An Interview with Grave Digger Creator Dennis Anderson
There is a great story behind Grave Digger that as a mom to two boys who LOVE dirt and monster trucks (particularly Grave Digger) and trucks and smashing things, I now feel privileged to know.
I got a chance to talk to driver and creator of the legendary monster truck, Dennis Anderson, while he was in town for Tampa’s Monster Jam. This is Grave Digger’s 30th anniversary and the fan-love for the truck still goes strong.
The former mud bogger from North Carolina says Grave Digger was built back in 1982 out of a feud Anderson had with a kid growing up. “He was always the cocky guy with all the money and had all the big nice shiny trucks, and I built my own truck with these tractor tires on it to more or less bully him around and he came into the green room one morning running his mouth at me. We got into a mouth fight with a few choice words, I told him, ‘I’ll take this truck and I’ll dig you a grave!’ and I took a can of spray paint and I put Grave Digger on the side of it,” said Anderson.
But he wasn’t thinking about monster trucking at the time; Anderson says he got into that by accident. He went to a show where some local guys who had the first monster truck in the area were going to crush some cars, but the guys bailed.
“They just backed out and said ‘We can’t crush the cars’, so I’m going to be the hometown hero and go, ‘I can crush the cars! Check this out, look at old Grave Digger, so I brought my old battle truck out and I crushed the cars. And then it was history from there,” Anderson said.
Monster Trucking and Fatherhood
Anderson is also a proud father to four kids who are all grown up now (three boys and a girl) which pretty much makes him the coolest dad ever (at least my kids would think so. Or would be a close second, anyway…) So I asked him if he was the coolest dad ever to come to “career day” while his kids were growing up he said, he was, but there was a cost involved.
“I missed a lot of my kids stuff! You know, it’s like, sometimes I’m just envious of other fathers and other parents because they come see me, they bring their kids out and some of the kids, I remember one time this little kid looked up at me and he goes, ‘Adam and Ryan..’ because he had seen them on the big diamond vision, they were little and I was playing go carts with them, he said, ‘Adam and Ryan is the most luckiest kids in the world to have a dad like you,’ and I’m talking to myself, ‘No, you guys are lucky because your dad went to your soccer games, went to school plays and he’s got you here at Monster Jam. I was there at Monster Jam, my kids were in school, they had to stay home,” Anderson explained.
He may not have been home as much as he wanted to but times have changed now and his kids are on the road with him, as drivers and crew, so it’s a family affair that he’s proud of.
Monster Jam: Then and Now
Anderson says things have changed quite a bit over the 30 years he’s been racing. “Back in the beginning, if you just crawled over the top of two cars, mashed the roof down and broke the glasses, you were the biggest hero everybody cheered. If you came into Raymond James Stadium or a big stadium and done that today, they would boo you and throw popcorn on you!” he said.
Now people want bigger and better. (We sure are a spoiled bunch!) “You have to jump 25-30 feet in the air and you got all these big obstacles, plus the trucks from back then to where we are today, you know we’re talking about a $265,000 – $285,000 truck compared to an old, in the beginning it was a $1,500 truck then it was $20,000 so the innovation of monster trucks have come a long ways.”
Not only has monster trucking changed, but Anderson says the crowd’s changed too. “Back in the day it was the good old guy, I was the good old guy, I was the farmland boy, that was the people that came to us, through the tractor pulling,” said Anderson. “Now we have all walks of people. I call them the white collar, concrete cruising city slickers. The kids turned mom and dad into fans. That’s where we are today and they love it. “
Behind the Wheel
If I could get palpitations from my little loop around the parking lot perched atop a monster truck, what’s it like BEING INSIDE ONE? I had to know. “It is a total adrenaline rush,” says Anderson. “I will get out of the truck and felt like I chased it all around the floor, I will be absolutely out of breath because of my adrenaline, just going going going. I’ve been doing it 30 years and I still get that same adrenaline rush, it’s crazy.”
But he admits there are times he still gets nervous even after all these years. “My fans make me nervous because I don’t want to fail. I want this truck to rock the house, I want my fans to love me. My biggest fear is breaking the truck and not get the job done,” said Anderson.
Now, 30 years after creating Grave Digger and when he’s not traveling the country, Anderson can be found in Poplar Branch, North Carolina at his store, Digger’s Dungeon, the home of Grave Digger.
But did Dennis Anderson ever picture things turning out this way 30 years ago?
He says noway. “I never had a clue, you know honestly it wasn’t even a goal in life,” he says. “My biggest goal in life 30 years ago was to have a nice shop with a concrete floor and still have the biggest truck but I never thought it would go as far as it has, and you know, what can I say, I’m just an all-American guy absolutely living a dream.”
You can see the rest of my interview with Dennis Anderson in the video below.*
Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam show is tonight (January 21) but it’s also playing across the country tonight too, including San Diego, Sacramento, Houston, Minneapolis, and Toronto. The show is making its way across the country over the next few months and through July, so find out here when it’s coming to you! (You must go!)
You can check out our ride on the monster truck here.
(*Excuse the audio in the video, I just got a new video camera and I’m still working out the kinks!)
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