This column isn't about cars. It's about passion. Passion for motorsport. Passion for life. Passion for being the best. So relax, get your mind off your new coil-overs, and take a few minutes to learn about someone with real passion.
First, an admission. I'm a closet monster truck fan. Or maybe I should say I was a closet monster truck fan. At this point I'm not ashamed of my preoccupation with blown, alcohol-injected V8s powering Terra-Tire-shod, tube-framed crowd pleasers. I've loved these things since I saw Bigfoot pop a windshield out of an old Caprice back in 1982. Boy, have times changed.
And Dennis Anderson, the man behind Grave Digger, has changed with them. Anderson has been monster trucking for 23 years. He was there when the most exciting thing a monster truck driver could hope for was to pop a windshield out of some rotting land yacht during a slow and lazy crawl across its roof. And he's still here today, when it's unlikely the truck will even touch the roof of the cars it's jumping. In other words, he's been monster truckin' for a lot of years.
I ran into Anderson, a personal hero, at the SEMA show in Vegas last fall. He was there promoting Grave Digger, signing autographs and being the generally nice guy that he is. We talked for a few minutes at the show and later on the phone about Grave Digger and the spectacle that monster trucks are today. And I got a real education in passion.
During these conversations, I learned a lot about Grave Digger and monster trucks in general. Virtually every truck out there relies on one of four or five chassis designs. They all weigh between 9,500 and 10,500 pounds. And almost all of them run either a 540 or 572 cubic inch Merlin engine producing 1,300 to 1,400 hp.
Anderson knows he's successfully jumped Digger 167 feet-a distance that was measured at the World Jump-Off several years ago. But he estimates he's flown the truck up to 230 feet, a landing that resulted in an ugly crash. He's also had the Digger 25 feet in the air over a bus, hit 70 mph in competition and accelerated to 60 in 3.9 seconds. Serious numbers in anything that weighs 10,000 pounds.
But nothing seemed as important as when Anderson told me he'd gone completely broke three times during his years driving and owning Grave Digger. "Flat broke," he says. "No money for house payments, no money to keep the lights on."
He was forced to call it quits. But every time, a promoter would call, offer him another deal and he'd end up monster truckin' again.
Still, it wasn't easy. And before Grave Digger became the spectacle that it is now, Anderson paid some hefty dues. Today, there are up to seven Grave Diggers on any given weekend sailing over beat rigs at venues across the United States and Europe. Digger is on its 19th-generation chassis, a process that's executed through old-school trial-and-error testing rather than complex and expensive computer design. Digger's suspension is under constant development using external bypass gas dampers, and Anderson has trucks with suspension travel ranging from 18 to 30 inches.
Last spring in Las Vegas, Anderson and Digger won the World Finals, the Super Bowl of monster truckin'. And in a post-race interview he was visibly emotional, happy to have reached the top after so many years.
He credits his success to the fans. "The fans made the truck," says Anderson. "Without the merchandise sales we had in the early years I never would have been able to afford to keep going." Still, the fact is that without his balls-to-the-wall driving and Digger's spectacular green chassis, red headlights, zoomie pipes and airborn antics, the fans wouldn't have bought the merchandise. So, really, when you look at it in that regard, it boils down to commitment. Commitment and passion.
Anderson wasn't afraid to put it all on the line every time Digger pulled into an arena. He knew that if he was going to flip the truck or break the truck, it might just sell enough hats and T-shirts to get him to the next event. And that, my friends, is passion.
I think we could all learn a thing or two about heart from Anderson. I know I have.