When Monster Jam takes to the Rogers Centre in January on the 13th and 14th, it will be the first appearance for the Gas Monkey Garage truck in Ontario’s capital city.
Short Track Musings recently caught up with driver BJ Johnson about the upcoming show, and his career to date.
SHORT TRACK MUSINGS: What does it mean for you to come up to Toronto?
BJ JOHNSON: Oh it’s great. The last time I was in Toronto was in 2013, and I was crewing for Batman. So now the first time ever bringing Gas Monkey show to Toronto – the only other Canadian show we’ve ever done was Vancouver. So I’ve always been to Toronto as a crew guy through the years, so we’re pretty excited. It’s going to be the first time that we’ve ever seen this thing. It’s Monster Jam’s only Muscle Car.
STM: When you got into a freestyle, what’s your strategy? Are you tame or all out?
BJ: Usually in Freestyle, it’s 90 seconds – we don’t have a bonus time anymore; they changed the rules on us a little bit. So going into Freestyle, I don’t plan my whole freestyle out. I plan what I am going to do for the first hit, and usually we go big right out of the box. After that, I don’t say we lay down, but you have to be smart about your hits because you want to fill your time, because if you crash early, the fans won’t give you a good score. So we try to go huge all the time, a few different moves. If you see 10 trucks do the same thing, it gets boring, so that’s why everybody tries something different. We all have a signature move – something that you know I’m going to try.
But once it gets down to 30 seconds left, the crew is talking to me – we talked to each other on the headset – so once he tells me 30 seconds, I know that I’m pretty getting close on my time. So after that, it’s point and shoot, and hold it on the floor. So it’s exciting for the fans, but it’s more exciting for us as drivers to sit back and watch what someone does and tries something different. If it works, I may try it.
STM: Racing or freestyle – what seems to suit you better?
BJ: Racing. I’ve been a racer my whole life. I’ve raced since I was six-years-old; I used to race motorcycles so the racing part of it is my favorite by far. Freestyle is fun, but it’s one of the things where it’s luck of the draw. Now racing – you know who is a true racer and who isn’t. It’s two trucks at a time with whoever gets to finish the line first. You may spin out in the corner and think you may not win, and then the other truck may have a problem. So you can make a lot of ground up in a hurry. I’ve had a lot of comebacks like that. I don’t give up until I cross the finish line, so racing is where it’s at for Gas Monkey.
STM: Was being a Monster truck driver something you always wanted to do?
BJ: Being a little kid, I’ve always loved Monster Jam and trucks – just like every little kid that comes to the shows now. I used to race motorcycles, and that what was I wanted to do my whole life – race bikes. Probably when I was about six or seven-years-old, I got taken to a show in California. We went and saw the trucks, and got to go down to the pit party. I sat in the tires, took a picture – I still remember to do this day that I looked to my dad and said, “I want to do this.” He smiled at me and said, “Keep dreaming.”
A lot of hard work and the motorcycle thing worked out good for me, but I had to quit due to an injury. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I got the opportunity to help out with a team. It was just kind of knowing somebody. I started with those guys, and I just crewed, and it worked out to be a full-time job. I was like, “Man, this is going to be cool to do for a living. It’s something that I always wanted to do.” Then I started driving in 2004, and I’ve been driving ever since.
STM: Now having worked as a crew chief yourself, how grueling are the double day shows like Toronto?
BJ: The crew guys are the heart and soul of the show. I used to be one, so I know what they have to do go through in a night. The double-header stadiums, doing two back-to-back like that, is very rough. It’s rough on the crew, on the trucks, and on your body. It’s one of those things that we work out, we get prepared physically and mentally as best you can, and it’s one of those things that you may have a bad night and it may not work out, but you have another show. So it makes for a more exciting show, I think, because we’re not holding back at either show.
We race for points now, so both shows we’re trying to win and get points and do the best that we can. If you go into it trying to hold back because you think one show will be better than the other, it never works out that way. Just go in and do one show feeling it’s a one-nighter. I know some fans, too, that go to both shows and say each show is a different show, and it works out for everybody.
STM: Most memorable moment of your Monster Jam Career to date?
BJ: I’d say my most memorable moment was a couple years ago. We do shows all over the world, so I went to Australia as a back-up driver just in case somebody got injured, I could drive for them, and I was there crewing. I still go crew on trucks off and on and help guys out. I also do things with the newer drivers and newer crew. So I went to Australia and my fiancé was the crew chief of the Madusa truck. While Madusa did the show, not feeling too well, and couldn’t do the next show. So they asked me to drive Madusa’s truck.
So I’m overseas, never driven Madusa’s truck before, never even been in it, and ended up winning racing the first time that I ever drove it. We had a really good night, but it was good for the fans to see a guy step up and drive a girl’s truck, and everybody was happy with it. But it was my first big racing win with Monster Jam in a stadium – so my very first win was in the Madusa truck, not even my own. That’s what started my career off better, because once I got a big win like that under my belt, it’s been wins ever since.
The Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario will host 14 of the best, coolest trucks on the Monster Jam tour featuring a wide range of stars on January 13 and 14. Ticket prices start at $15, with Pit Party Passes are available for purchase for $10. Tickets and Pit Passes are available at the Rogers Centre Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.ca, and at (855) 985-5000.
The Pit Party will be held from 2:30pm on Saturday, January 13 and 11:30am on Sunday, January 14. The pre-show pit party gives fans the chance to see the massive Monster Jam trucks up close, meet drivers, take pictures and get autographs. To access the Pit Party, event ticket and Pit Party Pass must be presented upon entry.