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 backward, 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.
"I'd never seen anybody that young," says Rev Prochnow, who started the American Monster Truck Association 20 years ago.
Happy to perform
KJ, a somewhat shy kid with a passion for "everything else you can name with a motor in it," performs throughout the 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.
"I do really good in school and am able to drive this, which people think it might be hard, but it's actually pretty easy," he says.
Monster-truck driving is growing in popularity, and that's why it's catching the attention of young drivers like KJ.
"All the big names recognize that this is it, this is coming," says Tod Olson-Weston, KJ's coach and father, who is starting to train eight other young drivers through his company, Uncle Tod's 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 he's doing and what we do," says Marty Garza, spokesman for the Monster Truck Racing Association (MTRA), which does not allow drivers under the age of 18 to perform in full-fledge monster-truck events. KJ's truck has 200 horsepower. Larger monster trucks have 1,500 or 2,000 horsepower.
"It would be like calling a go-kart a race car," Garza says.
Built for safety
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 doesn't say much while he's driving, his coach is in constant communication with him through a headset worn beneath his helmet.
"We can appreciate what he's doing, and he's the ultimate fan," Garza says. "As long as he's in a controlled environment and all the safety precautions are taken to make sure that no one is in any sort of danger, we don't have a problem with it."
Support is limited
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 world's 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. He's safe around the people. He's mature," Tod Olson-Weston says of his son. "His passion for monster-truck driving is clearly there."
KJ's 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. (Larger monster trucks cost $150,000-$250,000.)
"My family loves monster trucks," Tod Olson-Weston says. "And I am right there with them."