Ocoee resident Bari Musawwir is the driver of ‘Zombie’ on the Monster Jam Triple Threat Series. He'll get to perform in front of hometown family and friends August 18 when Monster Jam comes to the Amway Center in downtown Orlando.
Bari Musawwir can pinpoint the moment when his love affair with monster trucks began.
It was when he was 6 and his mom had taken him to a show at the Pontiac Silver Dome in Detroit.
“I just kind of fell in love the first time I saw it,” Musawwir said.
That was in 1986.
A lot has happened for the Cleveland native since then. A chance encounter in 2006 helped set him on the path toward his dream job of becoming a monster-truck driver. He relocated to Florida, eventually settling in Ocoee, and started a family.
A proud member of the Monster Jam Triple Threat Series, Musawwir has traveled the country — and the world — for his sport. It has been five years since he has done a show in his adopted hometown of Orlando, though, making Monster Jam’s upcoming stop at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando Aug. 18 one the driver of the “Zombie” truck has had circled on his calendar for a while.
“Man, I love performing in my hometown,” Musawwir said. “For one, I get to sleep in my own bed. Of course, we have fans that are local here that love it, too. And my family gets to come — my son is really excited to go to a show and see his dad drive.”
Right place, right time
Kids typically aren’t allowed to operate monster trucks, so for Musawwir, the seed that was planted back in 1986 originally took him down a slightly different path — that of radio-controlled car and truck racing.
This was something he began doing at age 11, and his success in it began to open up some doors. In 2006, Musawwir was part of an event in North Carolina at Digger’s Dungeon — the home of Grave Digger, Monster Jam’s most iconic truck.
It was at that event, while Musawwir was operating an radio-controlled truck, that his abilities caught the eye of Bill Easterly, vice president of operations for Monster Jam at the time.
“It was kind of right place, right time and being around the right people,” Musawwir said.
“I’d driven a monster truck a million times in my mind, but when you have to actually get behind the wheel and do it, it’s a totally different feeling — it’s indescribable."
Musawwir was asked whether he had any experience behind the wheel of a monster truck, to which he replied honestly that he did not. Then, he was asked a question he waited all his life to hear: Would you like to try it?
“I’d driven a monster truck a million times in my mind, but when you have to actually get behind the wheel and do it, it’s a totally different feeling — it’s indescribable,” Musawwir said. “You’re controlling something that weighs 12,000 pounds and has all this horsepower.”
Musawwir did not turn professional for another four years following the test session in North Carolina, but it still sticks out as a turning point for his career.
In 2010, he got the call to drive professionally for the first time, and his debut took place outside of the United States, in Panama. It was the first of several international shows for Musawwir.
“I was so nervous I couldn’t eat before the show,” Musawwir said.
In the years since Musawwir debuted in Panama, he’s become a proven driver for Monster Jam.
In 2011, he was named the sport’s Rookie of the Year. In 2012, he won the “Young Guns Shootout” as part of the Monster Jam World Finals.
Along the way, he has embraced the travel and long hours that come with the sport during its main season, which runs from about January to March. Away from home for 10 weeks at a time, Musawwir has had the opportunity to compete in cities across the United States and in international locations, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Japan and Australia.
“Every week, you’re somewhere in a different city,” Musawwir said. “It’s pretty awesome — who would have thought I’d be driving a Monster Jam truck in different countries and, through that, I’d be able to see the world?”
In addition to being named the 2011 Rookie of the Year, Musawwir has another important distinction within the sport — he is Monster Jam’s first African-American driver.
“I love that, because it’s just another way to show that the sport is diverse and to show young people that you can grow up and be whatever you set your heart to,” Musawwir said.
During his time with Monster Jam, Musawwir has driven three trucks. His first year, he drove “El Toro Loco.” For three years after that, he drove “Spider-Man” — a popular truck, given its brand recognition.
Most recently, since 2015, he has been driving “Zombie” — a Monster Jam fan favorite for its distinct look and the arms attached to the vehicle.
“People love the arms,” Musawwir said. “The truck has arms on it, and the truck looks like its attacking anything in its way.”
Leaving a legacy
When Musawwir speaks about Monster Jam, his passion for the sport — and its fans — comes across clearly.
“I’d really just like to be able to make an impact in every place I go with the fans,” Musawwir said. “I want to make it memorable for them and for them to want to become a permanent fan of Monster Jam.”
At home, Musawwir lives with his wife, his stepdaughter who will be heading off to college soon, and his son, who is 4. With the downtime that comes with the Monster Jam calendar, he’s gravitated toward an interest in home improvement, having recently renovated the laundry room at his Ocoee residence.
Although being away from his family for weeks at a time during the sport’s busy season can be tough, Musawwir said it is balanced out by being able to be home for long stretches during the offseason. The compensation for a Monster Jam driver is enough to be Musawwir’s sole source of income.
In his eighth season with Monster Jam, Musawwir is optimistic he has another decade of driving in him. After that, he hopes to remain working within the sport as a mentor to help mold the next generation of talent.
The dedication to the sport is just another reminder of the depth of passion he has for the sport.
“It’s really surreal for me, because I was that kid asking for a driver’s autograph when I got introduced to the sport,” Musawwir said. “For kids and adults to ask for my autograph, it’s an honor. The fans are the No. 1 driving force for the entire deal — without them we couldn’t do what we do at the level that we do it at.”