Digging My Own Grave

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I've crushed cars before. My first was an '87 Oldsmobile station wagon that I smashed into a divider two weeks after getting my license. Since then, I've crashed into an IROC, a Camry and two Jeeps — which is not bad considering that I haven't owned a car in eight years. So when I was offered an opportunity to drive Grave Digger, the most famous monster truck in monster truckdom, I felt qualified.

I headed up to Connecticut's Stafford Motor Speedway to meet Dennis Anderson, the man who built Grave Digger in 1981 and still drives it whenever his shoulder is attached to his body. He told me he had started out "mudboggin' and tug-o-warrin'" four-wheel drives. I didn't understand most of what Dennis said. After sitting down for a brief conversation, he told me my monster-truck name should be Powder Puff Boy. Then he punched me in the knee.

Dennis introduced me to Grave Digger, which weighs 10,400 lbs., has 1,400 horsepower and gets five gallons to the mile. This is the manliest paragraph I will ever write.

Dennis set up two Chevy Caprices side by side for me to crush and started up Grave Digger. It made a noise that sounded a lot like middle-ear damage. I considered bailing, but when I asked Dennis if he was the monster-truck champion, he told me he had lost in the finals to Goldberg, a truck sponsored by the professional wrestler. If a truck named Goldberg could win a championship, I figured I could at least crush a couple of cars.

I put on a fire suit, a helmet, driving gloves and a huge foam neck brace, and strapped on a five-point harness. Then I headed for the two Caprices from behind, not noticing the dirt ramp that had been set up by the sides of the cars. At the last minute, Dennis used his remote-control device to shut off my truck's engine. Still, even slowed to 5 m.p.h., I totaled one of the Caprices. I instinctively reached for my license and registration before I realized I couldn't move.

I put the truck in reverse and tried again. For some reason, perhaps the noise and fumes, I forgot that I had done all that damage with the engine turned off and decided I had been going too slow. Also, as I was approaching the ramp, I misinterpreted Dennis' signal to slow down for some kind of monster-truck high five and hit the gas instead. I Fonzied five feet over both Caprices, clearing my front wheels by 15 feet. I felt like Bo and Luke, only really scared. When I landed, my head somehow hit the steering wheel and cracked my helmet visor in two, despite the fact that I was buckled in so tight I couldn't move. Sadly, this is how I got my first hickey.

I immediately dismounted, staggered in a circle and approached my fans, who had gathered along the fence. Fourteen-year-old Brian Rylander, who was sitting on an ATV and used to own a go-cart monster truck, said he thought I was a professional. I handed him an autograph reading "To Brian: Keep on monstering — Air Joel" that he clearly didn't want.

I realize that going professional will require a lot of sacrifices, like learning what an engine is and growing a mustache. But I'm willing, because there truly is no greater thrill in sports than crushing a car. Except maybe crushing a school bus.