When Interim Police Chief Norm Miller isn't preserving the peace, he's destroying everything that's in his way. That's because Miller is a Monster Jam truck driver. That's right folks. He has a full-time gig fighting crime in Scappoose, OR, but 15 weekends out of the year, he suits up and gets behind the wheel of a 10,000 pound, 1,500 horsepower high-octane alcohol injected mechanical beast. Got vroom?
After more than 30 years "monster trucks" have long ditched their sideshow days of tractor pulling and sluggishly smashing cars. Today Monster Jam shines the light on the trucks as the main attraction. These vehicles have been souped-up with nitrogen-filled shock absorbers, and slimmed down with fiberglass bodies making the vehicles able to leap higher and crush harder. The evolution in the truck technology has become Monster Jam's signature. Now touring the U.S. and 40 international cities, Monster Jam has made it's name as the only authentic monster truck series with world class drivers and trucks.
Miller has been in the business for 24 years, and finally, this year he debuted his own truck, N.E.A.: New Earth Authority. You can catch Miller with his ride, along with other Monster Jam trucks Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Oakland Coliseum. The Party in the Pits goes from 3 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m. Ticket prices range from $15, $25 and $30 (adult) and $12.50 (Children 2 to 12); Party in the Pits passes are available for an additional $10. Miller took time to speak with SF Weekly about why his new truck, N.E.A., is the perfect match, how he became a Monster Jam truck driver, and why he continues to compete after becoming a police officer.
Norm, you are a Lieutenant and you have been a police officer since 1998. What is special about what you do and the new truck that you drive, N.E.A.?
The truck is to coincide with me being a police officer and the new age of police work looking over the earth. The concept is the future of police: It's a new style of vehicle, and the idea is that it cruises around the earth, and it watches over the people. If you look at my truck, it's actually designed after a police riot helmet with the chrome look. It's got the flashing blue lights and the all chrome body. People are really liking the chrome and the flashing lights. It's starting to grow I think. It debuted in Tacoma in the first weekend of January, and I've done every weekend since then. It's different than what's been done before, that's for sure.
But you've been driving monster trucks since 1990. What other trucks have you driven?
I've moved through my career going from truck to truck where they've wanted me, basically. I've done the Grave Digger. I've done Blue Thunder, Black Smith, Batman and now with the N.E.A. Police. It's more me. Wherever they need me to drive, I drive. They try to match the personality of the driver with the truck. I'm not too particular, because I like it.
Does it take getting some use to switching trucks like that?
All the trucks are basically built the same way; they just have the different style bodies. Some have a suspension tweak here and there to the specs of the driver, but that's about it. [Over the years] the trucks have changed; they can do a lot more. There's more safety, and more technology in suspension. We have full seats like NASCAR with head and neck restraints and the way the bodies are built roll cage wise. It's just evolved like anything.
In all honesty, how much of that rumble and roar from of the trucks is necessary, and how much is for show?
Some of the volume is for show, and some trucks have mufflers on them like mine, but it's still loud because it is an alcohol injected motor -- it's going to be loud. But people like that: the big noise and the rumble. It's a motor sport, just like NASCAR. They are loud. The fans like that. They like their eardrum to be tickled.
How did you get started in your career?
You start as a mechanic. Get on a crew, and you work on a truck and get to know the truck. Just like when I became a police officer I had to work my way through the ranks to become a lieutenant. You have to start from the bottom and pay your dues. There was no tryout. Back then, basically I just started helping people that owned Monster Trucks on the weekend and got the opportunity to drive. I wasn't with a team. I proved myself through mud racing, and people saw me drive.
What made you interested in the sport?
It was just the thrill of it, the excitement. It gives you adrenaline.
From 1990 to 98 you were driving full time. What made you decide to become a police officer?
I had been a reserve police officer before becoming a full-time driver in monster trucks, and I had always wanted that as a career, to be a police officer. And when the opportunity came, I took it and I've been here ever since.
Why do you continue competing in Monster Jam then?
I have that same sense of excitement. That's what's funny about it. That's why I've probably been doing this for about 24 years. My personal aspect is that I love it so much. That's why I do it. I do it for fun. This is strictly my hobby.
With all the growth and evolution of the motor sport, besides your excitement, what else has stayed the same?
The fans. The one on one with the fans. We are one of the sports where we sign autographs after the show until the last person comes through the line. We don't say we are signing autographs from 9 o'clock to 10 o'clock, and whoever was left in line doesn't get an autograph. We make ourselves very accessible to the fans. We have pit parties for them so they can come down and be with the trucks, and after the show we sign autographs until the last fan is gone. I think that's why we've grown so much and gotten popular.