Youth movement evident in monster trucks
ST. JOSEPH — When Kaid Jaret Olson-Weston was 3 years old his parents took him to a monster truck show.
Two years later he was driving one, albeit a half-scale one.
Now he does it in front of tens of thousands of fans.
K.J. was impressed by that first monster truck show — so much so that he told his parents that he wanted to be a monster truck driver.
So, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., residents bought him a go-kart made like a monster truck.
"I didn't think he really meant it to a degree where he'd actually drive (a monster truck)," said his father, Tod Weston, a business lawyer.
But K.J. told them that the go-kart wasn't a real monster truck. So his parents had one made for them. The mini-monster truck cost $50,000 to build.
Now, the youngster, age 9, and his 7-year-old brother, Jake, head Kid K.J. and his team of Lil' Mighty Monsters. They are billed as "America's youngest touring monster truck team."
K.J., speaking with the ease of someone twice his age, said the team puts on about 60 to 80 shows a year.
One of them will take place this Saturday when the boys in their trucks, Monster Bear and Sir Crush A Lot, are part of the Lucas Oil Monster Truck Nationals show at the Assembly Hall in Champaign.
Also participating as part of the Lil' Mighty Monsters will be Macey Nitcher, 16, of Westport, Ky., daughter of the man who drives the truck Ironman. Billed as "Demolition Diva," this marks her first year competing in monster trucks.
Among the adult drivers will be Mark Hall in the Thomasboro-based Raminator.
The young monster truck drivers trained for the show, which includes the magic of Franz Harary, at a hangar on the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul.
On Thursday they visited children at St. Joseph Elementary School, where they held an assembly.
K.J. said the biggest crowd the young drivers have performed before was 70,000 people in Indianapolis for the Monster Truck Nationals competition. He said performing in front of people was a little scary at first, but he soon got over it.
"When I was at my first show a little bit," he said when asked if he had stage fright. "Now it's just, 'What are we doing next?'"
He called monster truck driving "the funnest thing I've ever done."
"Being able to crush the cars and being able to ... drive and learn how to do everything that they do is really cool," the 9-year-old said.
K.J. said he likes to pick the brains of the adult monster truck drivers to improve.
He said he has been "driving" since he can remember — his parents buying him a Power Wheels, then a go-kart, an ATV and a dirt bike. His custom-made monster truck is 11 feet long and weighs 3,000 pounds.
It's a family affair for K.J., his brother and his parents.
Even his mom, Nancy Olson, drives a monster truck, called Monster Mission.
Tod Weston said his wife will be among the female drivers who will be featured on a "Nightline" television spot called "Moms and Monster Trucks" on Jan. 22. Nancy, who owns a title company, joins the family for the weekend competition.
Tod also competes occasionally.
K.J. was the first youngster ever to take part in a monster truck competition. While the family had the first mini-monster truck made for their son, now they make their own.
Tod Weston said the nuts-and-bolts part of the business comes naturally for him. He attended tech school and is a certified mechanic.
"We decided to make it a business as well as entertainment," Tod said.
Their team consists of eight young drivers who compete against one another. Four of them will compete Saturday.
The Westons provide all the trucks.
"We're manufacturing an entry-level truck to get more kids involved," Tod Weston said.
Their sons are generally in school Monday-Thursday and then head out for a weekend show. They take their homework on the road with them.
All members of their team are required to have at least a B average in school. Tod said they are also working on a fitness program to make sure the children stay active.
And he said they stress safety. The trucks are geared not to go over 25 mph.
"Our trucks are set up probably beyond what the large ones are" in terms of safety, he said.
If you go ...
Monsters & Magic monster truck show
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. for pit party. Pit pass party is free but must be accompanied by an event ticket for that show's performance.
Where: Assembly Hall, Champaign
For tickets: Advance tickets by visiting the Assembly Hall box office, charge by phone at 866-Illini-1 (866-455-4641) or online at http://www.uofiassemblyhall.com or http://www.MonsterNationals.com. Advance tickets $23 for A level; $15 for B/C level. Day-of-show tickets $25 A level; $17 B/C level.