SALT LAKE CITY — Krysten Anderson has always seen herself as one of the boys. Growing up with all brothers in Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina, her dad, Dennis Anderson, treated them the same: They were all raised to be monster truck drivers, just like him.
Anderson's dad first created the Grave Digger in 1982, with its iconic skulls and purple and green design. Now, Anderson will be the first female to drive this classic monster truck in the Monster Jam Triple Threat Series, which makes a stop at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m and 7 p.m.
Eight athletes will compete in seven competitions with three different vehicles — monster jam trucks, speedsters and ATVs — on manicured dirt tracks. Four new trucks are debuting this year, as well as several new events where the audience will be able to vote for the winners on their smartphones.
For Anderson, monster trucks are a family tradition. Her dad is now retired, but her two older brothers also drive Grave Digger for Monster Jam, and her younger brother, who's 15, plans to join them once he turns 18. Anderson always knew she would drive monster trucks like her dad and brothers. It never mattered that she was a girl.
"My dad always treated me like one of the boys," she said. "If I fell down, I had to get back up and be tough just like my brothers."
Though Monster Jam might seem like a traditionally rough male sport, Anderson said she actually considers it to be one of the most female-friendly motor sports around.
"It's one of the only sports where males and females compete on the same track, in the same competitions, in the same trucks, on the same level," she said. "We don't have a girl's class where just the girls race each other or anything like that. We're racing guys that have been racing for 30 years … so I'd say it's one of the most gender-neutral sports we have right now."
Monster Jam also has pit parties before the shows where fans can meet the drivers and see the trucks up close. Salt Lake City's will take place on Saturday from 10:30 a.m-noon for $10 a pass. Anderson said she enjoys these events because she's able to meet the little girls she's inspired.
"A lot of little girls at the shows really gravitate toward me and they have their Grave Digger shirts on," she said. "I think it's really the coolest when their parents come up to me and they're like, 'You know, my little girl really wanted to try out for the hockey team or the boy's wrestling team or something and she didn't feel like she could, and now she can because she sees a girl driving Grave Digger. We didn't think that would ever happen.'"
She said though she does 40 shows in three months, she never gets tired of it.
"My adrenaline is still peaking every time I strap into the truck and we pull out on the track," Anderson said. "It never gets old. The butterflies never go away. It's always exciting and it's not staged. Everything we do, we never know what to expect. We never know who's going to win that night."Comment on this story
Part of the joy of her job is getting to drive a truck that everyone recognizes and meeting fans that once came to see her dad drive.
"When (my brothers and I) go out on the road and we're driving in my dad's truck, we're representing him and we're representing our family," Anderson said. "We just want to make our family proud and make the Grave Digger name proud. I think that's what really does it for me."
If you go …
What: Monster Jam Triple Threat Series
When: Friday, Jan. 5, 7 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 6, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Where: Vivint Arena, 301 W. South Temple
How much: $15-$56