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Zoinks! Scooby-Doo truck featured at Monster Jam

July 17, 2013|By MAGGIE WOLFF PETERSON | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Scooby-Doos driver is Nicole Johnson, shown below, one of the very few women driving monster trucks.
Mark Walker 916-801-8989 / Mark Walker Photography

HAGERSTOWN — Nicole Johnson isn’t the only female driver in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam, but almost. 

Women are rarities behind the wheel of the oversized, growling trucks that can fly through the air and crush smaller vehicles beneath their enormous wheels.

She wouldn’t have it any other way. 

A longtime leisure driver, Johnson learned her craft through “rock crawling,” an extreme form of offroad driving that takes heavy-duty dune buggies over boulders, mountainous hillsides and other rough terrain. 

“My competition vehicle of choice was a hand-built, custom buggy,” she said.

In rock crawling, the world is a driver’s obstacle course. 

“Sometimes you’re at crazy angles,” Johnson said.

The Las Vegas-based mother of two boys made her passion into a family event, so today she lays claim to being the “coolest mom in the world.” Her two sons, ages 12 and 15, “were around the rock crawling as babies. They were around Mom rolling over and bursting into flames.”

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She says it’s just another regular day when mom zips into her purple professional driving duds, climbs into her vehicle and fits helmet and restraint straps around herself.

Her vehicle is Scooby-Doo, a monster truck that made its debut in January. Johnson will be driving Scooby Friday, July 19, through Sunday, July 21, at Hagerstown Speedway.

Johnson said she was asked to join the show through a chance meeting with a couple of professional drivers.

“I got lucky,” she said.

Her experience in rock crawling was all she needed to establish credibility and prepare for driving a monster truck. Her favorite aspect of the work is “flying through the air,” she said. “I like the big jumps.”

But Johnson also loves meeting the crowd, at “pit parties,” where she can interact one-on-one, and take photos with kids. And she loves to hear cheering.

“I’ve always been kind of a hambone, the center of attention,” she said. “I always thought I’d entertain people.”

Monster Jam comes at a time of year when drivers are rested and ready to perform, Johnson said. Their heavy tour season runs from January to March, “back-to-back weekends, for 12 weeks.” 

Except for some occasional weekends, including shows in Europe and South America, the rest of the year is off-time for Johnson. She calls Monster Jam “a really comfortable summer show. Everybody is refreshed.” 

In fact, they haven’t driven the trucks much at all. Not even to practice. 

“It’s very expensive to simulate the environment we have during the shows,” Johnson said. There’s fuel and terrain maintenance, plus safety personnel, pit crew and mechanics to pay when the trucks run. So, unless they’re performing, the trucks don’t run.

“I just fly into the venue, drive, and come home,” Johnson said.

But she doesn’t worry about danger. Johnson is the only driver for Scooby-Doo, which has been engineered to fit her precisely. A custom-fit driver’s seat, for which 20 separate measurements of her body were taken, is “just like what a NASCAR driver would use,” she said.

Additionally, Johnson wears a five-point harness and restraints for her neck and head “that bolt to the helmet,” she said. “Basically, I can’t move a quarter inch in any direction, and that’s what you want.”

This will be Scooby-Doo’s first visit to Hagerstown. “He’s literally a 12-foot Great Dane,” Johnson said. “The little kids eat it up.”

 By dressing in purple, Johnson emulates the animated character of Daphne, who accompanies Scooby on adventures.

“I stop short of dying my hair red,” she said. “My crew chief looks like Shaggy.”

 If you go ...        

WHAT: Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam

WHEN: Gates open 5 p.m. Friday, July 19; 6 p.m. Saturday, July 20, and noon on Sunday, July 21. Shows start 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. There will be a pit party from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Hagerstown Speedway, off National Pike, west of Hagerstown

COST: $15 general admission for adults, $5 for children; $20, reserved seats on Friday and Saturday; pit party pass are $5 for children, and $10 for adults.

CONTACT: General admission tickets are available at the Hagerstown Speedway box office, all Ticketmaster retail outlets, online at Ticketmaster.com or charge by phone at 800-745-3000.

MORE: Complete information is at MonsterJam.com.

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