Driver, Monster Jam / Grave Digger
As a professional athlete, you’re always under the microscope. There’s pressure from your own team, the fans and typically, the athletes themselves are their own biggest critics. That’s plenty of pressure to perform at a high level. However, Krysten Anderson is in a league all her own.
Krysten is the only daughter of monster truck, Monster Jam and Grave Digger legend, Dennis Anderson. She’s the sibling of Adam and Ryan Anderson, both of whom are Monster Jam World Champions, along with their dad. And, she was also the first female driver for the Grave Digger team. To top it all off, despite growing up with monster trucks in her blood, she had never been behind the wheel of a monster truck until she was 18.
“I had a very rough first year, I’m not going to lie,” Anderson says. “It was rough for me. I was brand new. I was a rookie. I was driving Grave Digger, which is basically the most iconic truck in monster truck history or Monster Jam history. I had the pressure of being an Anderson and my dad and my brothers had always brought the show home all the time. They were always some of the top competitors. I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to be good because I’m an Anderson. I’ve got to be good because I’m driving Grave Digger and everybody wants Grave Digger to do good. I’m also out here representing all of the girls.’
“I was the first and only female to ever drive Grave Digger and I’m the only female Anderson. I feel like women in motorsports have a lot to prove or we feel like we have a lot to prove to show that we belong here or that we have a place in motorsports. I always put an immense amount of pressure on myself anyways, and then on top of that, the fans put a lot of pressure on me too. Grave Digger and Monster Jam have the most passionate and loyal fans amongst motorsports, but they can be pretty painfully honest sometimes.
“If I didn’t do so well or something, they had no problem telling me the truth about how I did and the truth hurts sometimes. It was rough for me being an 18 or 19-year-old girl on the road by myself, racing my dad’s truck and I had all this pressure on me. Honestly, I think all that pressure kind of rounded me out and toughened me up and made me do even better or wanting to prove even harder that I can do this and I do belong here. I can be just as good as my dad and my brothers. I would have to say it kind of drove me in that direction to keep going.”
“Obviously, my dad doesn’t really need any introduction,” Anderson says. “He’s Dennis Anderson, the guy who created Grave Digger back in 1982 and he drove Grave Digger for 35 years. I’m only 23, so if you think about my dad’s career being 35 years, he’s been Grave Digger my entire life.
“My earliest memories are honestly nothing but monster trucks and Grave Digger. From just a few months old until I was about five years old, I would travel on the road with my dad in the tractor trailer. My mom and everybody would go to shows with my dad. I remember being in the bottom of the rig playing with my monster trucks.
“My two older brothers, Adam and Ryan, are also involved in Monster Jam and they race for the Digger team. It’s a family tradition for us and it is something that consumes our entire lives –nothing but Grave Digger, monster trucks and Monster Jam. That’s where you pick a passion up for it. It’s like your family being involved in commercial fishing or something your whole life. Your granddad was one, your dad was one, you’re going to be one.”
Krysten fits that bill as well. She developed a passion for all sorts of motorsports such as off-road racing, dirt track racing, pro mega truck racing, and monster trucks, obviously.
“It’s just something that me, my dad and my brothers all had common ground on,” she says. “It was something that we always loved to do. To this day, we still love to go out and watch races.”
While there’s no doubting Krysten’s drive and passion for Grave Digger and Monster Jam competition, she did at one point have other thoughts about her future career.
“I’m a pretty talented artist,” she admits. “I can draw pretty well. When I was in high school, I kind of nosed away from monster trucks and motorsports a little bit. I was really involved with my art and I was taking AP-level art classes and putting together an art portfolio because I was actually interested after high school in going to college and pursuing a career and degree in graphic design.
“I was more into studio art – graphite on paper, acrylic on canvas kind of stuff. I wanted to go and learn how to do it digitally, but I still wanted to be involved with my dad’s family business and what we’ve always done. I wanted to be part of the art team for Monster Jam and creating the artwork that’s on the side of the truck, like the iconic graveyard scene on the side of Grave Digger and create the paint jobs and the wraps for it.”
When Krysten turned 18 and graduated high school, an opportunity opened up for her to become one of the Grave Digger drivers.
“My dad’s 35th anniversary of driving Grave Digger was going to be coming up in the next year and they had a seat that was opening up in Grave Digger,” she says. “They were going to add another arena tour to the Monster Jam fleet and to our circuit. They needed a Grave Digger driver. They had never, ever had a female drive Grave Digger before and they thought who better than Dennis’ only daughter Krysten.
“Monster Jam reached out to my dad and my dad told me about what they wanted to do. I realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of people. There’s a lot of people that work very hard to chase their dreams and become famous NASCAR drivers or monster truck drivers or whatever it is. I would be so stupid not to reap the benefits of this path that my dad had paved for me. He had a huge foot in the door for me. This was an opportunity that I didn’t want to look back at and say, ‘dang, I should have done that.’”
Krysten auditioned with Monster Jam and tested the truck out, which was the first time she’d ever driven a monster truck since you had to be 18 to drive the trucks.
“I had been around them, involved with them and sat in them my entire life, but I had never sat in the seat, turned the engine on and actually drove it before until that point,” Anderson says. “I didn’t even know if I had it in me. My dad has created such a legacy and such an awesome career. My brothers, they came out swinging – both of them are going on 10 and 15 years of having a really awesome career. They’re all world champions. I was like, ‘man, I don’t even know if I have it in me. Is it even in my blood?’
“I went out there and took to it pretty naturally. I loved it. I fell completely in love with it and I put my art portfolio away and I said college would always be there for me and I could always go back, and I might go back one day. But for right now, I couldn’t think of another career in the world that would give a young person – at the time 18 and 19 years old – the opportunity to travel the world and see the world and drive a professional Monster Jam truck. That’s what I decided to do.”
As eluded to earlier, Krysten had immediate pressure to perform. If you’ve never been to a Monster Jam event or seen highlights, driver’s today break the laws of physics at every show. The kinds of stunts performed will truly blow your mind. Learning to drive one of these trucks is not an easy task.
“They are a very difficult vehicle to control and maneuver and especially do some of the things that we do with them,” Anderson says. “I think a lot of people underestimate that. I basically had an idea of it from my dad and my brothers and what they told me and what it’s like and this and that, but I had never fully understood how complicated they can be until I actually sat in the seat of one. I think a lot of people don’t realize it until they actually get in the seat and drive.
“Every weekend, on the Triple Threat Series that I’m on, we could do four, five, even six shows or events in one weekend, so I was getting so much seat time. I was progressing at such a rapid rate, whereas when my dad or my brothers had started, if you rewind 10 or 15 years, the caliber of racing and technical skills and stuff was nothing to where it was when I started.
“I had to basically catch up to speed from where my brothers had gone 10 or 15 years to where we are now, where we are doing those two-wheel tricks and doing backflips and corkscrews and nose wheelies and bicycles and everything else. Those tricks weren’t even a thing five years ago. I had to get up to speed and even progress even farther than that in my first year, so it was really challenging and there were sometimes where it was pretty disheartening, but I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
Now four years into her driving career, Krysten has come leaps and bounds from where she was as a rookie driver.
“We have no choice but to learn on the fly and learn these tricks, because if you’re not honing these skills in and learning these tricks and doing this or that, then you don’t have a dog in the fight,” she says. “You’re not a competitor. I had to learn at a very aggressive rate.”
While Krysten is a much more accomplished driver today than she was, there are still stunts she struggles to perfect during shows.
“If you ask me to do 15 backflips in a row, I can do 15 backflips in a row,” she says. “You want me to go do some kind of insane jump or something like that. I’m not scared, I’ll do it. But for some reason, I don’t know why, the two-wheel skills competition has always been my kryptonite. My brother Ryan is the one who invented the nose wheelie. He called it the moonwalk – you balance the truck on its nose and you put it in first or reverse and ride it forward or ride it all the way backwards. For some reason, I had such a hard time finding that sweet spot or finding that balancing point.
“Event after event, weekend after weekend, so many failed attempts to get these complicated two-wheel tricks down. It drove me insane. I would sit there and watch videos and listen to people’s throttle rhythm and do this and do that. It makes me so mad because there’s some people who pick it up right away. There are others who struggle with it like I did, but I struggled with that for a really long time getting those skills down and getting that trick down. I can do it now. I’m still trying to perfect it. I’m not nearly as flawless or as smooth as my brothers or some of the other senior, veteran drivers who know what they’re doing a little better than I do, but that trick was a thorn in my side for an entire year. That trick made me pull my hair out.”
As Krysten mentioned, she’s never been afraid to send it and go all out for big air. She recently got the opportunity to make a jump for a Guinness World Record on June 25, 2020. Aired on Discover Channel on August 8, Krysten and her Grave Digger monster truck set the new record for the high jump at 33.8 ft. – crushing the old record by 12.5 ft.
“To be able to get out on a big spectrum like that and actually hit a metal ramp that’s even more abrupt and sharper than the stadium ramp that my brothers hit and really air that thing out and set a Guinness Book of World Records and put my name in the Guinness Book was really awesome,” Anderson says. “It’s really hard to explain when that adrenaline hits your head. You go into almost a Terminator mode where it’s no fun and games anymore. No more nerves, no more butterflies. It’s just eyes on the prize. I had my eyes on the target and I hit the ramp perfectly. I hit it nice and square and then I came up in the air and the truck just kept climbing and climbing and climbing. I was like, ‘Oh, this is big, this is big, this is big.’ It just kept climbing.
“Finally, at the time that I tap my brakes – we tap our brakes just like they would do in Motocross – and that helps our wheel speed slow down and it also jars the momentum of the truck and it makes it able to level out. I leveled the truck out and it started coming down. Once the truck had peaked at its highest point and the truck had hadn’t started coming down yet, I was like, ‘Oh my God, how high in the air am I right now?’
“Once it finally started falling and coming back down to earth, I was like, ‘I am still falling right now. Where the heck is this ramp?’ Finally, the rubber touched the dirt and I was like, ‘Oh man, finally I made it.’ I knew it was pretty big when I felt like I was in the air for three minutes.”
Adding her name to the Guinness Book of World Records has proven that Krysten has become a more well-rounded driver since her rookie days, and she has her eyes on becoming one of the top women in the sport and one of the top drivers in Monster Jam period.
“I think it’s great that women are getting a platform now in motorsports and we’re climbing the ladder really quickly in the past couple of years,” Anderson says. “Two of our world reigning champions right now are women. In high jump is Cynthia Gauthier. She drives Monster Mutt Dalmatian. Our other world champion is Linsey Read in Scooby Doo and she’s our freestyle champion. We have two women sitting in world championship chairs right now and that hasn’t happened in over 20 years. That was an incredible phenomenon to happen this past year at our world finals in 2019.
“Within Monster Jam, we’re not men and women in the sport, we’re drivers and we’re competitors and that’s it. There’s no female, there’s no male. It’s just us. The females compete on the same platform, in the same competition, in the same trucks, with the same amount of time as the males doing the sport. I think that’s awesome because it’s all an equal playing field. When you put the helmet on, we’re competitors and it doesn’t matter if it’s a girl or a guy in the other lane against you, you don’t want them to win – you want to win. I think that it’s great that Monster Jam has created this space for us females to show the guys what we got and that we do belong here and that we are tough competitors.”
Krysten wants to add her name to that list of Monster Jam World Champions as well. She also has aspirations to get behind the wheel of her own monster truck one day.
“There’s lots of goals, honestly, I’d like to accomplish,” Anderson says. “One of the main goals that I’d like to accomplish is to retire with at least one world championship under my belt. I know I’m still in the infancy of my career, but as far as how long I want to race, I’m not really sure. I get that question a lot. I think it’s a little different for guys and girls. If you want to come off the road and start a family and I know there are some women out there who are moms and are still competing and that’s great, but I’m not sure how long they can do that. I think that before I want to retire, I’d like to retire with at least one world championship, but if not many more. That would be cool.
“I think that it would be really cool if before I retired, I could have an opportunity to drive my own truck. Not that I don’t love Grave Digger. I love everything about my family’s history with Grave Digger and our Grave Digger fans, but I’d like to create some Krysten Anderson fans and fans of me and my truck. I’d want it to be some kind of spin off of Grave Digger – some kind of a pink or purple body that has the same Grave Digger paint scheme. Those are my two main goals; to retire with a world championship and maybe retire in my own truck.”
Q: Favorite venue/event?
A: It’s really tight between two arenas. One of them is actually considered an arena. It’s the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, TN. I love the city of Nashville. I love good food. I love good country music, but the arena itself has really nice dirt in it and it’s a very large venue. Second, or maybe even above that is the Tacoma Dome in Seattle. It’s a huge arena and it’s got even better dirt than Nashville. My dad and my brothers have competed in the Tacoma Dome, so my family has a lot of history there.
But, maybe hands down the coolest venue that I’ve ever got to compete in, and I’m really proud that I got to compete in it before Monster Jam stopped going there, is the Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. That is where every world champion had been crowned to date all the way up until we moved to the Camping World Stadium in Florida. My dad has so much history there. He’s gotten all of his world championships there. My brothers have gotten all their world championships there. The fans there are crazy. People travel from all over the world to go to Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas and see that event and watch that production.
Racing down those lanes, it’s such unique racing. Racing up Thunder Alley like that is the fastest racing that we do all year and it’s the most fun. Of course, you’re also in the city of Las Vegas, so that’s awesome. Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas is my favorite stadium.
Q: Have you done any design work with Monster Jam?
A: Not with Monster Jam. I just drive the black and green original Grave Digger that my dad had started up in the ‘80s. It’s that same scheme, the same name, everything. My brother, Ryan Anderson, drives a truck called Son Uva Digger, which is a flip off of Grave Digger, but his is a different design. The front clip is an old Jeep Willys and its black and blue. It’s got blue flames and it’s Ryan’s identity. Ryan was a part of the designing process and designing his own truck.
If I could be a part of my own designing process, I would love to draw the truck from beginning to end. I have had opportunities to create artwork for trucks in other motorsports. Another passion that my family has is – when we’re not racing monster trucks – we are really into the mud racing or the mega truck racing.
Pro Mega Truck racing has just started to take off in the last couple of years, but it’s growing immensely. A mega truck is basically the same horsepower blower motor and everything as a monster truck, but whereas the monster truck is about 13,000-14,000 lbs., a mega truck can weigh anywhere between 7,000 to 8,000 lbs. It’s the same horsepower, but much faster and it’s meant for more speed and racing through the mud and obstacle course.
That’s something that my youngest brother Weston actually does right now. He’s been doing that for a few years and I actually named and designed my brother’s truck, Bog Hog, and named and designed my dad’s mega truck King Sling. Since he’s retired from Monster Jam, he’s gotten back into mud racing and mega truck racing and races with my little brother. I designed both of those pro mega trucks.
It was a lot of fun and I think it’s pretty cool to see my artwork on the side of a truck and see it racing and doing really well and winning races.
Q: Aside from Grave Digger, is there another truck on the Monster Jam tour you think has a really cool skin/design?
A: That’s hard to pick because they really do have some pretty cool schemes on there. I think that another one of our cooler designs is some of our concept bodies. We have the trucks that look like dogs and they’re called Monster Mutt. There’s Monster Mutt Dalmatian and Monster Mutt Rottweiler. Those bodies are all 3D and are really cool.
Even though Grave Digger and Max D are supposed to be archenemies and the Max D team is our biggest competitor, they do have a really cool scheme on their truck. Their truck is this futuristic-looking truck. It’s got these big, silver, aggressive-looking spikes on it and it’s got this crazy 3D, mechanical monster coming out of the side of it. That one’s pretty cool when it rolls into the arena, I’m not going to lie. Second to Grave Digger, it’s probably one of the more aggressive, meaner-looking trucks.