For Matt and Nick Pagliarulo, driving Monster Trucks isn’t just a job – it’s a passion and a family affair. Matt and his son, Nick, are the drivers for Monster Jam trucks Jester and Kraken, respectively. In addition to Nick (23), Matt and his wife, Laura, are also parents to Michael (18) and Brooke (15).
The Pagliarulos are Florida natives, hailing from Deltona in Central Florida. Matt debuted his truck, Jester, in 2015 and not long after, Nick made his debut with Kraken in 2019. Although this father and son duo battle it out during the arena competitions, their overall Monster Jam experience is put together with the help of their whole family.
Monster Jam, which is put on by Feld Entertainment, will take place at Raymond James Stadium February 4-5, 2023. Before Matt and Nick go head-to-head at the arena, we had the chance to talk to them about their experience as a Monster Jam family.
TBPM: What’s the family dynamic like with both of you driving Monster Jam Trucks?
Matt: The dynamic of the family for this race team is very different and it’s not just the father and son on the track, but it’s a whole family off the track as well. We started with Monster Jam in 2015. When we started this nine years ago, Laura and I were doing it and the kids were kind of just going there with us. And they’d help us out at the shows when they could, to what it is now, which has been progressing.
When we only had one truck, it was just Jester. Nick helped out and then he became the crew chief. And then as we decided to build the second truck. Before Nick was my crew chief, my wife Laura was basically the crew chief. Her and I would work on the trucks together. And so, in doing that, that’s how Nick and Michael and Brooke learned and where we’re at now.
TBPM: Fast forward to today, how is everyone involved?
Matt: Nick and I are the drivers. Laura is the crew chief for Nick’s truck on Kraken, and my son, Michael, is the crew chief for my truck. He’s our backup driver so he drives monster trucks. Our 15 daughter Brooke also drives mini monster trucks. She’s driven the big trucks. Not at shows but at other events. She’s driven at other non-Monster Jam shows to test it out and she’s a she drives a mini monster truck of her own. She’s been driving since she was nine. But behind the scenes, we’ve got her as a crew member and she helps us out with social media and different things and works on the truck with my wife and Michael. Also, crew chief.
TBPM: What made you want to start doing this?
Matt: I went to my first Monster truck show when I was probably 11 or 12 back in the mid-80s and I was instantly hooked and then when Laura and I started dating, I took her to Monster Truck show. And that whole time, it was like, ‘you know, I want to do this one day.’ I wasn’t sure how or when that was going to happen. But it took us about 20 years to get to that point where we could actually build our Monster Jam truck.
It’s just something that I wanted to work towards as a goal and then obviously as the kids were growing up, we took them to shows every single year. We took them to Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville Orlando – every show that was close to us here in Central Florida and they were obviously hooked. And as things progressed, we built the truck. Everybody wanted to be a part of it.
TBPM: Tell us the stories behind Jester and Kraken.
Matt: We had always said, if we ever had a Monster Jam truck, what would we name it? We would come up with different names over the years. Well, my wife and I ride motorcycles and this was probably 15 years ago. She had a helmet that had a jester character on it, and it had a lot of these vibrant colors. I was like, ‘you know, what if we ever did a Monster Jam truck, you know, Jester would be pretty cool. The kids would like it. We’ll make it a kid friendly jester, not necessarily like a joker.’ It matches my personality. It matches who I am, and the colors represented in that type of a theme would be great.
Nick: I was about 13 and me and a couple friends ended up coming back from a from a Monster Truck show and we just started jotting down some Monster Truck names. This was before we even had my truck or my dad’s truck Jester as we were still super fans. We jotted down a few names and had like a whole page worth of truck names and one of them was Kraken. It kind of just stuck with me from that day and it just piqued my interest because back then – around 2010 or 2011 – there really wasn’t many 3D concept monster trucks out there and I wanted something that would just stand out in front of the others.
So, I kind of took and ran with it and started drawing on pieces of paper and sketches and just worked with it. It was a lot of trial and error and a lot of time to make it, but it was worth it in the end to be able to see it coming from when I was just a kid and now when I was driving my truck at the end of 2019.
TBPM: Nick, what was it like the first time that you were out there with your dad doing a show?
Nick: For our very first show, I can say it was very intimidating and I was nervous. It was our very first our first weekend in the summer of 2019. We were doing a show and we had just finished our second truck, so the tensions were kind of high. We were under a lot of pressure, but we were able to pull through and have a great time. It was a lot of fun, and we just really enjoyed it. Being able to start there, I never really thought – even before that – that we would even have one truck, let alone me and my dad racing each other on the same track in front of thousands of fans. It was really, really cool.
TBPM: What’s it like racing each other now?
Matt: As a dad, I’m super proud that he’s worked up to the point where he can drive. Now he’s like a lot better than me and so now he makes me drive a little bit harder. But the dynamic is different because he’s my son so if we race together, if I’m racing him, I have zero pressure and the reason why I have zero pressure is because if I win then I can show him, ‘you know what, the old man’s still got it!’ But then if I lose, then I’m proud because hey, that’s my son.
Nick and I have had a lot of interesting races over the years. My wife is never nervous about us back flipping monster trucks. If we’re going out there and jumping huge air if we’re racing, the only time she gets nervous is when Nick and I race. Because she knows that when Nick and I race, neither of us are gonna give each other an inch. It’s a good time and it’s turned into now, the fans expect it.
Nick: Even before that race in 2019, people still come up to me in the pit parties and remind me and show me pictures and videos of how cool they thought of us racing each other because we just go all out when we go against each other.
TBPM: Matt – do you think your other children, Michael and Brooke, would also want to follow in your footsteps?
Matt: Absolutely, we actually have a third truck that debuted with Monster Jam at World Finals in May called Wreckreation. Michael’s kind of slated to drive that. It looks like the W of a Winnebago, but it’s spelled Wreckreation. It’s basically a square body Chevrolet pickup truck but it has a giant camper on the back. So, it’s the craziest thing you’ve seen. He’s a crew chief and he’s earning his spot to continue to move up and drive full time.
We did a show with Brooke in the mini monster truck she drives. It’s called Little Red. It’s a wolf theme that she came up with and so she drives this mini monster truck about the size of a car. All the tires on her monster truck are about 35 inches tall, so it’s considered a half-scale monster. At least for now, she’d like to continue to drive the mini, and then maybe one day drive big trucks with us.
But I would love nothing more than if she wants to drive. Female athletes and female drivers are few and far between. There are some really good ones out there and she’s doing great for her age. I would fully support that and would love nothing more than to one day, possibly myself and all three of my kids at the same event.
TBPM: Any advice for others who have dreams of becoming Monster Jam drivers?
Matt: I was a fan in the stands at 11 or 12 years old and I said, ‘you know I’d love to do this one day’ and the dream was always there. Sometimes we had to put it to the side, and we had to take care of life. But the dream was still there, and I just persevered and kept working towards it until the opportunity presented itself. So, if I could give anyone any advice, that’s do not give up on your dreams. It may not happen when you want them to happen, but it can certainly happen at some point if you keep working towards it.
Nick: It’s definitely a lot of hard work, but a lot of fans that come up to me at pit parties after the show and they say, ‘you know, we want to be just like you.’ And I say ‘you gotta work very hard and it’s going to take a lot of dedication. But if you can dream it, you can do it.’ I’ve had a bunch of friends along the way that I’ve told that to and they have now become Monster Truck drivers. Push hard through your life and everything will come true.