The Legend of Grave Digger: Monster Truck's Black and Green Wrecking Machine

Dustin ParksAnalyst INovember 30, 2009

Every motorsport has that one iconic vehicle the fans instantly recognize.

In NASCAR, there's the black No. 3 of Dale Earnhardt. Drag racing has the Castrol funny car of John Force. Formula 1 has the bright red Ferrari of Michael Schumacher.

In the world of monster trucks, everyone unquestionably recognizes one vehicle: a black 1950 Chevrolet Panel Truck that bears green flames across the hood, red headlights that look like eyes.

The sides have a graveyard, tombstones signifying the trucks that have been defeated. A haunted house in the distance stands alone in front of a full moon. A ghost in purple sits behind the window, as if it's peering over the tombstones.

To the fans, it's known as the "Black and Green Wrecking Machine." Once George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" hits the airwaves, everyone in the arena knows what's coming.

That truck is the Grave Digger.

Back in 1982, Dennis Anderson started his eventual phenomenon.

He had an old pickup that he build from scrap yard parts. The truck was old with faded red paint but still had a lot of power. He would take the truck to a local mud bog and the other competitors simply laughed, calling it a piece of old junk.

Not one to back down, Anderson came back, telling them, "I'll take this old junk and dig you a grave." He then simply stenciled in Grave Digger on the doors, and thus the craze was born.

Soon, that old truck gave way to a new vehicle, an old Ford Panel Wagon that was painted silver and powder blue. To be unique, Anderson decided to put his big block Chevrolet engine in the back for weight.

But there was just something that didn't sit right with the truck. A truck that had been named "Grave Digger" didn't fit with the silver and blue panels.

So, while Anderson was in Virginia, the original home of his shop, he went to a local auto body shop and asked the crew to paint the truck to fit the name.

What he got was simply unbelievable. Flames shot up the truck, graveyards and ghosts haunting the sides. In that moment, the Grave Digger was born.

Soon after, Anderson put a set of red headlights on the front, which he took off the bus he used to haul the truck to events.

The truck was immediately a hit as was Anderson for his punishing driving style. Each show he would go all out, sometimes sacrificing the truck to get the win.

Following the 1988 racing season, Anderson decided that his truck would not get the job done and built a new one. It was lower to the ground, wider and more powerful. Plus, he decided to go with the Chevy Panel Van instead of the Ford.

When the truck came out, it was a struggle to get it to a point where Anderson was happy with it. Parts kept breaking, as he would push the truck beyond its limits, and often go out early in competition. It earned him the nickname "One Run Anderson."

But, his attitude of going all out won over the fans, and his following swelled.

In the early 90s, the advancement to the tube-frame monster truck was in full swing, and not wanting to fall behind, Anderson built his third Grave Digger truck. The tube frame chassis was painted a bright green, and an ominous skull and crossbones flag was added to the back.

The new truck would work out great, and as the 90s progressed, Anderson would build three more trucks to keep up with the advances. Unfortunately, so did the demand to see Grave Digger.

Knowing he couldn't be everywhere at once, Anderson decided to officially make the Grave Digger team a multi-truck operation. He first hired on Paul Huffaker, followed by Lyle Hancock and Rod Schmidt.

Knowing they were driving a truck bearing the Grave Digger name, they too had to go all out.

Huffaker himself built his own Grave Digger truck along with a new one for Anderson in 1997.

During this time, Anderson had brought in another concept into monster trucks. Because of all the breakage, the Grave Digger would be out of competition. But, Anderson would fix the truck and then ask the promoters and officials to let him return and just show off for the fans.

They soon obliged, and Anderson would come out, do jumps, crush the cars and spin donuts, sometimes flipping over.

The idea would soon be called "freestyle" and he would be deemed it's "Godfather."

By the early part of this decade, Anderson's team had expanded to include three more drivers. Hancock would move to another truck, but both Huffaker and Schmidt stayed with the team.

Anderson hired on Charlie Paukens, Todd Frolik and Gary Porter to race his trucks.

In 2000, team Grave Digger got its first championship.

In front of a packed house at Sam Boyd Stadium, Anderson took his truck and won the first USHRA World Freestyle Championship. Anderson would finish his run with a leap up a dirt hill with his steering not working, which sent him over on his side.

The following year Anderson would move to a new Digger truck. Despite the championship, the truck he was driving had a lot of issues, both in handling and breakage.

His new truck was built by Patrick Enterprises, which at the time had the best equipment for the industry. Anderson would race that truck for three years, but would not get any championships.

When 2004 came, Anderson decided it was time to make a change. He hired on Chad Tingler to take over his old truck, while also bringing on Randy Brown as another new driver.

Then, he and the crew got together to build a brand new Grave Digger from the ground up.

The truck was the 19th to have the Grave Digger name, and it would set off a season that would be one of the greatest for Anderson. The truck was longer, wider, and had a lower center of gravity allowing drivers more control.

That March, once again in Las Vegas, Anderson completed something he had never done in his career. Despite the one championship, Anderson had never officially won a racing title.

Finally, after 22 years, Anderson had put the Grave Digger in victory lane for the first time as a racing champion. In the post-win interview, he actually was laughing just so he wouldn't cry.

Anderson would lose the title the following season, but came back in 2006 with another new truck. Set up similar to No. 19, the truck had thicker tubing and a tougher roll cage, but everything else was exactly like his previous truck.

That truck would bring him another racing championship as he defeated the Bounty Hunter in the final round.

The 2007 season would be the 25th anniversary of the Grave Digger, but in fact was one that Anderson would be a part of from the sidelines. In the first event of the year, he injured his shoulder during qualifying. The result sent him to the hospital, and thus out of the truck.

Not wanting to disappoint his fans, his son Adam, having only one year of driving under his belt, stepped up to drive his father's truck.

The season would be a successful one for the Anderson team, as Adam would win the following three freestyle competitions, finishing out the season with five.

Dennis himself would get well enough to get back in the truck in time for the World Finals that season, but just missed out on another racing title. He would finish second in the freestyle competition, but the real treat was to follow.

That weekend, every Grave Digger driver was in attendance with the exception of Porter. At the conclusion of the freestyle competition, the remaining five Digger drivers came out and did a tandem freestyle in honor of the team.

Anderson would return for a full season of racing in 2008, and in 2009 he saw his most successful year to date. His Grave Digger would win seven racing events along with six freestyles, including four where he swept both competitions.

Still looking for another championship, Anderson has stated he is not done driving. His family is now fully involved in monster truck racing. Adam himself won the 2008 freestyle championship, and this year his other son, Ryan, will begin his driving career.

The 2010 season will be Anderson's 28th behind the wheel of Grave Digger, and his fan base is just as strong as ever.

For a man that started off with a truck built from a salvage yard, Anderson has created quite an empire. Each time he drives the truck, each time he freestyles, and every time he wins a trophy, he has one simple message.

Pointing to his truck, he looks up to the crowd and says "I tear up that truck every weekend. I don't tear them up for promoters, I don't tear them up for my crew. I tear them up for you guys (the fans).

"I want to thank you for every nut and bolt on that truck, for every shingle on my roof."

No one pushes the equipment harder than Dennis Anderson, and there is no monster truck with the following of the Grave Digger.

There is no question, this duo will be bad to the bone for years to come.

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