The monster truck entertainment juggernaut is old enough now to have its own family dynasties. Ryan Anderson belongs to one of them.
The 25-year-old driver is the son of Grave Digger creator and driver Dennis Anderson. Ryan drives Son-uva Digger. Brother Adam drives Grave Digger The Legend.
Ryan Anderson will be competing in Tacoma this weekend, in one of five Monster Jam events occurring around the country. That means that Anderson doesn’t always compete against his brother or father. But when he does, all family loyalties fall by the wayside.
“When we’re not lined up side by side (competing), we’re a team. We’re conversating about the track, what to do. But as soon as we line up, it doesn’t matter. It’s wide open craziness. It’s win at all costs. The knuckles are out,” Anderson said.
Little has changed for the Anderson brothers since boyhood, when they would race grocery carts at the local food market. “It has gotten a little more civil,” Anderson said.
Anderson uses choice words to describe their time growing up.
“Our entire childhood was filled with idiocy — full-time craziness. Basically training to be monster truck drivers,” Anderson said. “It definitely trained us to be the wild men we are now.”
If the boys weren’t in school or on tour with their dad, they were on their property in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, operating anything with wheels.
When other boys were getting PlayStations for Christmas, they would get junk cars. “Dad would tell us to fix them up and we’d go out in the woods and crash and bash and break them, and he’d make us fix them again.”
Dennis Anderson told his boys they had two choices after high school: drive a monster truck or go to college. For the sons, it was never a choice. “We never thought of anything different. It was never a question of what we were going to do,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s debut in the pro arena was a bit improvised, but spectacular nonetheless. At 16, he was crewing for his 20-year-old brother in Florida when a driver who was going to drive the intro fell ill. Ryan Anderson stepped in.
“I had driven the truck before, but never in front of 72,000 people. I was a greenhorn. I was tossed right into the bucket,” Anderson recalls. “I did a back flip, landed on the wheels and kept going. From then on, it’s been — I don’t know if you’d call it uphill or downhill.”
Aside from that early foray, Ryan Anderson started his professional career in 2010 driving Monster Mutt and winning Rookie of the Year. He spent only a year with Monster Mutt before switching to the new Son-uva Digger in 2011.
“The first year I had to prove myself. To show to Monster Jam and everybody that I would be able to hold up my reputation, what people have to come expect from the Anderson name.”
Dennis Anderson created the original Grave Digger in 1982. The truck became so popular that there are now 10 versions of it that work the circuit. One of them will be in Tacoma this weekend, but Dennis won’t be driving it.
The Digger trucks differ from each other mostly cosmetically, Anderson said. Dennis’s truck is a 1950 Chevrolet panel truck. Adam’s is a 1954 panel truck and Ryan’s is a 1950 Willys Jeep panel truck. “Under the hood the parts are all interchangeable. That’s to make it easier for our team.” The Digger trucks all have 1,500 horsepower engines and 66-inch wheels.
Anderson said his 54-year-old father is a fearless competitor.
“I just raced him this past weekend,” Anderson said. “He was the man to beat. It was me and him back and forth, neck to neck the whole time.”
The elder Anderson might also be a sore loser, the younger Anderson implied.
“He’s the most competitive out of all of us. When we beat him, he gets all bent out of shape. But when he beats us, we’ve got a little better excuse: ‘You’ve been doing this for 33 years, old man. You should beat us.’ ”
That isn’t to say Anderson has any disrespect for his father. It’s just the opposite. Especially when he considers the physical toll three decades of monster truck driving takes on the body.
“I can’t believe my dad can even get out of bed, but he is probably the hardest man to beat on the track. He’ll do stuff for freestyle that I won’t even do because I know it’s a painful hit.”
Though the trucks are outfitted with custom seats and loads of safety gear, there is no escaping the forces of gravity.
“When you start jumping 40, 50, 60 feet in the air, it starts hurting. You’ll hit so hard, knocking the wind out of ourselves is a weekend occasion. My back ages in dog years,” Anderson said.