By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher ©2014
(Part 8 in a series)
Monster trucks are suped up pickup trucks with tires five-feet high and motors that growl like wild animals. They are professionally raced at large-scale venues nationwide, drawing millions of fans and producing hours of family fun.
In Poplar Branch on Currituck County, NC’s mainland road sits one of the most famous of those trucks: Grave Digger, built and raced by the area’s most famous athlete, Dennis Anderson, actually the only local who has his own action figure and a story to live up to it.
Anderson’s brainchild is Digger’s Dungeon, a well-conceived compound built around the Grave Digger monster truck with its tell-tail green flames and ghostly skull; this entertaining enclave is a genuine roadside attraction on US 158, locally called Caratoke Highway.
Visitors from all over the world journey to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for the pristine beaches and natural beauty, and many of them drive down the Currituck County mainland road and pass right in front of this homage to monster trucks. Here they can take photos, view the garage, ride in a monster van on a mud track, eat at Digger’s Diner, visit the petting zoo, let the kids drive mini-trucks, and shop for memorabilia, including that action figure.
Anderson is often on property, when not driving in national events along with his grown sons Adam and Ryan. They’ve all made a lifestyle of it, with dad still the big winner, taking home five championships in the sport.
Yet he has a heart as big as his passion for racing, demonstrated by his participation in the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In 2010, he was awarded the Chris Greicius Celebrity Award from Make-A-Wish for his work with the children that the charity assists. The tough driver with a heart of gold says of his participation: “In 1992, I started my first Make-A-Wish. I’ve probably done somewhere around 400 ‘make-a-wish families’.
“I enjoy my work and get paid to play. Kids love what I do. Anytime I can make a family happy, especially in the tough moments of what’s going on in their lives right then, I do it.”
He often brings those wish recipients and their families to Digger’s Dungeon. “When they come here, they choose to come hang out with Dennis Anderson for a day instead of going to Disney World. They are on an adventure that day for them.
“And they write me and say it was the best day of their life. That really touches my heart.”
During our interview, Anderson told us how he started in monster trucks in 1981: “I worked at Currituck Grain. On days we weren’t working in the fields, I was kind of the handyman. I came from Chesapeake, Virginia. I was in Future Farmers of America (FFA). I worked on the farms (doing things like) digging drains or planting or picking or running a bulldozer. That was my specialty. I worked at the granary; I would sew bags of corn. Me and Gary Todd (one the family owners) saw a bit of each other, and he always had some nice shiny truck.
“One day he was trash talking me about racing in front of everybody, so we got into a mouth fight. I told him, ‘I’ll take that junk over there and dig you a grave.’ And I grabbed a can of spray paint and sprayed ‘Grave Digger’ on the side of an old ’51 Ford truck. That’s how I made it up, standing at Currituck Grain with corn dust all over me mouth fighting with Gary Todd.”
Dennis won that race, and the rest is history – lots of it.
If you haven’t heard of monster trucks, don’t fret. Even Anderson had his doubts: “My goal was to have a nice shop with a concrete floor because I started out in a chicken house that I converted into a shop, and it had a dirt floor. That was my biggest goal in life. I honestly didn’t believe that monster trucks were going to stabilize and be here as long as they have. I’ve seen it in its ups and downs but it’s here to stay.”
So is Digger’s Dungeon; see it when you come to the Outer Banks.
We also got into a conversation with Anderson about the TV show “Duck Dynasty,” which he admits most of his crew watches. “Would you like to meet them? we asked, to which he enthusiastically stated, “You bet!”
When we suggested to Anderson that he’d be a great candidate to show the “Duck Dynasty” fellas around Currituck and Duck, NC, with its rich, duck hunting heritage, he replied on tape: “I will blow their duck call, but they gotta come drive my Monster Truck!” (See the accompanying video for Anderson’s actual words.)
It might sound like a challenge, but it’s really an invitation. We envision Grave Digger’s millions of fans joining “Duck Dynasty’s” likewise massive fan base to make for a must-see episode for an upcoming episode.
For more info on Digger’s Dungeon and Dennis Anderson, go to www.gravedigger.com or call 252.453.4121.
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• Other Stories by JS Fletcher
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International Travel Examiner J.S. Fletcher and spouse, Kathy M. Newbern, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business. In fact, they have set one of their books on the OBX – Love's Bounty: An Outer Banks Romance.