When BJ Johnson was 8 years old, his dad took him to his first monster truck show.
“I told my dad, ‘I’m going to drive one of those one day,’ and he laughed at me,” says Johnson, while pressure-washing his 66-inch tires at the Universal Technical Institute’s NASCAR crew school in Charlotte Tuesday. “Now he watches me every weekend on Fox Sports.”
Johnson, who will drive the Mohawk Warrior at the Monster Jam Friday and Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena, didn’t set his sights on gargantuan SUVs from the get-go. The self-described adrenaline junkie began racing when he was 6.
“I raced motorcycles. I did dirt track. I raced professional Supercross for Suzuki for four years,” Johnson says. “I was at a show and had my off-road truck and a guy approached me and said, ‘You should drive a monster truck.’ ”
He was 18. Johnson went to work for the man who owned a small independent team.
“At the time, (monster trucks) was middle-aged guys and good-old boys,” Johnson says. “This was 2000. They wanted a bad boy, a guy the (crowd) loved to hate that would run his mouth. They wanted something new for the sport.”
Johnson says his need for speed (“a golf cart or a rental car, I run it hard”) isn’t hampered by the hulking trucks.
“Monster trucks are a giant version of everything I’ve done my whole life,” he says. “In Las Vegas at the world finals, we start outside the arena. I’m wide-open before I hit the stadium floor. We do speeds of 75 miles an hour down the straightaway. A lot of people don’t see that.
“I love stadiums, but it takes more to run an arena show. I’ve seen on the Internet people complain it’s small in an arena and arena shows are kind of boring. I can jump 40 feet off the ground. Come watch me at an arena and complain after the show.”
Part of that is that the sport is changing and pushing boundaries.
“Trucks have come a long way,” he says. “It’s not crushing cars. Anything we run now is as high as a van or a bus.”
Another way the Mohawk Warrior is bulldozing stereotypes is with its new crew chief: Johnson’s girlfriend Lindsey Hilgendorf, who was crew chief for the Medusa truck until recently.
“There’s not a lot of women in the sport, but she knows her stuff,” Johnson says. “Her dad was a driver.”
“I drove my truck last week after she worked on it for the first time, and I can honestly say it feels better with her working on it. She takes a lot of pride and works late nights. If you saw her, you’d think she’s not working on monster trucks. She’s blonde and looks like a model, but she gets dirty and bruised up and has her fingernails busted off.”
“It’s not just a male sport,” Johnson says. “Women drivers run just as hard as we do.”