Years ago, if someone had told Debrah Miceli that she’d be driving a monster truck at age 50, she would have answered, “Yeah, probably.”
“I’ve always been that ‘can’t let grass grow under my feet’ type of person, you know?” says Miceli, aka Madusa, who left an 18-year career in professional wrestling to join the good ol’ boys on the Monster Jam tour. “I’m an innovator, a go-getter, so I could see me doing something like this at 50 — hell, yeah. My granny is 91 and rides a Harley, so I guess it’s in our blood.”
Madusa, who in 2005 became the first woman to win the Monster Jam World Finals racing championship, will be competing Friday and Saturday with other legendary truck drivers, including Grave Digger and Gunslinger, as the tour hits the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
“Monster Jam is great family entertainment,” says Madusa, whose moniker adds a rah-rah, “made in the USA” twist to the name of the deadly Medusa of Greek myth. “And it’s nothing like a tractor pull that you might expect — it’s kind of like a rock ’n’ roll concert now, with big machines and brassy attitude. Kind of like a wrestling theme, but it’s in the trucks. So of course I adapted well [laughs]. Being the only woman champion, of course I have a bull’s-eye on me — people wanna knock me out.”
Miceli didn’t grow up wanting to become a pro wrestler, or cause massive mayhem driving five-ton vehicles that can jump 35 feet into the air. No, she was studying to be a nurse when she was approached in 1983 by a Hollywood stunt coordinator who said she would be really good in pro wrestling.
“I looked at him like he had three heads,” she recalls. “But finally I checked it out, and it was a 24-by-24-foot room with a bunch of 300-pound sweaty guys — wha-a-at? But then I was like, “Man, this is awesome — I get to beat the s— out of people and get paid.”
After a whirlwind career in wrestling that took her all around the world, both with World Championship Wrestling and the rival World Wrestling Federation, Madusa got a call in 2001 inviting her to try her hand at monster trucks. It came just as she was thinking of retiring, but the lure of a new challenge proved to be too strong for her to resist.
“I checked it out, and I was in the truck driving, and I ran over a few cars and hit a few things,” Madusa says. “And then before you know it, I was upside-down in a pond, and I was like, “That was pretty good — I can do that!” And they asked, “Have you ever driven one?” And I said, “Hell, no!” They go, “You’re hired.”
Two weeks later, “there I was, performing in front of 60,000 people, and 15 years later, a two-time only-woman champ,” she says. “Here I am. And I’ve never frickin’ practiced in that truck. My practice was every frickin’ weekend in front of the audience.”
Madusa’s early days were anything but easy, especially being female.
“They didn’t take me seriously,” she says. “My truck was sabotaged, you know, in fun-and-games ways. It’d be time for the show and my tires would be flat and they’d have put baby powder in my seat. And I’m like, OK, OK, I can do this. They didn’t know my background, that I was used to this crap from my wrestling days: Powder in my seat? It’s nothing. They learned really quick not to screw with me, because they got it back tenfold. I shaved off one guy’s eyebrow when he fell asleep on the plane.”
Madusa might have to be tough on the job, but behind the wheel away from the track she’s filled with inner peace, an impenetrable Zen master.
“The greatest perk for me driving a monster truck is, when I come home I get to drive like a snowbird in Florida, doing 20 miles an hour because I got all my aggression out,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, flip me off. Whatever, dude.’ I’ve got no road rage.”