Monster Jam a ‘Blast’ for North Clarion Graduate Tony Ochs

pitpartyCLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – Growing up in Crown, Pa., just down the road from the Sportsman’s Paradise where he worked as a teenager, Tony Ochs would watch Monster Jam on television and even got to go to a couple of shows.

(Photos courtesy of Feld Motor Sports)

However, Ochs, a 2004 North Clarion graduate, never thought he would be on the other side of the television or on the arena/stadium floor driving those trucks.

“I was always a fan growing up,” said Ochs, who has driven for Monster Jam since early 2016. “But, the thought never cross my mind that I would be a Monster Truck driver or that I even wanted to be one.”

That all changed for Ochs when he went to work for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Monster Jam.

“Once I started working for Feld Entertainment and realized it was not totally impossible, is when I started to really, really want to be a Monster Truck driver,” Ochs said.

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Even then, Ochs thought it was more a dream than a reality until some higher-up executives at Feld Entertainment heard that he wanted to become a driver.

“Some of the higher echelons approached me and said they heard I wanted to drive Monster Trucks,” said Ochs, who was working as a mechanic for Feld Entertainment’s Marvel Universe Live motorcycle shows, something he still does on a part-time basis. “I was like ‘it’s just a long shot hope and dream,’ and they said ‘it isn’t. It’s a lot more possible than you think.’ I was like ‘oh really.’ I then became obsessed with it.”

Feld Entertainment sent Ochs to Monster Jam University in Paxton, Ill., for a tryout.

“It’s run by 11-time Monster Jam World Finals Champion Tom Meents,” Ochs said. “He tested me. It was pretty much like an audition. They had me go out and drive the Monster Truck, do basic maneuvers, to make sure I could handle it.”

Meents liked what he saw, and Ochs was flown back out to Paxton for four weeks of personal training by Meents. Before he knew it, he was starting a career as a Monster Truck driver for Monster Jam in January 2016.

“It turns out my military background, my looks, and the way I handled the Monster Truck all were in my favor,” Ochs said.

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The military background played a key role for Ochs in more ways than one.

Spending 10 ½ years in the army as an Apache helicopter mechanic, Ochs served four combat tours – Iraq twice, Afghanistan, and a multi-national operation in Kuwait.

He was also stationed at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss both in Texas, and it was while stationed in Texas that he met his long-time girlfriend, Brandy Valdez.

“When I was getting out of the army in 2014, Brandy was working for Feld Entertainment,” Ochs said. “She was a motorcycle stunt performer, and I was like – let’s see if I can get on as a mechanic. I got hired as a stunt motorcycle mechanic.”

When Ochs became a driver, Monster Jam was running a truck driven by veteran driver Chad Fortune called “Soldier Fortune.” The company wanted to build off that and have Ochs drive a truck called “Soldier FortuneTM Black Ops.”

“When they approached me with ‘Soldier FortuneTM Black Ops,’ the truck being a tribute to the military made we want to it that much more,” Ochs said.

Ochs drove “Soldier FortuneTM Black Ops” throughout his rookie season and even had a racing win against the famous Grave Digger while winning two donut competitions and a wheelie competition.

“I’d like to take ‘Soldier FortuneTM Black Ops’ further in the future and pay tribute to military and military families and put on a great show to all military and their families,” Ochs said. “That’s what my truck is all about.”

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According to Ochs, being an army veteran and driving a military-themed truck has resonated with his fans.

“I get military members themselves, veterans, and their families shake my hand and thank me for my service,” Ochs said. “Guys give me coins – coin exchanges are a way military members and veterans connect and show respect for one another. I have several coins from veterans. A lot of guys I serve with see me in the pit parties and say how awesome it is what I am doing. I want to continue to pay tribute to the United State military. It really makes my heart smile.”

Ochs’ time in “Soldier FortuneTM Black Ops” is on pause right now as he has done international shows in 2017 in a different Monster Truck.

“I did a show in Saudi Arabia in early March,” Ochs said. “It was the first Monster Jam show ever in Saudi Arabia. In fact, I heard it was the very first public live entertainment event in Saudi Arabia through its Vision 2030 program that is trying to westernize the country. I drove the ‘Superman’ truck there. In about a month, I will be going to Argentina for a show, and over the summer, I might be doing some shows in Europe.”

Ochs said driving a Monster Truck isn’t as easy as it might look on television or from the stands.

“It’s actually very complicated to handle the truck,” Ochs said. “It sits so high you have to be careful not to roll it over. The suspension is so stiff that it always bounces one way or the other, and it takes a lot of focus and quick thinking. You have to be one step ahead. At the same time, it’s fun. I’m not going to lie. It’s a blast. It also beats you up. It takes a day or two to recover. It’s like a two-hour gym session followed by a run all in a two-minute period. You have to really work to handle the truck.”

The trucks, according to Ochs, have state-of-the-art safety systems.

“They have full containment racing seats made to my body,” Ochs said. “There are also a seven-point safety harness, head-and-neck restraints, and fire suits. It’s the whole nine yards. It’s a lot safer than one might think.”

Ochs would like to continue to do Monster Jam for the next 20 years or so if the company will have him, and one of the reasons is the fans.

“The best part is interacting with the fans,” Ochs said. “You can be a fan from two-years-old to 100-years-old. Everybody loves Monster Trucks from motorsports enthusiasts to just someone looking for a great time. The best part is the Party in the pit before the show where fans can buy pit party passes and see the trucks up close and get to know the drivers and get autographs. Just to see the smiles on these families’ faces.”

“Here is humble me from Clarion County and these people are looking at me like I’m a rock star. When I go to the locker room, I’m not thinking that. I’m thinking of coming home to the country making deer bologna and doing things we do back here like riding buggies, ATVs, and dirt bikes. On social media, I get fans commenting and sharing and tagging and sending me messages. I do my best to keep up. Sometimes it’s hard, but I try to get back to everybody.”


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