (No, Kentucky lawyer Darryl Isaacs, who goes by that nickname, is not a sponsor of the truck, although Anson says he did think once about giving Isaacs a jingle.)

But Anson meets a lot of excited fans — usually young men — who are totally pumped because driving monster trucks must be The Best Job Ever.

Anson likes to let them know: "I love my job. But it is a job."

"I go to work every day. I work on the trucks getting them ready for the next week. A lot of people don't understand what's involved," said Anson, a roofer in the monster truck off-season. "To me, I'm just a glorified carnie, driving 20 hours in a semi and going back home, living in motels."

Still, he said, he wouldn't have it any other way.

Anson's dad had been into trucks. He got into the business when someone came looking for a driver for a show because their previous employee had, well, broken his neck.

Anson, 19 at the time, heard "monster truck" and "driver" and not so much "broken neck."

"I was ready to go," he said.

Now 45, he's been involved in monster trucks, off and on, ever since. He suggests anyone interested in getting involved in the business find a team that is looking for some help and learn by working in the shop.

"You have got to be mechanically inclined," he said.

Besides driving Heavy Hitter, Anson owns a monster called River Rat that's driven by Stevie Snellen.

Monster trucks really aren't trucks anymore. Folks like Anson aren't taking an old Chevy body and turning it into some steroid-soaked version of itself. They started out back in the '80s as modified street vehicles, but today, everything in a monster truck is custom made. Those custom touches allow for more extreme feats.

What a monster fan expects has changed over the years as trucks have evolved. Back when Big Foot, the first famous monster truck, came on the scene, some cars might get crushed. That'd be about it. Now, the monsters leap 50 feet into the air.

All that power can get expensive, Anson said, so the majority of the money he makes goes back into truck maintenance.

"Every penny I've ever made has gone into the trucks or has been spent by my wife," he said. Note: He and that woman are now divorced. "There is no money in it. No money."

Although a literal bad break gave him his start in the business, Anson said that aside from a couple of broken vertebrae, he's been lucky with his health. People would never guess, he said, that he's in his mid-40s.

If you land just right on those monster tires, it's "like landing in a box of marshmallows," he says. But "if you don't land on the tires, it will steam you."

Are there any plans for retirement?

"Noooooooooo," he said. Monster Jam is "the top. This is rock-star territory. "I'll be doing this as long as I can."

Anson figures if things go just right, he can drive for 13 more years and then his grandson, now 5, will be able to join the family business. Already, said the proud grandpa, "he is eat up with this stuff."

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms.

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