During my days at Motor Trend, I've been blessed with the opportunity to experience a lot of amazing things over the years, such as piloting priceless race cars, million-dollar supercars and one-of-a-kind vintage exotics. But one four-wheeled experience has eluded me, one that I had dreamed about since I was a kid: playing with a real live monster truck. Recently an opportunity arose to do just that through the folks at the SPEED channel, who were hosting the winners of the SPEED Dream Ride competition at Infineon Raceway.
It was there where I was invited to go for a ride in, and maybe even get to drive, the legendary Grave Digger monster truck. I spent the day pestering the man himself, Dennis Anderson, into letting me pilot Grave Digger. But because of time restraints and a few circumstances beyond anyone's control, fulfilling my boyhood dream would have to be put on hold. Those circumstances also meant I would not get to ride in Grave Digger. Instead, with Dennis at the wheel I got a ride in the Grinder monster truck.
The word insane best sums up the experience, plus exhilarating, amazing-you get the idea. After we were strapped in, Anderson pulled to the start line, power-braked the 10,000-pound truck and let her go, quickly shifting into second gear just as we hit the first jump. We sailed through the air, and landed surprisingly softly, due entirely to the custom suspension. (Each monster truck has one.) After landing, Anderson quickly put the truck into a powerslide drift that turned into about half a dozen doughnuts, then he straightened out and hit the second jump. We did a couple laps around the course before we had to give up our seats to the next riders. I was giggling the whole time, with a permanent Kool-Aid smile plastered on my face. It was an amazing experience I will remember forever.
After the rides were done, Anderson gave an exhibition in Grave Digger, but first the track workers had to re-cut the jumps. See, in order to take it easy on us, they built the jumps quite small with gradual ramps, but that simply wouldn't do for Anderson. We strapped cameras everyplace we could, and even on this very small course, we managed to get some amazing footage. So sit back, turn up the volume, and enjoy.
The unique graphics on Grave Digger include the bleeding Grave Digger, a skull, the haunted house on the hill, and, of course, a graveyard with names of monster trucks Digger has disposed of during previous events.
GO AND WHOA
The 4WD vehicle has multiple driveshafts; you can see the extra protective collars around each one to prevent it from leaving the vehicle if it happens to snap. The brakes are between the driveshafts and the rear end instead of at each wheel.
Because these trucks are not for street use, mufflers are not necessary, which is why most have simple straight pipes that not only look amazing, but also let the engine breathe properly and sound as mean as any vehicle you will ever hear.
RED MEANS GO
Bright red headlights are some of Grave Digger's most distinctive design features. Taken from an old school bus, the lights are another detail that sets Grave Digger apart from other monster trucks.
The interior of a monster truck has just what's needed, nothing more. Steering wheel, tachometer, and fluid gauges are common in all vehicles. The kill switch allows the truck to be shut down remotely should something go wrong.
Monster truck suspensions have evolved drastically over the years. In the beginning all that could be done was to modify existing suspension parts, but now, highly sophisticated suspensions let the trucks fly over almost anything yet land relatively softly.
Like other racing vehicles, there is only one seat in a competition-prepped Grave Digger, fitted specifically to driver Dennis Anderson. Keeping him firmly in the seat is a standard five-point harness.
The heart of Grave Digger is this supercharged, fuel-injected, alcohol-drinking V-8 putting out around 1500 horsepower. This engine is what gives Grave Digger the ability to fly through the air over crushed cars and perform bounce wheelies and the always-popular doughnuts.