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Why this former ballerina drives a monster truck

Monter truck driver Taryn Laskey competed in Monster Jam at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The first thing an observer notices about Taryn Laskey's ride – aside from the fact that the outlandish paint job and aftermarket add-ons make it look like a gargantuan Dalmatian – is that there are no rear-view mirrors. Then again, as Laskey will tell you in her delightful midwestern twang, when it comes to her line of work, it's all about where you're going – not where you've been.

Laskey is one of the few female drivers who competes in the Monster Jam circuit (which passed through Toronto's Rogers Centre on Jan. 18-19) home to a collection of truly monstrous trucks that hail by such monikers as Grave Digger, Northern Nightmare, and Maximum Destruction.

And, to paraphrase that age-old query: what's a nice girl like Laskey – a former ballerina and competitive gymnast – doing in a rough-and-tumble sport like this?

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"I've always been a tomboy and I've always been very competitive," she says, flashing an Ultrabrite smile while clad in her Dalmatian-themed racing togs. "And racing has always been in my blood."

Indeed, growing up in a motorsport family in Tulsa, Okla., the 27-year-old Laskey was racing quarter midgets by the age of 10. She eventually moved to Indianapolis where she raced dirt Sprint cars.

However, Laskey's financial backing and sponsorship money eventually "dried up", forcing her to move back to Tulsa in 2011.

One day, she happened to catch a Monster Jam event on TV in which a female driver was competing. On a whim Laskey, sent out her resume to the organization, never expecting to get a reply. She was wrong: the Monster Jam folks liked what they saw and Laskey was flown to the company's North Carolina's headquarters for testing. About a month later, she was competing in her first show.

Initially, it made for an intimidating experience. "When you first stand next to one of these trucks it is totally, totally intimidating," Laskey says. "And then you watch these machines actually fly though the air and you say to yourself, 'How is this even possible?'"

The answer likely lies in some Wile E. Coyote-like mathematical equation that involves inclines combined with excessive horsepower and reckless abandon.

Laskey pilots a contraption called Monster Mutt Dalmatian, which sports a spring-loaded tail that appears to wag when the truck is in motion; a pair of giant ears that flap when the truck takes flight; and an oversized tongue that flicks in and out of the front-end (It's hooked up to the truck's windshield wiper motor, more proof that necessity is the mother of invention).

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Cosmetics aside, Monster Mutt Dalmatian's stats are daunting: the truck stands 12-feet tall by 12-feet wide; it weighs almost 6 tons; it sports 66-inch Terra tires; and lurking under that black-and-white polka-dot paint scheme is an engine that delivers a walloping 1,500-horsepower mated to a two-speed transmission. When this powerplant fires up, the banshee-like shriek that emanates is an earplug salesman's dream come true. Surely this is vehicle that was co-designed by Herman Munster and the Terminator.

Indeed, if Formula One is the pinnacle of auto racing, Monster Jam is the motorsport version of professional wrestling. Everything about the genre is outrageously exaggerated – the outlandish names of the trucks; the goalie mask-like paint jobs gracing the fibreglass bodies; the inherent ability of these methanol-powered behemoths to transform full-sized cars into scrap metal. As well, unlike most other motorsports, one of the goals of monster-trucking is to get into accidents. The track is peppered with de rigueur sedans sourced from the local wrecking yard. The wrecks are all painted white – a fitting hue for sacrificial lambs.

Competing in the monster truck circuit isn't going to make Laskey rich though. Consider the costs inherent to this pursuit: a race team budget is about $250,000 per year. Then there's the cost of the truck (another $250,000) plus maintenance and repairs (engines have to be replaced every three months at an average cost of $50,000 per motor). At the end of the day, there isn't much gravy left over.

This explains why Laskey is now studying to become a nurse. "I have no life," she says. "When I'm not sleeping, I'm studying; when I'm not studying, I'm driving."

So, why does Laskey criss-cross North America and Europe to crush cars?

"It's all about the fans," she says. "When you hear them cheering you on ... that gives me such an adrenalin rush."

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And what is it like to compete in an overwhelmingly a male-dominated sport? "As a woman, you have to compete harder to prove you belong here," Laskey says. "It's a friendly competition, but the guys really don't want to be beaten by the 'girl driver.'"

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