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Image: Monster Jam

Monster trucks may be big and scary and loud, and have names like Bigfoot and Killer Crush and Death Machine, but it’s what’s inside that counts. This weekend, NRG Stadium turns from the land of face-smashing football—oof, sorry, Texans—to the land of car-smashing monster truck heaven with Monster Jam Houston.

We’re sure you have this whole monster truck culture thing pigeonholed, right? Camo-wearing fans cheering—nay, hootin’ and hollerin’—at the top of their lungs as jacked up vehicles crush regular-sized vehicles atop a dirt obstacle course while '80s hair band tunes blast through the speakers, and a wizard on a mountaintop shoots lightning from his fingers—something like that, no? For Nicole Johnson, the wheel handler behind her mega Scooby-Doo truck, it’s all about leaning into the surroundings.

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Monster truck driver Nicole Johnson

Image: Monster Jam

“It’s sensory overload. First of all, you can’t believe what you’re seeing. These gigantic trucks are flying through the air,” says Johnson, a six-year veteran of the spectacle. “You can’t believe that we’re just hurling these trucks through the air like that. Next, you immediately notice how loud they are.”

At 1500 horsepower, these steel monstrosities blast out eardrum popping metal screams. The trucks are massive—some are as much as four tons of heavy metal that pipe out hot exhaust, and in some badass cases, fiery flames. But imagine trying to just get those things moving, let alone to fly through the air at maximum speed, at an altitude of 30 feet, then land as gracefully as a ballerina. It’s controlled chaos and takes a massive amount of skill, coordination and mental focus, not to mention a ton of teamwork. Drivers have to know their trucks from the outside in.

“There are a lot of things that are similar [to driving a regular vehicle], it’s just that it’s huge. I think the biggest thing to adjust to is sheer size,” notes Johnson, who was already familiar with four-wheel drive mechanics as a rock crawling driver before aligning with Monster Jam.

Outside of getting a rush from flinging herself through the air in a giant truck and crushing sedans beneath her—and oh, by the way, she drives a Mini Cooper day-to-day—Johnson says it’s the fans interaction with each other and the drivers that really, um, drive her to do what she does.

“The most rewarding thing for me is getting to see how it affects the fans and the little girls… Sometimes they’re brought out there because their little brother wanted to go, but they may or may not even know what they’re about to experience.”

Arguably enough, monster trucking is a man’s sport, but that doesn’t stop Johnson from saddling up and crushing cars as much as the pride of her male compatriots.

“It’s a guy’s world… Probably more than anything it’s psychological… I don’t think any of them want to lose to a girl.”

Jan 23 at 7, Jan 24 at 4, Feb 6 at 7. $22; $10, kids. NRG Stadium, One Reliant Pkwy.

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