OCALA, Fla. Kaid Jaret Olson-Weston is strapped into a 2,800-pound half-scale monster truck, humming playfully as he waits for the green light.
KJ, as he is known to his fans, sits patiently as he and his coach go over the safety features in his truck.
The roll cage is lowered. KJ starts the engine and jumps over humps of dirt before crushing a beat-up car. He spins the truck and its 200-pound tires clockwise, then backwards, leaving behind a cloud of dust in its tracks at his training center in Ocala, Fla.
Despite these feats, KJ can barely see over the steering wheel. At 8 years old, he is the youngest monster truck driver.
Id never seen anybody that young, said Rev Prochnow, who started the American Monster Truck Association 20 years ago.
KJ, a somewhat shy kid with a passion for everything else you can name with a motor in it performs cross country at about 60 different shows every year, from large arenas to small fairs. He signs hundreds of autographs at each show, but still considers himself an average kid.
Monster truck driving is growing in popularity and thats why its catching the attention of young drivers like KJ.
All the big names recognize that this is it, this is coming, said Tod Olson-Weston, KJs coach and father, who is starting to train eight other young drivers through his company Uncle Tods Motorsports.
KJ drives half-scale trucks, which are about half the size and a quarter of the weight of a regular monster truck.
There is a distinction between what hes doing and what we do, said Marty Garza, spokesman for the Monster Truck Racing Association, which does not allow drivers younger than 18 to perform in full-fledge monster truck events. KJs has a 200 horsepower truck compared to the larger monster trucks which have 1,500 or 2,000 horsepower.
It would be like calling a go-kart a race car, Garza said.
The MTRA, which has a 25-year history of developing safety standards for the industry, does acknowledge that the smaller trucks are very well built in terms of the safety for the driver. And although KJ doesnt say much while hes driving, his coach is in constant communication with him through a headset worn beneath his helmet.
We can appreciate what hes doing and hes the ultimate fan, Garza said. As long as hes in a controlled environment and all the safety precautions are taken to make sure that no one is in any sort of danger, we dont have a problem with it.
There has been opposition from other organizations, though.
The Monster Truck Challenge said in an email that having drivers this young is not something we want to be associated with. And Monster Jam, the worlds largest monster truck tour with more than 350 events in North America and Europe annually, said that although KJ has a unique skill it does not intend to pursue youth mini-monster truck performances/competitions for its events.
Put all that aside, you look at it and say he knows how to control it. He knows how to handle it. Hes safe around the people. Hes mature, Tod Olson-Weston said of his son. His passion for monster truck driving is clearly there.
KJs Monster Bear truck was customized to fit his size and has all the safety features required in a monster truck: A five-point safety harness. Neck restraints to keep his head from moving too far. Custom built seat. Pedals can slide to position. A fire suppressant system and a Kid KJ helmet. There is also the Remote Ignition Interrupt System, which can stop the truck on a radio command.
KJs younger brother and mother also drive monster trucks, so the sport is a family business and a costly one. Each half-scale truck costs between $50,000 and $100,000. (The larger monster trucks which costs between $150,000 and $250,000.)
My family loves monster trucks, Tod Olson-Weston said. And I am right there with them.
As for KJ, he is looking forward to being able to drive a truck that is a lot bigger.
Im probably going to be even more fearless, he said.