That Saturday night, K.J. stands by his truck, waiting for his fans. He signs autographs and answers questions about driving. K.J. has taken acting and speaking lessons at the advice of his agent. He is congenial but says little. He plays the folk-hero part that all monster truck drivers do, but he doesn't seem completely at ease being an Everyman, a role model.

That's not to say that K.J. doesn't enjoy the pit parties and autographs. It's just that all K.J. seems to really care about is the monster trucks, not so much the hours of side work that goes along with making a life out of professionally driving them.

Later that evening, when K.J. tips Monster Bear far back on its rear tires for the wheelie competition, the crowd of nearly 1,000 roars. K.J. is the most vertical and has beaten usual audience favorite Predator in the wheelie contest.

Nancy, K.J., Jake, and Tod at the family’s warehouse.
Michael McElroy
Nancy, K.J., Jake, and Tod at the family’s warehouse.
K.J. signs pieces of a foam school bus.
Kevin Berryman
K.J. signs pieces of a foam school bus.

Then comes the long jump. Bigger, more powerful, eight-cylinder trucks rush over a tightly packed row of four sedans. Nobody thinks that K.J., the underdog in skill and size, will even participate. But the announcer unexpectedly calls him onto the field. K.J. circles the track several times, building momentum with each loop. K.J. nears the cars, then backs up, away from the rows, then approaches quickly again, to pack the jump's dirt with his front tires. The tighter the dirt, the easier it is to launch off the jump.

K.J. roars backward one last time. From a distance of about 25 feet, he rushes over the four cars, clearing the last by several yards. K.J., judged on half-scale terms, is the crowd's favorite that night. From their yells and claps and hollers and shouts, the announcer determines that K.J. outright beats the competition.

Shortly after, when K.J. leaves the field in a wake of cheers, he lumbers up the bleachers and finds his mom, brother, and a female friend from Florida.

"Yay, K.J.!" Nancy says. "You did it! You did so well! You won the long jump, and you've never done that before!"

K.J. looks around.

"I haven't?"

"No, K.J., that was your first time. And you did great. I'm so proud of you!"

K.J. climbs down. He has to sign autographs, just like the night before. The crowd eventually thins around 11 p.m. Nancy reminds Tod that the boys need to be fed before bed. She doesn't want them falling asleep without eating. They have to leave for the Atlanta airport at about 5:30 a.m.

Tod tells them to go to the Huddle House first. He'll meet up with them later, once everything is set with the trucks. Inside the diner, K.J. drags a Star Wars action figure across the table. His brother squirms in the booth across from him.

"What do you want to eat, K.J.?' Nancy says.


"You have to have something besides toast."

"I want toast."

"OK, then, one order of toast," Nancy tells the waitress. She also orders a sirloin-tip dinner, with fried shrimp and mashed potatoes, for the boys to share. She doesn't get real hungry, she explains, but likes to pick at whatever they're having.

The waitress writes down the order and circles back to the open kitchen.

"Hey, is that the little boy that rides in them monster trucks?" she asks from behind the counter.

"Yes," Nancy replies, smiling. "That's K.J."

"I heard about him!" the waitress shouts. "I heard he's real good, but I didn't get a chance to go out there tonight and see him."

"Thank you," Nancy says, patting her son on the head.

K.J. squirms a bit. He asks his mom for his toast. He's stretched out on the bench next to her, almost lying down. She really wants to get some food in him before he passes out.

"I'm sorry, I don't mean to bother you again, but if we could just have the toast, just an order of toast. I'm worried that he's going to fall asleep."

"Comin' right up," the waitress says.

She turns to pick up a plate from the counter.

K.J.'s head falls into his mother's lap.

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