Last month in St. Louis our own Josh Rhodes got the chance to interview Dennis Anderson. The two covered a wide variety of subjects ranging from his future in the sport, past and present competitors, and track design.
Dennis Anderson- I would say my favorite race to win, would be the World Finals. When I won my first racing championship, that was a good one.
JR- I particularly enjoyed last year’s World Finals. As a life long fan of the Grave Digger, it was nice to see you get the victory over Tom Meents and Maximum Destruction.
DA- Honestly, that is my most favorite race because there were no glitches. Tom was on his game, I was on my game. It was a fair and square race, and I tapped him out.
JR- You had a particularly good race at the finals last year with Jon Zimmer (Driver of Amsoil Shock Therapy), is there anything you’d like to say about him?
DA- That kid right there, you gotta watch him. I’ve recently done some shows with him, and his freestyle is really off the hook, and his racing is awesome. I’m telling you man, Jon Zimmer is a naturally good driver. He grew up around it, he watched it, he craved it, he wanted it, and now he’s got it.
JR- Which drivers from the early days of Monster Trucks, do you wish were still racing today?
DA- I would say from the early days, I wish old John (Kwasniewski: Driver, Buffalo Tremor) was still around. He was a pretty cool guy. I wish Andy Brass was still in the business, wish he was still racing. I kind of wish Bigfoot was in our game over here, because Bigfoot used to beat up on me when he had all his money a long time ago. I really wish they were over here in the Monster Jam series. I don’t think thats going to happen. Gene Patterson, every time I see ol’ Gene I think Snake Bite. John Breen, the Breen Boys.All of us, we’re gettin a little older. If these guys have been out of it for 10 years, and standing on the sideline at the age the we’re at now, I don’t think they’d want to step back in. They would probably be fearing, you know, “I am going to break my back” or “I am going to break my hip” or my shoulder or something.Oh, Jackie Willman. He had some issues on the other side of the fence that I wish would have never happened to him, because he was really a good racer. Him and his dad Jack were a good team. Fred Shafer, he’s up there in age now, but I would have loved to seen Fred Shafer coaching a young gun along and had a team out here. There’s alot of guys I used to run with that I really can’t even remember on the spot right now. I loved every one of them. I don’t care if they were beating me, or I was beating them. I loved every monster trucker out there because they supported what we were doing.
JR- Besides Tom Meents, who do you think is your biggest competition currently in Monster Jam?
DA- You can’t even push a button and put it on one. There’s several people out there. Damon Bradshaw, he’s good. Linsey Weenk, he’s good. George Balhan with Mohawk Warrior, he’s good. The Advance Auto guys, it’s any dogs day with any of them you know. I think Lupe (Soza: Driver, Advance Auto Parts Grinder #1) drives a better race now, and freestyle now that he’s in Grinder. He still had some wild stuff going on with El Toro Loco, but it was ended early. A lot of times like I do, go out and drive to hard, and not running the clock out.
JR- A thing with Lupe I always noticed is, he would go out and have an okay freestyle, then after bonus time and everything was over, the crazy stuff would happen.
DA- Right, exactly, and it’s because it’s hard to keep up, and know the time or see anything indicating it around the building. Like the flashing strobes, or whatever the signal is. You have to try to meditate and try to figure that out. In big competitions I had an egg timer on my dash.
JR- I think they mentioned that during the World Finals 5 broadcast.
DA- Oh yeah. I would click that thing on. Now though, radio communication is the best. I have my crew back in the pit let me know when I’m in my bonus round, and they let me know when I have 15 seconds left.
JR- Out of the numerous Grave Digger trucks that you’ve driven over the years. Which truck is your favorite?
DA- Grave Digger # 7 was by far the wildest and craziest truck. It wasn’t all that great in racing, but it still was no slouch. It was light, and pretty fast. In freestyle man, that thing was a crazy truck to drive. If I had to gauge it with anything, say gauging it from Grave Digger #7 to Grave Digger #12. If you went out freestyling in Grave Digger #7, you could hit obstacles at 25-30 miles per hour and it was going crazy. If you’d go out with Grave Digger #12, You’d have to hit obstacles at 40 to 45 miles per hour to make it look crazy.
JR- Tony Farrell is kind of finding that out this year.
DA- Right, right. That thing is like a locomotive!
JR- Is there anything from the early days of Monster Truck racing that you’d like to see come back to this day and age?
DA- Yes, I’m gonna tell you right now man, we’re getting ready for my 30th anniversary tour. I wanted to do a Dennis Anderson retro-classic 30th anniversary tour. In some of the buildings that we go to twice, we call it “double dippin'”, going back more than one time. I’d love to bring something back for one or two generations that haven’t seen it. Like the multiple engine pulling tractors, I’d like to bring them out. Just a little handful of them, to give the crowd a taste. Bring back the mud bog, and the old style car crushing. All we would need is about four leaf spring trucks and put some cars out on the track. You build this story timeline from the time the show starts till it finishes, and at the end of the show for the “Grand Finale” it would be me and my two sons (Adam and Ryan) and a few other competitors out there. We’d come out with 2012 brand new tube chassis trucks and we just burn the stadium down. You know what I’m saying? It’s like you walk through the whole thing. We had the tractor pulling, monster trucks were fill acts. We put a couple cars out there, pop the wheelies and mash the roof. Do old school, low horsepower leaf spring trucks.
JR- Allen Pezo has been doing that recently at a few shows, including the Pontiac Silverdome last year. As well as Jeff Cook, who recently put a whole show together based on Old School Monsters.
DA- Right, and that’s what I’d love to do is pull some of them out. I really think the fans would enjoy it. You’d have to put it in a fashion so it’s fast moving, but there are kids up there that haven’t seen those multiple engine pulling tractors. We’d like to have the old Mission Impossible and Makin’ Bacon, and all those guys with their tractors. Throw a little twist with some of the two wheel drive blower motor rigs in there. Just have a really quick pull. Then step right into the old school Monster Trucks, sling a little bit of mud, then come out with our brand new style of Monster Jam Freestyle to finish.
JR- Speaking of your 30th anniversary. Is there any particular thing your going to do to the truck, like paint scheme wise, etc., for it? For me, I’d love to see you come back in the old school stacked lettering Grave Digger scheme like on Digger 2, Digger 7, that sort of thing.
DA- I’m telling you right now, just as we’re talking. We were making decisions yesterday. We had 12 options on the table paint scheme wise. We’ve got it turned down to the last two options right now. Me and Mr. Charlie Mancuso will be making that call soon on which design it will be. We don’t want to put it in the public’s eye, we want it to be a surprise. We want them to want to come see it.
JR- In the recent years, on outdoor tracks produced by Rich Shaefer, we have seen some really interesting track designs. Like the crossover track featured a few years ago at the Nashville Superspeedway, where a truck was jumping over another truck. Is that something you’d like to see brought into Monster Jam stadiums as well?
DA- Yeah I would. We want to have a little mix of different tracks you know. Basically right now we want to change the racing up some. We’re changing the table every time we come to a venue, but we’re mainly focusing on the freestyle part of it. We put the freestyle obstacles in, then you have to work your track around it. That’s what we’re doing in today’s speed anyway. I love some of our freestyle tracks we’ve got going on. We’re trying things, and trying things to always raise the bar. I don’t know how high the bar can go.
JR- It’s getting pretty high.
DA- Oh yeah, its getting pretty high now, but the innovation of trucks is going to have to turn within the next decade. We’d like some independent suspension trucks. It’s going to be coming. I’d say in 10 years we’d better move out and get on it.
JR- Where do you see yourself within the next 5 years? Helping out with the industry? Driving?
DA- I’ll put it to you this way, my deal is signed on with Monster Jam until 2017. That would be my 35th Anniversary. I’ll make my choice then. You know I’m not in the greatest shape, but I’m not in poor shape by no means.
JR- I honestly think your in the best shape of your career right now. You just came off a 9 race winning streak, which in today’s world of stadium racing is unheard of.
DA- Right, exactly. As long as we keep the safety innovations of seats and belts, head restraints, and all of that stuff rolling our way, I’ll be in the truck for a long, long time.
JR- We recently just passed the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s tragic passing. What sort of safety innovations from that tragedy, have come over to the monster truck side?
DA- The HANS Device. A lot of the younger guys in Monster Jam at the time were already wearing the HANS. Adam is the one, my oldest son, that inspired me to wear it. He came to me at West Lebanon, an outdoor show, and he goes “Dad, I know you’ve been driving these trucks a long time, but when I drive without that HANS it kills me every show.” Well, I was getting killed every show. I just thought that was part of the program. That’s why I liked one night beatings, and I would be good. I would get myself in there with a pretty good neck brace. What size to wear in racing, what size to wear in freestyle. I thought I had it figured out until I wore that HANS. I didn’t want the HANS because it was cumbersome, something extra to get in, and out of the truck, and to get on before time to roll. Once I tried it, you know, I put it on, and Adam went with me to the show. I went out for freestyle, then came back to the pit. Adam asked me “What’d you think about that HANS device?” I said, “Buddy, y’alls ass is in trouble now.”
JR- We’ve seen a lot of crossover drivers come into Monster Jam lately, like Damon Bradshaw, Dana Creech, some of those names come to mind. Are there any other drivers out there you think that could be good in a Monster Truck?
DA- Oh yeah, anybody that’s played with dirt bikes, or has throttle rhythm, and throttle control. Any of those guys could crossover. Tanner Foust, that would be an awesome monster truck driver right there. He’s used to wicked little turbo charged, or whatever, bad little cars with that slide riding he does. I think he would be somebody. Anybody like that. I rode with him is the reason I say his name. That was really quite a ride. Probably the best motorsport ride I’ve ever been on.
JR- This is a word association, you can say anything that pops into your head when I read off the name. The first one is Tom Meents.
DA- Tom Meents, wild, crazy. On his game when he’s on, and off when he’s off.
JR- Dale Earnhardt
DA- Dale Earnhardt was a buddy of mine that I met personally back in 1992, at the Las Vegas Sema show. It was a sad day in NASCAR when he went away.
JR- Ryan Anderson
DA- Ryan Anderson, wicked, and crazy, and wild man! He’s an awesome driver. That’s boy number two when he hit the ground. I’m really proud of both of them. I love both my boys, I’m proud of what they’re doing in following in my footsteps.
JR- Andy Brass
DA- Andy Brass. Calm, cool, little squeaky voice. I loved him when he was out here on the track with Bigfoot man. When you say Andy Brass, I think Bigfoot.
JR- Jim Kramer
DA- Jim Kramer, same thing. When you say Jim Kramer all I can think of is him hanging onto the door with his helmet sticking out.
JR- Bob Chandler
DA- Bob Chandler was the innovator of monster trucks, he was the “daddy.” He was the guy that I was chasing as a young kid growing up. Bob Chandler is the man that I wanted to beat. He had Ford on his side, I was the shade tree mechanic underdog. 1986 was when I beat him on national TV. It was just barely a win, but we took it. I love that dude for where he started, because that’s why I’m here today.
JR- Keeping with the Bigfoot theme, Dan Runte.
DA- Dan Runte, cool, crazy. We lived up and down the road together for awhile. Loved to party. Could drive the wheels off a monster truck, and is a good guy.
JR- Mark Hall
DA- Mark Hall. Good racer with good equipment. The Hall Brothers are on all the time. They’re the serious racers. Not so much a freestylist, but they’re getting better.
JR- Jimmy Creten
DA- Jimmy Creten, serious man. I can see him right now in the gym pumping some iron. Looking at himself in the mirror. A good guy. I love Jimmy, I love busting on him, and picking on him. He’s another innovator of our sport. He isn’t afraid to try something. He’s always developing something new. Some new axle, some new locker, he’s always got something going on.
JR- Him and Pablo are the same in that aspect.
DA- Exactly, yes.
JR- Dustin Brown
DA- Dustin Brown is the best crew guy I’ve ever had. He’s young, and he knows his game. He’s learned a lot with us. He came over from a funny car team, but Dustin Brown is my man I can tell you that.
JR- Charlie Pauken
DA- Charlie Pauken, awesome guy. I loved Charlie back in the Excaliber days. Hard driver, didn’t care if he slung the rods out of his motor. What a great guy to have in a Grave Digger truck. People love him and he is a smoking awesome driver.
JR- Everett Jasmer
DA- Everett Jasmer. He’s old school. Liked the straightline racing. Never wanted to do the rear steer. Good guy, innovator of trying to get trucks to go fast, but was a complainer on the track.
JR- Rod Litzau
DA- Rod Litzau, good driver man. Wish he would have stayed in the game. We didn’t have freestyle competitions or turning courses back then, but he was fearless.
JR- With that Dennis, I thank you very much. It has truly been an honor to get to interview you and I wish you luck with the rest of your season.
DA- Thanks a lot Josh, anytime.
Thanks again to Dennis Anderson and Josh Rhodes for their time.