Tiny Masters of Monster Tricks
If you’re lucky, your kid will find a passion early on. It might be soccer, horseback riding, or the violin. And if it is monster truck rallies that spark your little one’s enthusiasm? You’re still probably not expecting him (or her) to say, “I don’t want to watch those monster trucks—I want to drive them.”
But that’s exactly what happened when then six-year-old Shane Plato found videos online featuring pint-sized practitioners in the sport of mini-monster trucks. In 2015, then he went from watching drivers on YouTube to being an online sensation himself.
Driving his modified monster truck, lovingly referred to as “Skull Krusher,” the now eight-year-old wunderkind is entrancing audiences around the country. Even folks who aren’t into monster trucks are drawn to the little kid who loves to make his truck rear up in the air like a wild horse.
If you’re having horrific images of a tyke behind the wheel of a truck, rest assured that Shane’s team always has myriad safety precautions in place. First, he joined the Uncle Tod Motorsports’ Kid KJ Team, based in Florida. There, both Shane and his family learned the ins and outs of monster mini trucks. Including flipping the truck completely upside-down.
“We want, need the kids to know what to expect out there,” says Shane’s father, Lee Plato. “If the worst case scenario happens in front of 3,000 people and the kid freaks out, Dad’s going to look like a really big jerk – so, Shane is trained in all variety of driving techniques. He’s very prepared.”
When Shane competes, he and his dad are in constant communication via a head set inside the safety helmet. This allows Lee to coach him at every moment. In addition, Shane never gets behind the wheel unless his father is holding the “kill switch.”
“If Shane ever gets in trouble, I can stop the action immediately, “ says dad Lee. “The last thing we want is for my son to go out there and get hurt.”
Ditto for the parents of mini-sized motorcycle daredevil AJ Heinicke, known by legions of fans (his Instagram page boasts 28,000 followers) as AJ STUNTZ.
AJ began riding at the age of 3. And we’re not talking about a bicycle here either.
“Both my husband and I ride Harleys,” explains mom Nancy Heinicke. “So when he spotted a little battery-powered motorcycle, he pretty much went nuts. Very quickly though, he outgrew that. He was ready for more power. That’s when we knew he was maybe a little unusual.”
The Heinickes engaged Jason Pullen of San Mateo to coach AJ in the finer points of stunt riding. Of the many tricks he performs on his Honda 50, at least one includes a ring of fire.
“That one maybe gets me a little nervous,” Nancy confesses. “But this is what he loves. He already plans to be a member of Metal Mulisha in the not-too-distant future.”
Both Shane and AJ are learning early on in life the value of giving back. Both regularly donate their time to community events and fundraisers. AJ even has designed and printed his own calendar, the proceeds of which go toward services for homeless children.
Catch both these tiny dynamos at the Pacific Coast Dream Machines Show, April 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Half Moon Bay Airport.