Every now and then, changing things up is a good thing in life. A different route to travel to work, trying a different restaurant, or even just a new routine is a way to keep things unique.
The Monster Nationals decided that with the season on the latter half, a change was needed. It was already a different venue, as they would make the trip to Du Quoin, Illinois, to the Southern Illinois Center at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds. But, for the first and ultimately only time on the winter tour, the change had to do with what the trucks were sitting on. The arena they were in is normally used for auctions, but of the four-legged type such as cows and pigs.
That means the floor has some dirt, some clay, and some grip. It also meant a lot of room to work, meaning more obstacles and a longer race course.
It was time to get a little dirty, and that is exactly what the fans were ready to see.
The entire field of trucks came to Illinois to compete, as after being away last weekend it was Doug Noelke bringing back the Tail Gator to chomp down on the competition. At the same time, the battle at the top of the racing standings was opening up with Darron Schnell holding a two-round lead over Vinny Venom in Snake Bite. Every point would count, but not far behind were the Hall Brothers entries of Mark Hall and Dale Benear, ready to capitalize when opportunity came.
In addition, the Monster Nationals welcomed in a driver who was making his debut with Family Events. He already declared he would run the summer tour with the 4-Wheel Jamboree, but the Monster Nationals welcomed him with open arms in Du Quoin. Denver Echternkamp came out with the recently completed and all-new Venom Chevrolet. Unlike the other machines on the track, this is the lone truck running a coil-over suspension.
The competition would be difficult, but it would be a great opportunity for him to give the new piece a shake down and see how well it handled.
Fans came out in droves to start out the weekend, and they were treated to an excellent performance. The night would start out with the wheelie contest, but this time more options were available.
Not only the fresh cars available to hit, but there was also a hillside to hit, along with a van stack and jammer car set up to give an option for a slap wheelie, letting these beasts drag the wheelie bars across the dirt for long distances. It seemed to fit Venom perfectly because each hit he had on the track saw the red Super Snake stare at the roof. The fans let him know they approved by roaring loud and giving the snake symbol, letting him take the first win of the night.
After a break, the qualifying laps would then set up the brackets for racing, with the top qualifier making it automatically into the second round. The oval-design meant that horsepower was not necessarily the best option to make a fast time. It was a factor, but driving skill and handling also became critical.
What didn’t surprise anyone was the fact that the Hall Brothers were able to top the charts, but what was a surprise is the fact for the first time this season, Benear would be the one at the No. 1 spot in Rammunition. Still, it meant one less run on his truck, and an opportunity to watch the competition and study what they do on each pass.
Normally at this point, the donut contest would follow, however because of the venue, and the lower ceilings than the previous week, the risk of dust becoming a problem was evident. Over the last few years, this has become common at this event, and in a way it’s a good thing because it means less stress on the trucks.
What then followed was the chance for the drivers to sky out their trucks in the long jump contest.
Using one of the racing lanes as the launch ramp, every truck had one opportunity to soar like a 747 jet, and each did so with ease. But it was the fastest qualifier, Benear, that decided to soar the Ram Rebel the farthest, and took home his second win of the night.
Now it was time to get down to business. The big hardware was on the line, as the racing portion of the show was set to get under way.
Benear had a strong night up to this point, because his No. 1 qualifying effort was cut short in the semi-final round, as he was put on the sidelines thanks to Schnell in the Bigfoot Raptor.
But, the fans were excited to see the next chapter in what many still believe is the rivalry that was the most famous from the 1990’s era of the sport. There was no Andy Brass, but the familiar racing stripes were on Bigfoot. Colt Cobra was there to watch his new protege take to the course, in the same scheme that his truck had back when he was driving Snake Bite. On this night, the fangs sunk in deep, because Venom would work his way back into the points race by taking down Schnell in the finals, capturing another win on the season for the Snake Bite team.
When it was time to freestyle, Venom was looking to make it a sweep of the trophies on the night, and he was not letting up in the effort. But, his run ended early when the Snake caught an edge with the right-rear tire, and over onto the side she went.
It looked like the only sacrifices on the roll were the body, and the crew went immediately to work to get it fixed so it would make it through the remainder of the weekend. Nothing some red duck tape and red plastic zip ties couldn’t fix.
Meanwhile, the rest of the competition took to the dirt and gave the Illinois faithful everything they had. The one that took the win, guess could be called the hometown boy.
Based out of Champaign, Illinois, Hall would let the Raminator fly and slide the most, kicking up the dirt exactly like he did a year ago. Maybe it was a home state advantage, but the Ram 1500 Limited was dominant and would take home the freestyle victory, putting him in the lead in the freestyle championship.
Teams would then hit the pits to start repairs, while the drivers thanked the fans with autographs and pictures. Two more shops awaited for the next day.
- Wheelie Competition: Vinny Venom, Snake Bite
- Fast Qualifier: Dale Benear, Rammunition
- Long Jump: Dale Benear, Rammunition
- Racing Finals: Vinny Venom, Snake Bite, def. Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
- Freestyle: Mark Hall, Raminator
The Snake Bite team had to go into a fast-paced repair mode, despite having all night to get things done. As luck would have it, once again Colt Cobra himself was in town with another set of hands to help the crew get things put back together. The body was looking rough, however, with the red paint being scratched down to the primer. It could be a way of the Snake shedding his skin, but the repairs were ready to go for the first of two shows on the day.
At the same time, the Venom team went to work on the new Chevrolet as a broken planetary gear set from the previous night needed taken care of. With a new truck, it seemed some growing pains were in order, but the new team was ready for what was coming.
Some fresh cars were brought in for the afternoon show, and the dirt was worked back to perfection, ready for all six trucks to hit the track.
The wheelie contest once again kicked things off, and each machine looked to the stars, or at least the roof of the indoor arena. For this show, the lead and victory would go to the Raptor of Schnell, who was trying to make up for being shut out the night before. Quite a great way to start the afternoon, and Schnell kept that momentum rolling with his qualifying run, putting him at the top of the heap.
Once the trucks cooled off for a bit, the dirt would get a lot of grip because the long jump contest would ensue, and the field was going full-throttle with the hits.
Venom was looking strong, despite not looking so great cosmetically. His leap of faith would put the red snake to victory once again, but came at a cost.
When the truck came to a stop, there was no fire in the engine. There wasn’t even an attempt to fire it up. So, the tow loader came out and pulled the truck outside to the pit area for the crew to begin diagnosing the issues. What they found was, to use the pun, something that caused them to be snake bit. The 572 cubic-inch Ford engine, which was installed last week after the first event in Kentucky, had broke the crank shaft. That breakage was a major setback, because not only would Venom be out for racing and freestyle, but he was done for the weekend. A devastating break for the team.
Meanwhile, the racing bracket came down to a couple drivers that had not seen much luck in that portion of the show, as they were bringing up the rear in the standings. On one side of the track was Benear in the Rammunition Rebel, and on the opposing side was Noelke, hoping to chomp down on the competition.
For this round of action, the Gator was the one making the bite because Noelke would take home his first victory of the weekend, doing so in a big way as the sold-out crowd gave him a big ovation.
With freestyle yet to go, the remaining field was anxious to give the biggest crowd they have seen all season their reward of going all-out with every hit, every move, and every moment. For the second consecutive show, the man that did just that was the defending champion, Hall. The Raminator Ram Limited was not stopping for anyone, as he would soar, slide, and crush his way to another victory on the season.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON RESULTS
- Wheelie Competition: Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
- Fast Qualifier: Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
- Long Jump: Vinny Venom, Snake Bite
- Racing Finals: Doug Noelke, Tail Gator, def. Dale Benear, Rammunition
- Freestyle: Mark Hall, Raminator
All the teams needed to get set for one final show on the weekend, and in doing so for the second straight event, the entire grandstands would be sold out. Tickets for both Saturday shows sold out hours before the first event even started, which was an impressive feat for the Monster Nationals. So, the drivers, teams, and even track officials wanted to put on a show to remember to close out the Du Quoin round of events.
It would be a night of mostly deja vu, because anyone that went to the afternoon event and decided to come back for the second show would see some familiar sights.
When the wheelie contest would go through the field of five remaining trucks, Schnell would once again put the Bigfoot Raptor on top, and unlike last weekend would keep the bedsides on the truck when he landed on the wheelie bar.
The long jump competition would see the lone moment where the winner was someone who had not taken home a victory in that particular category over the weekend. Finally, Hall would get the Raminator to become a plane and launched to victory, his first win in the long jump competition all season.
Racing would come back down to a Gator vs. a Ram, but it was Hall making it to the finals for this final showdown in Du Quoin. It would be a chance to make the lead even more narrow for Hall with a win, but this time it was Noelke taking down the Ram to sweep the Saturday racing shows. The Tail Gator may be low in the standings, but now Noelke is within striking distance of surprising the entire field in the racing standings. He still has an outside chance of that championship, but needs a near perfect couple of events to make it happen.
To close out the night, it was finally time to freestyle and the stands were rocking, ready to see what more could happen.
What ended up happening was a double up for the Raptor. For the second straight event, the racing champion and freestyle champion would be one in the same. Schnell would follow up his spectacular run from the afternoon show by taking home the final big trophy on the dirt. It would be quite the way to close out the fifth round of action.
SATURDAY NIGHT RESULTS
- Wheelie Competition: Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
- Long Jump: Mark Hall, Raminator
- Racing Finals: Doug Noelke, Tail Gator, def. Mark Hall, Raminator
- Freestyle: Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
The stretch of three consecutive weeks of action continues once again this upcoming weekend, although one advantage is the teams will stay in the state of Illinois.
It is a short trip to Hoffman Estates, just outside the Windy City of Chicago, for two big shows to close out the longest stretch of action on the season. The Sears Centre Arena is ready for a show on both Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5, each starting at 7:30 p.m. following the pit party.
Tickets are still available, and after having two complete sell-outs to close out Du Quoin, tickets will surely be going fast. Visit MonsterNationals.com for all the ticket info to see the “Fight to the Finish” come one step closer to the checkered flag.
Wheelie, Donut, Long Jump and Freestyle: Top-3 Only
- Bigfoot-5 Wins
- Snake Bite-4 Wins
- Tail Gator-2 Wins
- Tail Gator-5 Wins
- Bigfoot-2 Wins
- Raminator, Snake Bite-1 Win
- Rammunition, Snake Bite-3 Wins
- Tail Gator, Bigfoot-2 Wins
- Raminator-1 Win
Racing Season Points (25 Points for Competing, 50 Points as Runner-Up, 100 Points For Victory)
- Bigfoot, 675 points
- Raminator, 600 points
- Snake Bite, 550 points
- Rammunition, 425 points
- Tail Gator-400 points
- Raminator-5 wins
- Tail Gator-4 wins
- Bigfoot-2 wins