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Are we seeing a legend in the making with Tyler Menninga? It would be incorrect to say that he has flown under the radar. Not just any Monster Jam driver gets to drive Grave Digger, and Menninga has backed up that he is one of the best out there with five tour Championships since 2017. Yet sweeping all three events at the Monster Jam Superstar Challenge in November came as a surprise to not only the fans, but also to himself.


So how did Menninga get to where he is today, and what is left for him to accomplish next?


“I was a big motorsports fan growing up, and I think about midway through high school that I wanted to drive monster trucks,” reflects Menninga. “I grew up watching Monster Jam and monster trucks, but I never thought that I would ever be behind the wheel of Grave Digger. So I guess that was never really a goal of mine. But, now that I am behind the wheel, it is kind of crazy to think back on that.”


Menninga did not start out behind the wheel of the black-and-green wrecking machine, however. After testing up in Paxton, Illinois, Menninga made his debut in 2016 behind the wheel of Blue Thunder.


“I really just took my first year to kind of get my bearings and learn how the truck reacts to certain jumps. I didn’t necessarily push it, you know. I just kind of tried to get the basics down.


“I will say that first year [2016], Ryan Anderson did the first moonwalk. I did try it a couple of times but that was a couple of months in after I was more comfortable with the truck.


“I got really comfortable by the end of my first year in Blue Thunder. But that’s the only truck I’d ever driven by this point. Then at the end of 2016 they called me and told me I was driving Grave Digger in 2017. So that was quite the shock.


“I won’t lie, I felt like I had a lot of pressure going into that first year in Grave Digger, just because it was the 35th anniversary. I won my tour, but I have always said that, Colton Eichelberger, in Max-D, probably should have ended up winning the tour that year. Tom Meents got injured that year, Colton went filling in for Tom and I ended up getting the points back from Colton while he was gone.


“After that, it’s just kind of a step into what it is now. I feel really comfortable in the truck, I push myself every time, at least I try to, and make the fans happy.”


Menninga went on to win Triple Threat Series Championships in arenas not only in 2017, but 2018, 2019, and 2020 as well, begging the question of when he would get moved up to stadiums. That time would come in 2022.


“I spent five years [2016-2020] competing in arenas, I wanted to get to stadiums quicker than five years, but I would say it was probably worth the wait, because I feel that arenas do teach you a lot of stuff that you can convert to stadiums. I don’t think every stadium driver can go into an arena and rock the house, but I do feel like a lot of the arena drivers can go into a stadium and do really well.”


Menninga’s first year in stadiums was the 2022 Stadium Championship Series Yellow tour, where he would finish second in the standings behind Ryan Anderson in Son-uva Digger.


Tyler Menninga waves to fans at Monster Jam World Finals
Tyler Menninga waves to fans at Monster Jam World Finals


In 2023, he would achieve his first stadium series championship, as well as his first World Finals title in 2-Wheel Skills.


Then came the Superstar Challenge this year on November 11 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA.


“You want to win every competition always. But you know, even just on a normal Saturday night on a stadium tour, you have a good lineup, but there’s also another stadium tour out there with another good lineup. So it’s not all of the best of the best, and it’s hard to sweep on a regular Saturday night at a stadium, let alone when you combine the tours.


“So it wasn’t a goal to sweep the event when I go to an event like the Superstar Challenge. I want to win something, and even then I’m not really putting a whole lot of pressure on me. I’m just going to go out and have fun and try and hit all of my marks and if I win, I win.”


First up was Racing.


“Racing, I would say, was probably the proudest moment I had that night, just because honestly in Friday’s practice I could not drive the track. I rolled over in my first pass. I didn’t feel comfortable on that track. I didn’t go into Saturday with any confidence in Racing.


“I honestly wasn’t even thinking about it. I was just thinking about the Best Trick all day, just wondering if that trick was gonna work. So I don’t know if that helped my mindset, going into Saturday night not really even thinking about Racing or Freestyle, but it definitely worked out.


“When I parked in that pit stall waiting for my first race, sometimes I’ll come over that radio. I’ll be like, ‘Hey, Matt. I’m feeling comfy in here,’ and that’s how I know it’s going to be a good night. I said that after my Round 1 racing win against Adam Anderson at Superstar.”


So Racing worked out with Menninga winning the competition. But what about the Best Trick?


“I will say it wasn’t as clean as I hoped it to be. I do love that it landed and proved that it could work. A lot of people said that it would never work, and I love proving people wrong. I love pushing myself. I love pushing my equipment that’s under me and I love making that magic moment for everybody that’s there watching as well.


“The only time that it really crossed my mind that the sweep might happen, was after I won Racing and after I won Best Trick and then we were just sitting there waiting. I had already gone for Freestyle, I was sitting down there by the announcers watching Freestyle and they got about halfway through. Weston Anderson was there watching with me, and I was like, ‘Man, if I win Freestyle too, I’m going to lose my mind.’ Because I just thought there’s no way.


“But Adam, Ryan, Tom, they all had problems or broke early, and that happens. I mean, I’ve been the one to break early before I’m sure they’ve been the one to break early multiple times in their careers before too. It’s just kind of how the stars aligned that night. A lot of luck was involved. I did well but, you know, you can’t always take full credit for that.


“That’s a once-in-a-career night to happen to somebody right there. I don’t think that will ever happen again in my career. Sweeping in all three competitions in a big marquee event with the amount of good drivers that were there, I just don’t see that happening ever again for me or that anybody would be lucky to have that happen, no matter who you are. So I’m definitely just letting it sink in at that moment.”


With the new 2024 Monster Jam season just around the corner, Tyler Menninga will look to again add to his championship tally. Additionally, there are some other awards he would like to check off of his list.


“At World Finals, I definitely want to win Racing and Freestyle. I have yet to do the High Jump yet, but I mean, I think it’d be cool to try that once.


“I think Racing is the most prestigious World Title that you could possibly get because there’s no judging for it. There’s a winner and a loser every race, and if you run that whole bracket and win all those races, I think that is most prestigious trophy in Monster Jam.


“That’s something that everybody wants and that’s something that not everybody’s going to get in their career, so I definitely want to add that to my list.”


Menninga’s first competition for the upcoming 2024 season will be on January 13 in San Antonio at the Alamadome.