Las Vegas woman snacks on monster trucks

There’s only one Las Vegas resident driving in the Monster Jam World Finals here this weekend, and she’s a married mother of two who steers trucks on the side.

Summerlin’s Nicole Johnson will drive the new Scooby-Doo Monster Truck on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“I literally feel like I’m in a cartoon,” Johnson says.

“I’m driving a 12-foot-tall Great Dane called Scooby-Doo. I’ve got a nose that’s probably two feet across on the truck, and big ol’ ears that stick up, and a huge tail that wags when I drive.

“It’s really cool.”

Johnson never saw this coming when she was a “painfully shy” teen growing up in Southern California.

In high school, “it got back to me that somebody thought I was stuck up,” she says, “because I was terrified to say ‘hi.’ ”

“So the next day, I was like, ‘I’m gonna say hi.’ I had to tell myself, ‘What are they gonna do? Beat me up? Of course they’re not going to beat me up!”

Johnson became gregarious, and earned a degree in construction management at BYU. Then she and husband Frank moved here in 1996, started Koplin Construction and had two kids (12 and 14).

But her dad was a mechanic, so grease was in her blood.

In 2004, she won her first “rock crawling” event, which is like driving a Jeep on a cone course full of big rocks.

Rock crawling is hairy. In a 2008 competition, she took on a scary steep climb up to a slanted rock drop-off of 12- to 14 feet. If she fell, she could have driven off a cliff.

“When I got to the top, in my head I said, ‘Two seconds. All it takes is two seconds of being afraid. And you’re a rock star if you do it. Can I be afraid for two seconds?’ ”

She nailed it, came in fourth, and was caught on film by Spike TV. She was a rock star.

And in 2010, she walked up to Monster Truck driver Dennis Anderson at Vegas’ SEMA car show, said “hi” and talked trucks. Then his bosses signed her up after a test drive.

She’s been touring ever since, a few months a year, in between running the married couple’s construction company and their new gunsmith shop, Marxman Precision Arms.

“I had a lot of moments where I wanted to throw the towel in and I wanted to quit” rock crawling, because she wasn’t sure she’d ever fully succeed. But she did what all successful people do: She kept going.

“Things don’t fall in your lap,” she says. “A little bit of luck, mixed with a lot of hard work, goes a long way.”


Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy of “Harry Potter” fame (Rupert Grint and Tom Felton) chowed with friends at Tao on Saturday, then partied at club Tao, posing for fan photos. I’m going to guess the wizards ate chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. … Kathy Griffin and her boyfriend ate at Lavo on Saturday. … “Glee’s” Kevin McHale celebrated a friend’s bachelor party Saturday at Palms’ Heraea restaurant. … Checking out T-Pain’s performance with House of Pain on Saturday at club Haze: Darryl Strawberry, Daisy de la Hoya and some NFLers.


■ “Top Gear” co-host @RichardHammond: “Top Gear not on tonight, so I’m off to Vegas for a couple of weeks. Seems reasonable.”

■ Denver TV sports broadcaster @VicLombardi: “I’ve heard some potty-mouth fans in my day, but these Vegas fans take the cake.”

■ Las Vegan James P. Reza @AuthenticVegas: “Anyone using the term ‘potty mouth’ probably has no business in Las Vegas.”

Doug Elfman’s column appears Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at He blogs at

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