True love, much like racing, should set your heart beating faster.
Thankfully for Rebecca and Darren Schnell, they get to experience both on a daily basis because they’ll both be driving in the 2021 Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live series this year.
“It was surprisingly the easiest transition we had ever made,” Rebecca told me in a recent interview, speaking about making her transition into racing after spending a few years helping out with various monster truck teams. “I honestly think because of the fact that we’re literally best friends and that we do share the same interest. Of course there are times that we need time apart, but we are literally each other’s best friends. We support each other in whatever we want to do, and love each other, and tell each other that they’re crazy, and stuff like that.”
They spent last year racing in Europe. Now, they’re making the transition back to America.
A Smash Hit Meeting
“I’d rolled into a little town in North Carolina, and I was just sicker than a dog,” Darron recalled when I asked him how he and Rebecca had first met. “I walked into a pharmacy and there was a beautiful redhead working behind the counter. And I walked up and said, ‘Hello.’ And it took off from there.”
Both Rebecca and Darron grew up with a passion for monster trucks, but neither took a straight path to becoming a driver. Rebecca went to school to become an emergency nurse and spent several years working in the medical field. Darron volunteered on a monster truck team during college, but he was initially pursuing a much different path with degrees in philosophy and criminal justice. Darron was the first to transition into actual driving; Rebecca, after marrying him, took other positions on the team, even serving as a crew chief for a while, or helping to work on the cars.
“I made it very known early on that I wanted to drive one of these,” Rebecca told me of becoming a driver. “Whether that be professionally in a series or not, I wanted to get behind the wheel in something that actually fit me, because we’re very different in size. “[Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live] took notice of the work that I was putting in weekend after weekend, also working a full time job in the hospital. And they said, ‘You know what? Here’s this opportunity to send two trucks to Europe. What do you think about driving over there?’ And I said, ‘You’re kidding me. I’d love to.'”
In talking to both of the Schnells at the same time, it became obvious that these are both two very different people who, despite sharing a passion, also disagree on a lot of things (they even bantered about who could get to answer the question first!). The biggest challenge to their relationship came when Rebecca first started driving.
“Her nurse brain is very analytical. It’s very step by step by step. And she was trying to get me to explain how to do something. What is step one, step two, step three?” Darron said. “My brain, I’ve been doing this for many years, it’s put your helmet on, make sure your seatbelts are tight, and go hit something. You’ve got a tremendous amount of driving talent, you’ll figure it out. And she really didn’t like that answer.
“Figuring out how each other communicates and how we need to phrase everything, it’s probably been a struggle, but it also has strengthened our relationship.”
But once Rebecca finally got behind the wheel, she began to understand more about what Darron was telling her, and the two found that sharing a meal at the end of the day as they reviewed their weekend was a better bonding activity than they’d ever shared before.
“The biggest detractor of this job is I’m never home,” Darron said. “If we’re together, I could care less if I ever go home. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been just because we are traveling together.”
Success in a Niche Field
While Darron has found much success over the years, Rebecca is still new to the Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live series. She’s thankful for for her mentor, Dan Runte, who also guided Darron into the sport. And she also hopes to emulate the late Jessi Combs.
“She was a huge, huge industry idol, for women especially, when she unfortunately passed away doing what she was trying to outdo herself,” Rebecca told me. “And just her interaction with the fans and with females in general has always been an inspiration to me. I actually have a Jessi Combs bandana tied up in my truck. I always recommend people to go back and look at her success story, because she was very much an industry changer.”
As far as her favorite moments so far, Rebecca is most proud of her first win, which she scored in Denmark, and the fact that she also managed a bus jump, one of the more difficult stunts in the sport.
Want to See The Schnells in Action?
The 2021 Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live tour will hit 10 different cities around America, making its debut on September 18 and wrapping up the season on November 21. For more information, go to the Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live website.