Learning how to drive a monster truck

Learning how to drive a monster truck
Learning how to drive a monster truck 07:30

Monster trucks. Those big bouncy very American contributions to motor sport, are actually extremely hard to drive. Luke Burbank found out how hard, when he attended Monster Jam University.

If you turned on a TV in The 1980's you couldn't miss them: Monster Trucks, coming to an arena near you. They promised to sell you the whole seat, but you'd only need the edge.

So when "Monster Jam" the folks that own the truck these days, gave "CBS Sunday Morning's" Luke Burbank the chance to actually drive Grave Digger, one of the sport's most iconic trucks, he said there was no way he was turning them down.

Tom Meents runs "Monster Jam University" out behind his house, in Paxton, Illinois. Burbank was there to learn how to drive one of the behemoths. And if anyone could teach Burbank it would be Meents, he's an 11-time world champion.

Tom Meents shows Luke Burbank the ropes in a monster truck

But Meents was realistically skeptical when Burbank asked if he would be able to do any flips by the end of the day in a truck.

"It's going to be challenging for you do any," Meents said. "Boy, you know, it's a big learning curve."

While Meents was looking to manage expectations, Burbank was looking to prove he was worthy of driving Grave Digger in a real event. Meents said for him to feel comfortable having Burbank in a real event, he would need to judge the way Burbank drove, how he listened and the way he progressed.
The progression happened faster than Burbank was expecting. From simple laps, to a drag race start, to the thing Burbank did not know was part of the deal going in: the actual jumping of an actual monster truck. The key to staying alive, coach Tom Meents explained, was total commitment.

Burbank won't say he was terrified, but he did close his eyes on the jump in what he called a "Jesus take the wheel" moment. After landing and forgetting to take his foot off the gas, Burbank accidentally went off part of another jump and rolled the truck. But despite all that, Burbank had proved he was ready to drive the real Grave Digger.

Burbank closes his eyes as his truck flies through the air

In a certain way, he had Dennis Anderson to thank for all of this since he invented Grave Digger, over three decades ago, in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

Anderson said his goal in life was to be a farmer, but in his spare time, Anderson liked to race old trucks in the mud, mud boggin' as it's known, and he noticed something. If he took the tires off of a farm tractor, and put them on his truck, he couldn't be beat.

Eventually, Anderson moved out of the mud bogs, and into regional tractor-pulls and demolition derbys. And the crowds loved him.
"I think it's just the mystique of the-- the spooky paint job and, you know, and the red headlights," Anderson said. "And, just, driving it like a madman because, you know, I always wanted this image of an evil truck with a good guy image."
And it worked. These days Anderson sits atop a Grave Digger Empire, complete with multiple trucks, a state of the art engine shop, a bustling gift shop and even a Diner called "Diggers," which is where his daughter Krysten Anderson works, that is, when she isn't wowing crowds as one of eight Grave Digger drivers who compete all over the country and the world.

Dennis Anderson

Anderson's sons are also drivers, champions in their own right, and the trucks they drive are faster, jump higher and are much safer than those original models mud boggers. All at the low low cost of a quarter million dollars per truck.  

Worldwide, millions of fans attend Monster Jam events from Saudi Arabia to China to… Tampa?  

That's where Burbank found himself, getting ready to live out a childhood dream. He survived, and so did the truck. Check out the video above for a look at his run.