Lee O’Donnell is an accomplished off-road racer who is known for being able to drive almost anything with an engine, specializing in short-course off-road racing, and now monster trucks. O’Donnell made his debut in 2001, took a break to go back to off-road racing, then returned as a “super sub” of sorts, winning a big race in Atlanta filling in for Linsey Weenk in Blue Thunder. After several successful fill-in roles, Lee was back to driving monster trucks. He is also known for his colorful personality and open, honest, and humorous interviews. After bouncing around to several teams in the industry to begin his career, Lee has settled into the role of the main driver for the Iron Man truck. Josh Rhodes and Ed Hoormann caught up with Lee in St. Louis, Missouri before the show to get his thoughts on a wide variety of subjects, including the Monster Jam World Finals. We thank Lee and Brenda O’Donnell for their time.
Ed Hoormann – Lee, can you tell us where you came from before stepping into monster trucks?
Lee O’Donnell – I started out off road racing jeeps in Pennsylvania with East Coast 4 Wheel Drive. I also drove in the SODA series. I bought a 7s, which is now called Pro Lite, from Johnny Greaves and did that forever. That is my love and passion; I always want to go back there, but right now my passion is for monster trucks. It was Peggy Wales, Mike’s wife, and Bill Easterly who pushed me to come into monster trucks.
Josh Rhodes – What is your biggest accomplishment since hopping into a monster truck?
LO – I always say getting the respect from the other drivers is pretty huge for me. You know, having a Carl VanHorn talking nice about me is pretty awesome. Jimmy Creten said something nice to my wife in Vegas a few years ago. Those are the things that hit home for me.
EH – We know now you came from an off road background. Please explain if there is a lot of things that are different and/or the same with that and monsters?
LO – Nah, when I got here it was me, George (Balhan, driver of Mohawk Warrior), and Madusa, and we were the first fly-in people ever, and boy did they not like that. All the veterans and drivers of the sport, even the older crew guys didn’t like it. So I was teamed up with Tony Farrell, and I was expected to work on the truck and everything. Now, it’s accepted to fly-in and drive, I think even most of the crew guys are fly-ins. Getting back to original question, there were no similarities between monster trucks and off-road racing. Back then, you didn’t drive it, it drove you. Where you landed, that was where you were going.
JR – How hard is Iron Man to see out of compared to other trucks you have driven?
LO – It’s not too bad; I can see no problem. The fenders are really skinny in the front, so I can see from the top and bottom there. That’s why I think I can cut the cars so close in racing; I can see the car on the side of me.
EH – Out of all the trucks you drove, what one is your favorite?
LO – Monster Mutt, because there is no sponsor and nobody to answer to other then the fans, as it was their truck. I tried so hard to get Mutt a TV win, and that is one thing I regret. I had Pablo (Huffaker, Grave Digger) beat in San Diego one time, but I just screwed up, the truck bounced bad, and there was nothing I could do. That was one thing I wanted for that truck was to get a TV win.
JR – Is there something you’d like to see changed in monster trucks?
LO – I would like to see some sort of points system where each individual move or hit is worth X amount of points and the amount of hits is worth something. Also, the freestyle order should be random,or maybe by the finishing order of racing.
EH – When you first started in monster trucks, a lot of people called you a “super-sub” as you were in and out of many trucks. What happened to get you a full time ride?
LO – I’ve never not had a job; I’ve always had a job. It was, “you need to go here and there.” You know, Dennis got hurt, Adam took over for him, and I went over and drove Taz then. It was just the opportunity, sort of a, “You’re going here; okay next year, you’re going here.” There were trucks I should have been in, but opportunity didn’t happen going down that road. Iron Man came about and put me in there. This year, I was supposed to be somewhere else, but it just didn’t happen. This isn’t the end here for me; this is just another step. I am sure I’ll be in a sponsored truck sooner rather than later. As a racer, a sponsor truck is where I want to be; I’m not saying Marvel isn’t one, but its not a Lucas Oil, Ford, or Advance Auto Parts name in the sport. I’m not saying that I don’t want to be a second driver for a truck, like its only A for me; I don’t want to be B or C. The one thing I did do was lobby to be the second Maximum Destruction driver when Neil left, but talking to him, I knew he’d be back and they went with Kreg (Christensen), which is fine by me.
JR – When you first walk into am event, what is the first think you look at?
LO – Clean Bathroom! How good the food is? Do we get catering that night? I’m only kidding. I look at the dirt conditions, which always change since people walk on it for the pit party. Also, I check out the jumps to see if they’re going to hurt or not.
ER – You kind of talked about it already, but what is your career goal for monster trucks?
LO – In a meeting a few weeks ago, I was asked this very question, and it kinda goes with Scott Hartsock going on his 20th year. I’d like to do 20 years; I have eight more to do that. It’s not all considered years, but there was a little bit of time where I went back to off road at the beginning of my monster truck run, but eight more years and I hit 20 in monster trucks.
JR – Iron Man debuted in the in the Atlanta Georgia dome, a building which has been very good to you. Was there any added pressure when it was debuted on live tv?
LO – Yea it was a lot of pressure to debut the truck like that. When I get nervous I break out. My wife was trying to fix me up with makeup to cover all that up.
JR – If there was any other truck in the sport you could jump into what truck would that be?
LO – Jimmy Creten’s. He has some top of the line equipment and he sets his team up to win.
EH – What driver would you say you learned from the most?
LO – Charlie Pauken. He is amazing. I just watched the footage of when he drove Dennis’ truck in Philly. I am getting chills, that’s how good he is. I ask him if he can do this in a truck and he just does it. He’s amazing.
JR – What’s your favorite style of racing coarse?
LO – So-Cal and Chicago style. Those types of track are all about lane choice. I like the long straight away tracks.
JR – Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
LO – Still driving monster trucks. We have another off road truck coming to do more local stuff at home. It takes a ton of money and personal commitment to run an off road truck in the Traxxas TORC Series or Lucas Oil Off road Racing and we’re not ready to do that at this time, but we’re looking at some opportunities in 2013. As far as the monster truck side, just being in a truck and killing it every week winning racing.
EH – Is there anybody you would like to give a shout out to or a thank you to?
LO – My wife for putting up with all this stuff over the years. Mike and Peggey Wales. Charlie Pauken, he teaches me something every week. There usually isn’t a Monday that goes by that we don’t call each other to talk about what happened over the weekend. He’s always the first one to call and congratulate me on a win from the weekend. Also please check me out on Facebook here.