For the majority of his first decade in the sport, Lee O’Donnell was an enigma: successful in virtually any truck that he got into, often winning major events as a fill-in driver, though he never seemed able to nail down a permanent Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam ride. That all changed in 2010, when O’Donnell went from being the sport’s top substitute driver to the full-time driver of the popular Ironman truck on Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam tour. With a handful of years of off-road racing experience under his belt, O’Donnell proved he could win races in just about any monster truck. Early in his career, he had won several big stadium events, and even some of the sport’s biggest televised events in more than a few different rides as a fill-in driver. Respected in the industry as one of the sport’s most gifted racers, O’Donnell has now become one of the most improved freestyle performers on the circuit since being named the Ironman driver.
Q&A with Lee O’Donnell
MonsterJam.com: How did you get started competing on the Monster Jam circuit?
Lee O’Donnell: I’ve been racing off-road since I was around 16 years old. I wound up doing the Pace Series for stadium off-road racing and had a lot of success there. I was running one of those events and they had a Grave Digger there. I was saying that I’d love to drive one of those, you know, just ripping around in a field. The lady working the registration desk said that she could make that happen. Her husband happened to be Mike Wales, who is now my boss.
MonsterJam.com: You developed a reputation as the sport’s ultimate hired gun. Anytime someone needed a driver, even at the last minute, they’d call you. Then you would get into whichever truck and do a great job. For years, despite lots of wins, you never were able to get a full-time ride in a monster truck until you were named the driver of Ironman. Was that frustrating for you, waiting all those years for a full-time seat?
Lee O’Donnell: Oh, yeah. It seemed like the rides were always going to somebody else. Frankly, it made me really mad, which drove me to try harder. Going back to when I filled in driving Taz and started going into the bigger stadiums, in a headlining truck where there was lots of pressure to perform right away, we would go into those stadiums and grab wins, in racing, anyway. I’m pretty sure every year after that I’d snag a racing win somewhere in some truck. There are so many guys that can’t say that. Yet when a ride would open up, it would always go to somebody else. So, yeah, it really burned me. Now I seem to have found a home. I was finally in the right place at the right time. Ironman came out and they needed somebody who would do a good job, perform, win, and not tear up that body. The body of a monster truck is so expensive and we don’t have that many of them. So, that’s how I got the job. You’ve got to do a good job racing: you’ve got to perform in freestyle, but try not to damage the body. It’s a very fine line, but I like walking that line.
MonsterJam.com: What do you do with your free time?
Lee O’Donnell: The kids are a handful. My two girls keep me busy. We’re actually getting into micro sprints with them. I actually backed out of the off-road racing to focus on Monster Jam, but opportunities keep coming back around to dabble in some off-road and to do some desert racing, so that’s a lot of my free time. Other than that, when I’m home, I just like being home.
MonsterJam.com: What is your greatest memory as a monster truck driver?
Lee O’Donnell: Wow, so many, and they are all special. My first win in Taz. Scott Hartsock was the first person to come up and congratulate me. He just said, “Man, that’s awesome.” Coming from him, that’s pretty special to me. The phone calls of congratulations that following Monday, from so many others drivers, was special too. And, of course, my other memory comes when everybody demanded a win in Atlanta (when O’Donnell filled in at the last minute for Linsey Weenk at the Georgia Dome in 2008) in the Blue Thunder monster truck. I think I got a little lucky that night, but luck is good sometimes.
MonsterJam.com: Do you have any pre-show rituals that you run though?
Lee O’Donnell: Not really. I Bounced in and out of so many different trucks and none of them were ever the same. However, as soon as I sit in the truck, I do have the same routine: the way I put on my helmet, the way that I buckle up, all the way down to putting my radio in and the steering wheel on; just taking care of my little office area, there.
MonsterJam.com: If you were not competing on the Monster Jam tour, what career path would you follow?
Lee O’Donnell: I built houses for a long time and I didn’t like that. I love hunting and fishing, but being a
dad is already my second career. I can change a mean diaper.
MonsterJam.com: What’s your favorite food?
Lee O’Donnell: Mama-in-law’s meat loaf
MonsterJam.com: What’s your favorite movie?
Lee O’Donnell: Dumb and Dumber
MonsterJam.com: What’s your favorite television show?
Lee O’Donnell: Family Guy
MonsterJam.com: What’s your favorite color?
Lee O’Donnell: Maroon and gold, of course
TRUCK INFO Truck Name: Ironman
Body: Custom Concept
Engine size: 540 CI
Transmission: Coan 2-Speed
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