From mom to monster truck driver

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A monster truck driver, a wife, a rock crawling champion, a mom, a BYU alumna who graduated in construction management, a general contractor who co-owns a construction company — the questions is not who she is, but who she isn’t.

Nicole Johnson’s involvement with motor sports started long before she ever competed in a rock crawling competition or raced a monster truck. She grew up around automobiles and loved to drive since she was a kid.

“Automotive stuff has just always been a part of my life,”  Johnson said. “I never realized it growing up.”

When she was five she drove her go-cart around her family’s neighborhood in Camarillo, Calif. She said she recalled driving her older sister’s Pinto down an alley at age eight. She constantly asked to drive from a young age because it was “really fascinating to (her) to drive a car.”

When she and her friends reached the age where they were all getting cars, she would always ask to drive her friends’ cars.

“It was always my thing to drive somebody’s car,” Johnson said.

Three weeks before she turned 16 she received her first car as a surprise. This Christmas temptation was too much for her.

“Do you think I just let it sit there or do you think that I took it out?” Johnson said. Just like the go-cart when she was younger, she took her new car around the block until she got her license.

She was comfortable with and loved vehicles because her father was a mechanic, so she grew up around automobiles.

“It wasn’t unusual to be around motors, and whenever he was working on them I would ask him a hundred questions and he would just take the time to answer them,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s mother, Georgia Crandall, said Nicole would always hang around her dad while he worked in the garage and loved driving wherever they went.

When Johnson met her husband, Frank Johnson, she said she was attracted to his curly hair and 1972 Land Cruiser. After she saw his car and heard the loud Chevy motor she said, “Wow, I’ve got to drive that.”

He eventually let her drive and, when they got married, her involvement with vehicles continued — they would go four-wheeling and rock crawling together.

“It was really natural for me to find a guy who was into cars,” Johnson said. “It’s just something that we do, it’s who we are.”

Frank’s passion for motor sports increased until he started competing in rock-crawling competitions with his friend. Rock crawling is a team sport, where one person acts as a spotter, or navigator, who tells the driver how to overcome certain obstacles. During this time Frank gained experience professionally spotting.

Frank said his hobby of rock crawling led to Johnson starting to drive so she could be more included.

“To get her more involved I thought it would be a good idea to just put her behind the seat, it took off from there,” Frank Johnson said. “I ended up being the guy on the outside of the truck.”

In 2004, some friends asked Johnson if she wanted to compete in a women’s only rock-crawling competition in their jeep. After she won the competition two years in a row, Johnson told her husband she wanted them to start their own team.

“I was like, ‘OK, I totally want to compete,'” Johnson said. “‘I want to do the whole season, I want to drive, I want you to be my spotter.'”

First, she had to learn how to really drive competitively and had her husband spot for her.

“If we had reversed the roles, he would have been the driver and I would have not known really what we had been looking for,” Johnson said. “I would have backed him into obstacles, I would have dropped him off cliffs.”

[media-credit name=”Courtesy Johnson Motorsports” align=”alignright” width=”199″][/media-credit]
Nicole Johnson at a rock crawling competition
Working as a team, they were successful and established a reputation for Johnson Motorsports. Johnson placed in 12 rock crawling competitions from 2004 to 2010, was featured on Modern Marvels on the History Channel, Xtreme 4×4 on Spike TV and M6 Turbo on French TV.

In 2010 her career took a turn at the SEMA automotive trade show in Las Vegas. Dennis Anderson, who created and drives the monster truck “Grave Digger” approached her and asked if she would be interested in test driving a monster truck.

After test driving monster trucks for two days in North Carolina, Johnson was invited to drive for the upcoming season of Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam. With little preparation, she began her first season.

“Six weeks after I test drove a monster truck, my season had started and I only had driven the truck for two days going into my very first show,” Johnson said.

Even with her lack of experience, Johnson won the racing portion her first night out and ended up winning races nine times in a 10 week period. She broke the record for the most amount of wins for a rookie or a female in a single season.

Johnson has driven in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam for two years now and plans on continuing in the future. She also uses some of her new-found exposure to send a message to children about being themselves. Something Nicole Johnson said she is very good at is being true to herself and breaking stereotypes.

“Monster trucks might be weird to other people, but I’m just really comfortable with it.”

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