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Young Gun to Champion, Michael Vaters Jr. Captures World Freestyle Championship

Overkill_EvolutionAs the sun rose over the Sin City of Las Vegas, the Monster Jam fans were already eager with anticipation after having two consecutive days of new records being set.  Every fan and every driver was already looking to knock one man from atop the podium.  Todd Leduc was already riding high from taking two championships thus far in the weekend, but as the defending world champion in freestyle, he was looking to pull off a modern era “Jackpot” by winning qualifying, racing and freestyle in one weekend at Sam Boyd Stadium.

The problem was that 31 other drivers were looking to take him down.  Some were making their Las Vegas debut, while others know the expectations of how to run the track, and other still have a trophy in their hand as being a former champion.

The track, however, would be the one thing that was different.  The track crews spent 24 hours converting from the fastest course on the circuit to the most intense freestyle track in the country.  The design this year, compared to one year ago, provided less clutter, but more ramps at different angles to give more options to drivers to cross the track, and give unique opportunities to provide that “wow” moment.  It also included a huge backflip wall at the entrance to the stadium, plus backflip containers where the corners were located the night before.

As the fans began filing in, the drivers were already walking the track to get a better idea of what to do on the night.  But as the sun set on the home of UNLV, it was time for determining who would be the winner on this night.

The first truck out of the gate was Rod Schmidt in the Rottweiler.  He would pace himself at a good run, and set the bar to start off at a 23.  No run would top him until the Young Guns Shootout champion, Coty Saucier, would enter the fray in his Monster Energy Ford.  The young man would set the bar high early on as he would leap into the lead with a 29.5 score.  Judges were allowed to give half-point differences, and of the six judges that were scoring, both the high and low score would be deducted.  The bonus judge could add an additional five points with no half-point differences.  In case a tie would occur, the low score would first be added in, then the high if needed.  Should a tie still be included, a secret judge would determine the final winner.

Saucier would hold his post for a few trucks, that is until last year’s Shootout champion came rolling out.

Michael Vaters Jr. took hold of the all-new Overkill Evolution a year ago, and quickly showed this new piece could compete against the top guns in the series.  The well-tuned suspension, designed by former driver Marty Garza, was taking all the punishment and yet still soaked up every hit as if it was a sponge.  Saucier would watch as the young man would show he’s just taking over a legacy that his father started over 30 years ago.  With strong momentum throughout the run, Vaters would nail consecutive backflips, the first time he had ever completed one in a stadium, and would keep on going, tearing the hood from it’s mounting points.

At the end of the run, the crowd stood at attention and saw the scores come up, as Vaters would take over the lead with a score of 33.5.  Still, over half the field remained to determine a champion, so the wait would be difficult for the young man to see if he was the best on the night.

Things began picking up quickly as a lot of former champions were still left to come, but as each truck went, things were either strong, or a flop.  Trucks such as Doom’s Day would have one hit, and over onto the side it would go.  Others like Bounty Hunter would have a strong run going, even hitting a backflip, but then had breakage to stop them well before time was complete.  However, as the field began to get down to some of the biggest bullets in the gun, the runs were getting tougher, and meaner, but the scores weren’t reflecting it.

Even one Dennis Anderson, piloting the Grave Digger, would have a strong run cut short with a wheel tearing off.  However, it was his two sons that would make the biggest noise on the night.

Adam Anderson had The Legend singing at full song, shedding the body like snake skin, but it was only enough for a 30.

His younger brother, Ryan, would be the one that would show the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but in a much different way.  He would put Son-Uva Digger through it’s paces better than any of his previous runs in Las Vegas, second only to possibly the night he debuted the truck back in 2011.  Backflip, big air, momentum to last for beyond the two-minute time limit, and had the crowd standing at attention.  The scores came up to give him a…31.5.  Despite all that action and the crowd in a frenzy, he was not handed the lead, and he would lay into the judges for not scoring right.

His dad years ago ripped into the judges for not scoring his run correctly, or many others, back in 2004.  The difference was, he was saying his run was scored too high, whereas Ryan was saying his run should have been higher.  Many fans agreed, but the scoring was official, and the younger Anderson would be put in second.

The final two trucks of the night would be the last two freestyle champions.  Tom Meents came out large in his silver Max-D machine, leaping high with every chance he could.  His run was strong, but even so it still wasn’t enough to take down Vaters, as the judges only yielded a 30.5 total.  The final truck of the night, was not just looking to defend his title, but also do something that has never been done in this large of a field.  Leduc was ready to make the flat black Metal Mulisha show that it was time for a sweep on the biggest stage of all.

Just like a year ago, he came out flying, hitting the first ramp and landing halfway into the stadium.  He would keep up the momentum, but his run would not be enough.  With a score of 28.5, he would settle for being 8th in the standings, and that would give the young man from Maryland, a second-generation driver with possibly the best truck in the stable that houses Black Stallion, Iron Warrior and Higher Education as well, a championship.  In what is possibly the biggest moment of his life, the very first stadium win by the driver of Overkill Evolution, but absolutely nothing will top this night of his still young career.

However, the night was not quite done.  All fans know that part of the show to end the night is the encore, and Monster Jam officials decided to do an ode to a very popular show on television for 2015.

Once the celebrating was done, red lights suddenly appeared around the stadium…but then the lights went out.  It almost had a feel of an early morning hunt with all the red and black inside the stadium.  Suddenly on the screen, an apocalypse would take hold, and from both tunnels came not just one, but a total of six Zombie machines.  To close out this year’s World Finals, it would be a “Zombie Apocalypse” Encore, almost an ode to “The Walking Dead.”  When the red fireworks were set off, it was like the dead rose in the form of 10,000-pound machines, as some would go for big air, while another tried for a backflip.  Others would take out their aggression on each other, crawling onto truck after truck, destroying the bodies, including one that seemed to literally have an eye pop out of socket.

It was one of the more cryptic encores that had ever been done, but one that left destruction of some undead behemoths at the end of the night.

The World Finals once again shows that dreams can come true on the biggest stage Monster Jam has, and already fans are waiting for the next year to arrive.  Many will not have to wait long.

Fans that purchased this year’s Double Down Package will be able to renew for the 2016 World Finals XVII from April 8-13.  Then from April 17-22, any fans that purchased the package for this year but would like to add seats or change their seat location will be able to do so for next year.  In addition, strictly for this renewal option, the Double Down fans can choose any available seat in the stadium.

The official public on-sale date for Monster Jam World Finals XVII, happening from March 17-19, 2016, will begin on March 5 for the Double Down Package along with the two-day event tickets.  Visit MonsterJam.com for all the ticket information for next year’s World Finals, as well as events that are happening this summer across the U.S., Canada, and even in both Europe and Australia.

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