Amber Walker and Ms. Bigfoot: Little Lady With Very Big Dreams
Any man or woman who wants to get into motorsports first must find what they enjoy about it. Do they prefer the quarter-mile dash of drag racing, the twists and turns of Formula 1, or the high speeds of NASCAR?
Maybe what he or she is looking for is a sport where they can sling some dirt. Some drivers prefer swinging a late model or a sprint car on a small dirt track rather than the burn of the asphalt.
There are even those that prefer to hold onto the handle bars of a motorcycle or dirt bike rather than a steering wheel.
It is all about finding your niche.
Then, there are some drivers that take all these elements and put them into one sport. Combine the speed of drag racing, the turns of Formula 1, the dirt of the short track and the jumping ability of motocross and you have the sport of monster truck racing.
The sport has included many big-name drivers, but most of them are male. Drivers such as Jim Kramer, Dennis Anderson, and Fred Shafer are among the most recognized names in monster trucks. But, where are the famous female drivers?
Yes, Debra "Madusa" Miceli has won championships; however, she made her name in the wrestling ring long before taking the wheel of a monster truck.
But, one current monster truck driver can say she got into the sport for the simple reason that she just wanted to do it.
That woman is Amber Walker, the driver of the Ms. Bigfoot truck for the team that started the monster truck industry.
After being out of the seat for over five years, she was tabbed the driver for Ms. Bigfoot as part of Bigfoot's 35th anniversary tour.
Recently, Walker took some time out of her busy schedule to sit down for an interview with me.
With her final weekend of driving on the horizon, she was glad to discuss how she got into the sport, her life outside the truck, driving for Team Bigfoot, and her views on the industry.
DUSTIN PARKS: Amber, thanks for taking some time out of your schedule for an interview.
AMBER WALKER: No problem; glad to do it.
DP: When did you first get into racing?
AW: I started getting into it about 11 years ago when I was in college. I actually went to the 4-Wheel Jamboree in Lima, Ohio, and then to another monster truck show in the winter at the RCA Dome. I thought, "These are all guys here," and I thought that's something I could do.
I was actually driving down the road in Seamore, Ind., on one of my student internships in college and I saw [the] Wild Thing [truck] sitting beside the road. I pulled over and started looking at the truck and [driver] Tony Farrell came out and said, "Can I help you?" I said, "No, I was just looking at your truck."
He asked if I liked monster trucks, and I said that I was a driver, I just hadn't driven yet. And he thought that was hilarious.
DP: How did you get your first driving job?
AW: It was a coincidence as Tony had just sold his truck to Paul Shafer and he was looking for a female driver, and he was in Louisville, Ky., that weekend.
I went down and met Paul, and at first Paul was all "gung ho" to let me do it. Then he asked my age, and I said "19." He said, "I already have a child. I didn't want another one."
He let me crew for a bit just to get a feel for it. Then, when I was 20, I did my first race in Dayton, Ohio.
DP: You drove for Paul Shafer for many of your early years. What were some things you learned from him?
AW: One of the biggest things I learned from Paul was No. 1, you always tip people very well. Another thing I learned was to respect the sport, respect the fact that you can get hurt in all aspects in life, and to actually respect all the equipment. It's a reflection on him, and yourself.
If you're going to do something, do it to the best of your ability.
DP: You drove many trucks for Paul, most notably Frankenstein, the Boogey Van, and the No. 29 Kid Rock truck. Which one did you enjoy driving the most?
AW: The Kid Rock one was my favorite. It was my buddy.
It was a truck that also fell apart a lot. When it ran good, it ran GOOD. When it didn't run good, it didn't run good at all.
It was a fun truck to freestyle; you barely had to touch the gas, and the truck would come right out from underneath you. It would almost want to roll over backwards.
I knew a lot of other people who had drove the truck, and it scared them. Paul hated that truck.
I absolutely loved it.
DP: Who or what was your inspiration growing up?
AW: That's a really hard question.
I think one of my biggest inspirations was from a movie I watched called "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken," about a girl that dove horses off these big platforms and went blind doing it. But, it was something she loved and she kept doing. When I watched it, I definitely thought there was something out there for me in life that I would have a passion for like that.
I ended up finding racing, but my family had nothing to do with racing. They weren't into it at all. They were more sports, and I was a springboard diver and gymnast. But, nothing pulled me in the direction where that's what I should be doing.
But racing did, even though it came later in life.
DP: After the 2005 season, you decided to take some time off from monster trucks. What did you do during the time away from monster trucks and racing?
AW: I got a lot of tattoos, colored my hair a lot of crazy colors. I was a manager at a rehab department, but then stepped back and did my physical therapy stuff.
Also raised my kids, rode four-wheelers, dirt bikes, went mudding, tore up my Jeep...just a little bit of everything.
DP: Bigfoot decided to bring back Ms. Bigfoot as part of their 35th anniversary tour. What was your initial reaction when you got called to possibly drive the truck?
AW: It was funny. I actually said I would never race monster trucks again. When they talked to be about doing it, I thought, "Oh no, I'm gonna have to do this," because I said if I ever were to race a monster truck again, the only way I would do it would be for Bigfoot.
So, I was kind of in shock after five years that somebody bothered looking me up because I walked away, and that was that. I still thought about it, and it was funny because I used to dream about it all the time for some reason. I don't know why, but I would always dream about it.
DP: What were you thinking after they offered you the ride?
AW: At first, I was a little bit unsure about it, if it was something I was ready to jump back into. I'm really happy I did. I was excited.
It felt like a big honor that Bigfoot wanted me because they are the best of the best. They could have picked any other girl in the world, even would have trained somebody new. But, they wanted me.
DP: I remember you credited lead Bigfoot driver, Dan Runte, for getting you that ride.
AW: Yeah. He was the one that told them to look me up.
DP: What can you say about the Bigfoot fans and how they've accepted you as the newest driver of the Bigfoot truck?
AW: The fans have all been great. Everybody seems really excited to have a girl on board, and they have a little edgier look going on. Bigfoot has always been clean-cut, and then they got Larry [Swim] and started the "Bad Boy" Bigfoot.
When they met me, they said, "You're perfect. You are exactly what we wanted." They wanted someone edgier and fun, but still anti-drug and things like that. But, just had a fun, new look for them. And also the fact that I can drive.
Bringing that combination together was something that they liked.
DP: Your debut was at the Springfield Jamboree in Springfield, Mo., not that far from the home of Bigfoot. Any butterflies whenever you realized this was your first opportunity to step inside Bigfoot?
AW: Oh yeah! But, then again, I had a lot of pressure on myself because I was afraid of disappointing the Bigfoot fans so much. I didn't want to make Bigfoot look bad.
In my head, I thought I had a qualifying pass. I pulled to the [starting] line, and I looked over and there's Avenger. I thought, "What in the world? This isn't a qualifying pass." So, my first time driving Bigfoot was in a racing pass against Avenger.
DP: That weekend didn't exactly go the way you wanted. First day, you rolled the truck over after hitting the bus stack after a patented Bigfoot wheelie.
AW: No, but I look back on it and the fact of the matter is that I had a Bigfoot truck, and I had a slap wheelie, so I had to do it. I felt like I had to do it. So, when I committed to it, I knew I was going a bit crooked, but I'm going to try and back out of it.
That stuff happens.
DP: A little word association for you. Just say the first thing that comes to your mind.
AW: Alright, I'm ready.
AW: I don't want to say (huge laughs). I'll just say big motor.
DP: Your family.
AW: My kids.
DP: Paul Shafer.
AW: His glasses (laughs).
DP: Larry Swim.
AW: I can't answer that honestly. I plead the Fifth.
DP: Bob Chandler.
AW: Really the coolest person ever. So super nice.
DP: Dan Runte.
AW: Super professional, and a bad ass driver. Hands-down, best there is.
DP: The Bigfoot wheelie.
AW: Total adrenaline rush.
DP: The fans.
AW: Awe, I think of my two little associates in crime, my mustache bandits. This little girl and little boy that come to all my shows. The little girl dyes her hair like mine, and we draw fake mustaches on our fingers and take pictures of in the autograph line.
DP: Everett Jasmer, owner of the USA-1 monster trucks, has for many years described the industry today as "professional wrestling on wheels." Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
AW: I wasn't around in the old days, so I don't know what it was like. I don't know if it's "professional wrestling on wheels," but I think it's become too commercialized and the racing aspect has been pushed aside, which is really sad.
It's all about the freestyle and how many T-shirts you sell. There's some companies out there that said there's a lot of money to be had in these shirts and stuff.
I haven't done many of those shows to know, but I'm sure there's certain people in certain places that maybe they prefer a win out of that person because they sell more T-shirts. I don't know that for sure, but I can see that happening with the industry a little bit.
The new thing is to find the new and most exciting way to get money coming in. There's also not enough sponsors in the sport that will allow it to be full-on racing.
With the economy changing and things going downhill, for these companies to stay afloat, they really have no choice but to go all out "this is a show, this is entertainment, and this is what people want to see."
If we just go to racing, and people get bored, then the sport will die out completely.
I think it was just actually something that just had to happen to keep the sport afloat. I think in the future you may see some more racing come out of it, but I think it will be a while before the market comes around and lets that happen.
DP: Do you think that has hurt the industry?
AW: I think in a way it has, but in a way it's the same as freestyle motocross and things like that. It's the nature of human beings. They want to see crashes, they want to see the next new big thing. I guess the decision had to be made as to whether they stick to just racing, or they just "go crazy."
People are probably going to start getting hurt more, but much like many other sports, the more technology that comes out there, the more bigger stunts people are going to do because of the new safety equipment.
DP: Do you feel bad that there isn't as much of a focus on racing?
AW: I'm disappointed there isn't a racing series like there was before, like the ProMT and being full on just racing. Now, it just seems like the show is almost based on freestyle. You can go on and win the race, but if you do a terrible freestyle, people will really remember the driver that did the good freestyle and went out there and really kicked butt.
Some of them remember the racing, but more often than not if you do a good freestyle, they think you're the greatest thing in the world. Even if you did horrible racing.
DP: Recently, Joe Sylvester in the Bad Habit monster truck broke the long-distance monster truck jump record, now at 208 feet. Any desire to break the record yourself?
AW: If Bigfoot would let me, I would be all for it. I have a HANS device now, an ISP seat. It is something I totally would want to do.
There's two things I would do monster truck-wise. No. 1, be MTRA (Monster Truck Racing Association) Driver of the Year at some point.
No. 2, hold a world record at some point. Even if it's just for a month, I wanted to break one record of some kind.
DP: Do you think it can be broken once more?
AW: Oh yeah, I certainly do.
DP: Finally, do you have any words for any young man or woman that wants to get into motorsports?
AW: I think you have to go in there and find your niche. Like, what you feel drawn to, and go with that, and not being afraid to say "This is something I want to do."
I love dirt bikes and four-wheelers, but I just always felt it wasn't my thing, like it wasn't something I was going to be good at. Something in me was drawn to the monster trucks and I thought that this was something I could possibly do, and it's a blast. It's an adrenaline rush.
I'll never get world famous for driving a monster truck, or make any fabulously, good money. But, it's what I love to do. Every time I'm in my truck, I feel like it's where I'm supposed to be, and that's a great feeling.
I think it's sad that sometimes people don't go with their gut instincts. You just go do it.
Walker has shown that even though she is a little small in size, her dreams are as big as ever. She hopes that she can continue to be a part of the Bigfoot team in some fashion.
In fact, the Bigfoot team is currently holding a contest to redesign their "Bad Boy" Bigfoot truck for the new season. Walker suggested that they create a "Bad Girl" Bigfoot for possibly just a one-time-only performance.
If that happens has been yet to be seen. But, no matter what, Walker proved that big dreams really can come true.
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