Since high school, Jon Zimmer knew that racing was in his blood. Over the years, he’s transitioned from a dirt bike to a 10,000 lb. monster truck with an engine equivalent to that of eight Toyota Camrys.
Zimmer belongs to a four-person monster truck team, Sudden Impact Racing, which is one of the largest independent teams in the country. They schedule 40 to 53 shows per year across the United States, meaning Zimmer is constantly on the road, away from his wife and kids. Below, Zimmer chats about flipping over in his truck, reaching local celebrity status, and loving Pawn Stars.
Graduated from: Vergennes Union High School in Vermont. I didn’t go to college.
In the industry for: 11 years
Salary: Between $30,000 and $50,000/year
Truck costs: More than $150,000 to build; easily that much to run for one year
Previous jobs: Farmer; construction worker; carpenter
What led you to monster trucks? A lot of [monster truck drivers] grow up doing lots of sports, but I spent high school on dirt bikes and four wheelers. We didn’t really have sports in my town, so it was all about being able to drive anything that was put in front of you. Racing is in my family’s blood.
How you got the job: During my honeymoon, I happened to meet Dennis Anderson, who owned the famous Grave Digger monster truck. Through Dennis, I met a team in Philadelphia, and I began working for them full-time as a mechanic and learning everything I could about monster trucks. During a show five years later, one of the guys on the team said to me, “Okay, you’re driving today.” Apparently, I did well.
Was your wife mad that Anderson hijacked your honeymoon? [Laughs.] She was – and always has been – very supportive. She’s awesome enough to let me do this for a living.
Do you have kids? Yes, a daughter who’s 19, and a son who’s 11. For the past few years, my son has been spending his summers on the road with me. He’s really taken an interest in the mechanics.
Is driving a monster truck like riding a bike – once you know how, you always know how? Each is a little different. But every monster truck is the same in the sense that they are 12 feet high, 12 feet wide, weigh about 10,000 pounds, and have an average of 1500 horsepower. The tires are about 66 inches. My team, Sudden Impact Racing, owns four trucks – and I can pretty much drive all of them.
Do you mostly compete in races or do solo shows? There are two kinds of monster truck events. The first is side-by-side racing over cars. The second is 90 seconds of freestyle, when a truck is on the track by itself with tons of different obstacles, from airplanes to boats to mobile home trailers.
Watch Jon Zimmer freestyle on the track:
Truck decorations: Reds, blues, lightning bolts – it’s a very busy paint job.
Number of shows per year: 40 to 53, which is extreme. Most teams do 20 to 30.
What goes through your head right before a big race? I don’t get nerves anymore; I put it in my head to go out there and have fun.
Do people recognize you from your TV appearances? Since I’m from a very small town in Vermont, I didn’t really advertise what I did for a living. But now, since I’ve been on TV shows, people in the neighborhood will tell me they saw me on the Speed Channel. My wife gets a kick out of that.
Best part of the job: The crowds and fans. For example, we’ll go to Jacksonville and race in front of 74,000 people in one night. It blows my mind how much the fans know about us.
Hardest part of the job: Traveling and being away from my family. There was a period of five or six years when I was only home for a total of one month.
Something people don’t know about the job: There’s still a perception that monster truck driving is a redneck, backwoods, fair-type atmosphere. It’s not – and you might not realize that until you go to big shows. This is a full-time job for a lot of us.
Racing gear: Fire-protected underwear; full fire suits; and fire gloves. You sweat your butt off, but if you catch on fire, you’ll be able to get out.
Have you been injured on the job? Other than an occasional sore back, no. You can flip over and crash in these trucks, and you’ll be fine. They are shock resistant, and the seats are customized. It’s safer than any NASCAR race car.
What straps you in? A five-point harness with custom-built feet. Most of us also wear helmets. The rulebook is unbelievably [strict] – motor truck racing is the only motor sport controlled by kill radios.
Kill radios? An official can shut my car off at any time when I’m driving – like if I’m rolling over and there’s a fire I don’t know about. I’ve flipped over and been shut off about 10 times.
Career goal: Ultimately, I’d like to win the World Finals, which are held every March in Las Vegas, Nevada. Only the 24 best trucks are invited, and I’ve been there the past two years.
What did you wish you had known going into the industry? I grew up on work ethics and was never lazy, but I didn’t realize how much work this job entails. We’re not just playing on weekends and crushing cars and going home. It’s constant – there’s never a time you can just walk away from your truck.
If you could be the star of any TV show, which would it be? Pawn Stars.
Most important monster truck lesson: Brain-to-foot control is extremely important. Because of the huge engine, you can basically make a monster truck do anything with your right foot.
LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
Driven to drive? Jon Zimmer reveals three keys to the sport.
2. Go to shows and meet the drivers. Most will try to visit with everyone who wants to talk to them, so be persistent.
3. If this is truly what you want to do, build a solid work ethic and be prepared to constantly work your tail off. When things are bad, just put your head down and push through it.
Unless specified otherwise, all photos courtesy of SuddenImpact.com. Check out more team photos and videos on the team’s website!
PLUS: Are you interested in filming monster trucks instead of driving ’em? Meet Alexis Boling, a freelance filmmaker (and previous No Joe Schmo!) who’s working on a documentary called “French Monster Trucks.”