When Nicole Johnson, a co-owner of Koplin Construction and mother of two boys, tells you she’ll be a television host for a badass show about off-road vehicles someday—and hopefully soon—it’s easy to believe she’d be perfect for such a gig. In fact, you visualize that goal and it works—you want to watch. Her résumé is ridiculous (as in good), and has a personality to make her memorable (also good).
And, oh yeah, she drives monster trucks and 4x4 vehicles professionally, on the side. How cool is this woman?
Johnson says she was intrigued by the idea that women don’t drive 4x4s. Particularly, not attractive women with children.
“I’m always motivated when people tell me there’s something I can’t do,” she says. “I think: ‘Oh yeah? I’ll show them.’ ”
Today, she owns Johnson Motorsports LLC and, boy, does she know how to market her image. Just watch videos of her driving and passionately discussing her sport and sponsors—and, trust us, you, too, will become a fan.
It’s the sponsors, she says, and making them happy, that takes a lot of business and marketing savvy.
“If I’m going to do a whole series and get sponsors, I’m going to give them a return on their investment: Media,” she says. “If I’m going to take their vehicle and roll it, burst into flames, I’m always going to go that extra mile for them. Not all drivers recognize that.” The lady knows business.
Johnson got into monster truck driving by way of rock crawling, an off-road racing activity where drivers drive 4x4s up and over giant rocks. Johnson’s husband, Frank, who got the brunette bombshell hooked on the sport, serves as her “spotter”; He helps her drive around and over the rocks, and lets her know when to kick it into gear.
In her day job as a general contractor, Johnson says, she lives a very normal life. She loves spending time with her kids, now 10 and 13, and runs Koplin with her husband, a business she dubs a “mom-and-pop operation.”
Johnson has been used to hanging with the boys since her college days at BYU, where she received a degree in construction management. But how did she get to be a monster truck driver? She said she networked at a Las Vegas convention, Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show, last fall where she walked up to Dennis Anderson, creator of Grave Digger, a famous monster truck company, and introduced herself. “I had to, I’m not at all shy,” she says.
“Then his son says: ‘Hey! You’re that rock crawler chick.’ All my years of putting myself out there paid off. It’s a whole other industry.”
Anderson told her she should try out with Monster Jam, which was seeking more female drivers. The rest, as they say, was history.
Johnson went on to her first race in New Jersey, where she drove a truck called “Tazmanian Devil.” It was only her third day driving a monster truck when she competed for the first time. In 28 shows in eight weeks from January through March, she won nine times—a record for a rookie or female driver in one season.
Johnson traveled to Spain in June where, she says, she had a blast. And got paid to do “drive-and-talk” with the media.
“I’m hooked,” she says, with a big smile on her face.
What’s the best part of driving a monster truck?
“I love being in the spotlight,” she says. “It’s really fun being in front of 40,000 people and jumping over a bus in a monster truck.”
During a recent outing, Johnson says she let a teenage girl drive her 4x4. Soon after, she logged onto Facebook. The girl had written: “I’m so excited. I got to drive Nicole Johnson’s rock crawler and it was the best day of my life.”
“I tell girls ‘go for it’, ” she says, adding that in her new-found career, she loves being a role model.
With the Great Recession’s impact on Las Vegas construction, Johnson says that monster truck driving came into her life at the perfect time.
“Things are leaner than they were,” she says. “This isn’t only fun, but I’ve been sort of forced to reinvent myself.”
Again, how cool is that?