Ohio Woman Tears It Up On Monster Truck Course
In the daredevil world of monster truck racing, Allison Patrick is an anomaly.
Part of her time is spent engaging in the bone-jarring business of hurtling off ramps and smashing cars behind the wheel of a supersized pickup truck.
The other part is spent healing people as an intensive care nurse.
"It's definitely a double life," the 28-year-old Circleville resident said with a laugh. She doesn't mention her alter ego to her patients at Circleville's Berger Hospital, she said, but if they happen to hear about it from the other nurses, "they look at me like I have two heads."
Patrick will be plying her driving skills in Cleveland next week during the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam, scheduled for a three-day run starting Friday at Quicken Loans Arena. Besides the usual racing and freestyle competitions, the event will feature a Monster Jam Wedding on Friday and a pre-show Party in the Pits on Feb. 16 and 17.
Patrick is one of relatively few women in monster truck racing, a testosterone-laced sport that involves zooming around a track in trucks that average 12 feet tall and weigh at least 10,000 pounds. Drivers soar off ramps, spin in circles and whip the crowd into a frenzy with their mud-flinging, car-crushing antics.
Monster trucks date back to the 1970s, when St. Louis resident Bob Chandler starting souping up his Ford F-250 pickup truck both to toughen the truck and to show off the four-wheel products his business sold.
In 1981, he drove his truck over a couple of junk cars for fun, and a promoter who saw a video of the stunt persuaded him to do the same thing in front of a stadium crowd. Soon others were building monster trucks and doing car-crushing exhibitions, which eventually were replaced by a racing format.
Today's monster trucks are no longer modified pickup trucks, but rather specially built, superstrong frames covered with fiberglass shells that are painted to look like conventional pickups. The trucks' outsized suspension systems and 5½-foot-tall tires allow them to roll over cars and absorb the impact of their flights off ramps.
Drivers compete in head-to-head races and show off their skills in freestyle competitions that have them doing doughnuts, smashing into obstacles and performing other spectacular stunts.
For Patrick, monster trucks are a lifelong love. The daughter of longtime driver Dan Patrick, she grew up with the sport and even had a track on her family's 15-acre property.
She yearned to follow her father's lead, she said, but he didn't always share her eagerness.
"I've always wanted to but never really thought it would happen," she said in a recent phone interview. Her father, she said, brushed her off repeatedly until two years ago, when he decided to retire from racing. He now concentrates on his truck-building business and serves as her crew chief, she said.
But succeeding him involved much more than just taking the wheel of his truck, Samson. The inside of the truck's cab had to be custom fitted for her, and she had to learn the complex skills of maneuvering a monster truck — a task that involves the use of both hands and feet at all times.
Her left foot, she explained, is always on the brake, and her right foot on the throttle. Her left hand stays on the steering wheel, while her right hand is used to control the gear shift and the toggle switches that turn the rear wheels.
As if that weren't challenging enough, she has only a limited view from the truck. "It's crazy," she said.
Patrick made her driving debut just last month, at a Monster Jam event in Evansville, Ind. If all goes as planned, Cleveland will be her fourth show.
There's a certain irony to a nurse pursuing an extreme sport that celebrates smashups and spinouts. And the sport is not without risks. A 6-year-old spectator was killed by flying debris in 2009, and an Ohio show promoter died just eight days later when he accidentally wandered into the path of the truck driven by Patrick's father.
Still, monster truck racing is "remarkably safe" compared with other sports, said Rich Schaefer, former communications director for the Monster Truck Racing Association.
"There are many promoters like Monster Jam that invest a lot of resources in an effort to be proactive on safety, which is why the sport has an incredibly solid record on safety," he said in an email. "And Monster Jam is a leader in safety."
Patrick said the extensive safety gear and restraints make piloting a monster truck safer than driving a car. She once flipped her truck end over end, she said, and she walked away from the wreck.
Maybe the toughest part of racing for her is the demanding schedule. Patrick works 12-hour nursing shifts each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then leaves for a truck event on Thursday and returns Sunday.
"It's very exhausting," she said, "but it's very worth it."
The adrenaline rush she gets when she's in front of a crowd keeps her going, she said. So does living out her dream with the help of her family.
"It's a part of me," she said. "I can't imagine the truck not being a part of our lives."