Monster of a time

Monster of a time

February 28th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Chattnow Outabout

Taryn Laskey soars over a pack of junk cars in her Monster Mutt Dalmatian monster truck.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: Monster Jam

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, and Saturday, March 2

Where: UTC McKenzie Arena, Fourth and Mabel streets

Admission: $20-$30 adults, $5 children

Phone: 423-266-6627

Website: www.TicketTracks.com

A gymnastics teacher, painter and poet who is a year away from her degree in nursing, Taryn Laskey is also - wait for it - a Monster Jam driver.

"I have no life," the Tulsa, Okla., native says, laughing, "but motorsports has always been my dream."

Laskey, 26, will be in the driver's seat of the Monster Mutt Dalmatian car for the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam, which will be Friday and Saturday, March 1-2, at UTC's McKenzie Arena.

She's not the first woman in the sport, but she still has the desire for the public -- and especially the young girls who watch her -- to know there's no limit to what they can do.

"With a male-dominated sport," Laskey says, "you always have the sense that you not only have to be as good as a man but better because you're representing a minority."

To show her femininity in the testosterone-filled sport, she gives away a handmade hair bow to a young girl in the stands after the freestyle portion of each show.

"I want to show them I may be a girl, but I drive a monster truck," Laskey says.

Born into a motorsports family -- her dad's side was in motocross while her mom's family race late-model stock cars and Sprint cars -- the former Sprint car driver says she couldn't avoid the interest.

And, Laskey says, the "special awareness, reflexes and ability to think on your feet" she learned as a national-champion gymnast have enabled her to think "more abstractly about what the truck's doing" and "how it works."

Monster Jams, presented to more than 4 million fans annually, consist of three basic elements: the pit party, an extra-cost event before the main event in which fans can see the trucks up close and meet the drivers; side-by-side racing, in which the custom-designed, 10,000-pound-plus vehicles compete; and freestyle, in which drivers can do their own thing.

Even in her freestyle time, Laskey said she tries to set herself apart.

"If I see the guys aren't hitting the big jump," she says, "I will hit that first, try to get the biggest air. We're here for the fans, so I'll do whatever I can to be more unique."

Laskey says she feels safe in the trucks, which sit atop 66-inch tires and are capable of speeds of 100 miles per hour.

"There's always [a thought of an injury] in the back of your mind because it's an extreme sport," she says, "but with Monster Jam, it's so safe."

With custom-fitted seats, a five-point harness, roll cage and shocks, "you're pinned in there," Laskey says. Plus, crew members are always checking the equipment, the truck's fireproof status and providing weekly maintenance.

Contact Clint Cooper at cooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.