CEDAR RAPIDS — When events like Monster Jam come to Cedar Rapids, fans of monster trucks and the spectacle that it is always are eager to watch the tricks the giant trucks are able to complete, sure, but they’re also hopeful the most famous truck still active will show up.
Those who grew up fans of this form of motorsports generally chose among a few favorites — Bigfoot was the original — with the haunting black and green Grave Digger one of the main attractions.
When Monster Jam performs Saturday and Sunday at the U.S. Cellular Center, Grave Digger will be driven in a home game of sorts. Driver Tyler Menninga, 20, is in his second season competing with the traveling tour and is an Oskaloosa native.
“I never really cared, I just wanted to drive, but it’s surreal driving this truck,” Menninga said. “With just how far this truck has come and hearing the people cheer, it’s just awesome.”
Menninga is one of nine drivers in the Grave Digger lineup, which competes in racing and freestyle events across the country.
He grew up competing in off road racing at fairs and off road parks around Iowa with his dad, who has a history with Monster Jam himself. Menninga got to watch Monster Jam events as a kid while his dad helped with setup and construction of the tracks when the tour would come to Des Moines.
Menninga said it was meeting people through that time at events with his dad that eventually led to meeting Adam Anderson, the current primary driver of Grave Digger. Adam Anderson is the son of Dennis Anderson, who created Grave Differ in 1982 and drove it to several championships and victories in both the racing and freestyle formats — popularizing the truck over 35 years in competition.
Menninga worked for Adam in North Carolina, where the truck is based, before the Andersons hired him for the job he has now. Menninga even dates Dennis’ daughter and Adam’s sister, Krysten, who also drives one of the nine Grave Digger trucks.
Saturday and Sunday will be the second time Menninga drove in front of an Iowa crowd. His first career show, in fact, was in Council Bluffs. Cedar Rapids being a little closer to his hometown, though, will allow several friends and family to make it to the arena to watch.
Monster Jam isn’t really comparable to any other form of motorsports, though there are elements of motocross — both racing and freestyle — and drag racing.
Menninga said “we’ve got tricks that will blow your mind,” and that he can, “balance a truck on its front wheels and ride it in reverse on the front wheels.”
Driving one of the most iconic trucks in the sport as such a young driver is the fulfillment of a dream, sure, but it also pushes Menninga to be at his very best every single show. When he’s strapped in and performing or competing, he said he knows everyone in the arena is paying attention to his truck.
“I always like to push it to the limit — as far as I can to rolling it and then bringing it back,” Menninga said. “Anybody can go out and roll a truck over or tear it up, but I’m excited because these shows like in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, people come to them and wonder why we go there when we could go to a football stadium. They (think) we don’t have enough room in these little arenas. The way we have these arenas set up, people who don’t come are going to be missing out.”
Monster Jam has three shows this weekend at the U.S. Cellular Center. Two shows are set for Saturday, with the gates opening for the first at noon and the show at 1 p.m. The second show has gates open at 6 p.m. with the show at 7 p.m. Sunday’s show has gates open at noon with the show at 1 p.m.
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