Featured Image taken by Brett Moist
The weekly grind for the monster truck industry is nothing new, especially during the first three months of the year. The Monster Nationals are in the midst of their longest stretch of shows during their winter schedule. Three straight weeks of action, with seven total shows.
To close out the stretch of shows, the trip for everyone was not very long. After being in Du Quoin, Illinois, last weekend, the field of trucks made the drive over to Hoffman Estates and the Sears Centre Arena, just outside of Chicago. While the action may not be exactly the same as what Michael Jordan provided to those in the Chicago area, the fans that came out were ready to see five massive machines get set to compete hard. It was back onto concrete for the weekend, and it was time to get things kicked off.
As with every show, the wheelie contest would lead the activities, and the fresh metal provided everyone with some of the best launches all season.
The man that did so the best was the one who had a great showing one week ago. Considering it is his home state, there is nothing less to be expected. Mark Hall stood the Raminator to the wheelie bar, and took home the opening win on the night.
Setting the racing bracket was next, as the five drivers wanted that one extra pass without anyone in the other lane. All season long, the one that seemed to find his way to the top was Vinny Venom. Last weekend, his time on track ended early with a broken crankshaft in the engine. He made sure the new motor was good with a hard run across the cars, once again putting the “red and green striking machine” at the top of the charts. The body still had some battle scars from a week ago due to a roll over, but to Venom it was just his way of “shedding skin” on his way to victory.
For the fans that loved hearing all the engines scream as loud as they possibly could, the donut contest was ready to let everyone listen to 1500 horsepower roar to life.
But no one has done this part of the show better than the truck that crawls out of the swamp, and chomps down on the competition. Doug Noelke has thrown down run after run, and the first show at Hoffman Estates was no exception. When the tires stuck to the concrete, as he is known for, off came the steering wheel and out the window it went. Noelke would go on to claim the donut win, his sixth of the season. That win became extremely important. The closest challenge to Noelke this season in that category is Darron Schnell in Bigfoot, but with only two wins all year.
With only two events left all season, there is no way that anyone can catch him to overtake the top spot. With the win, Noelke can be declared the champion of donuts this season on the Monster Nationals tour.
After the tire smoke cleared, which was a challenge since all five trucks put up a big effort, the distance factor was the next measuring unit to use. Up next on the night was the long jump contest.
It was another night where Hall decided to sky his Ram Limited as far as the cars would let him, because he would clear the entire stack and land squarely on the concrete. The leap was long enough to give him the official win on the night, and put momentum squarely on his side as the racing part of the night was up next.
For Hall, he would not make it into the finals, but luckily for the Ram team, the Rammunition of Dale Benear did make it. On the opposite side of the track, Schnell had the racing stripes ready to go, hoping to get back to victory lane after missing out on it one week ago.
What surprised everyone was that the winner was determined literally at the hit of the throttle, but not because of reaction time.
When the lights went green, Benear nailed the hammer on the Ram Rebel, but in doing so only three tires hooked up to the concrete. The truck went hard left, and immediately Benear got off the throttle, knowing he was not going to get the victory. Schnell would celebrate the win and take home the big trophy on the night, taking home the maximum points for the event, and extending his lead in the series.
Meanwhile, the night for Benear was over because when the report came back from the pit area, it was not good. A broken axle meant no more action for the red and grey Ram. But, the four remaining trucks were ready to go because the racing lanes saw a lot of car crushing action however the van stack in the center was not touched.
It was time to freestyle, and the crowd was not disappointed.
Every truck went all-out, but the one that did it the best already had a couple wins on the night. Hall would light up the Firestone tires when he hit the floor in the Raminator, and never looked back. A couple smoky donuts, long leaps, and a reverse hit were enough to give him another win on the night, and close out the evening in a dominant performance.
- Wheelie Competition: Mark Hall, Raminator
- Fast Qualifier: Vinny Venom, Snake Bite
- Donut Contest: Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
- Long Jump: Mark Hall, Raminator
- Racing Finals: Darron Schnell, Bigfoot, def. Dale Benear, Rammunition
- Freestyle: Mark Hall, Raminator
There was little time to waste for the Hall Brothers team, because they had to go to overdrive to get repairs done to make the next show. But, it wasn’t just the Rammunition that needed looked at.
When the show ended on Friday, Hall was not able to pull the truck back to the pits. After his run, he tried to fire the truck back up and immediately the truck shut off. Something sounded bad in the 2000-horsepower engine, and when it was inspected, it was even worse.
According to inspection, it was possible that a rod was thrown down through the block, and that is a terminal problem. That meant that repairs to the Raminator not only consisted of fixing the front end, as the suspension seemed to squat after the freestyle performance, but also looked like replacing the Hemi engine.
All this needed to take place in a short amount of time, meaning after the show on Friday, it was all hands on deck to get things done. Other teams pitched in to make it happen, because if Noelke, Schnell and Venom were going to beat the Halls, they wanted to do so on the track, not in the pits.
The hard work paid off because the Hall Brothers duo was ready to go for the final show of the weekend, and the fans were set to see another night of strong action. More fresh metal was brought in for the show, and it was ready to get some action with the wheelie contest.
Each truck had strong hits on the racing lanes, but it was the one with the first hits on the night that handed the biggest roars of the night. Venom launched the Super Snake to the roof on each hit, and the crowd showed it’s approval by handing him the victory.
Venom would try to follow up that effort by earning the bye-run in the first round, but his qualifying effort fell short. Instead, Hall would put the fresh engine through it’s paces and earned that easy run in the first round.
Up next would be the donut contest, but everyone that has followed the series this season has known that this category has been dominated by one truck. The first event saw Noelke lock up the championship in this category with another run that would see no use of the steering wheel. Not wanting to lay down for anyone, he provided an encore as he would lock into the concrete and spin his way to yet another victory. The steering wheel would be tossed out the window, and the fans would approve of the run. Noelke’s seventh win in donuts this year just adds another nod to his great career.
The long jump contest, however, was no lock for anyone so far this year, and would continue to be a tight battle on this night. But, Hall wanted to make it clear he wasn’t giving up the fight for anything, and soared the Raminator to his second win of the night.
Knowing he had momentum on his side, along with the bye-run in the first round, the racing bracket for Hall became critical if he was to close the gap on Schnell. In a poetic twist of fate, Hall would make it to the finals, as would Schnell. With 100 points on the line to the winner, getting the victory would either lock up a championship, or take the title down to the wire in the final event.
Both trucks nailed the throttle hard off the line, and at the finish it was extremely close. Cameras and timing would be used to determine who took the win, and the call came down that Schnell edged out Hall by just about half a tire.
That victory, along with Hall’s runner-up finish, put Schnell 200 points ahead of the Raminator heading into the final event, meaning the gap is too great to overcome, and for the 2016 season, the classic “Racing Stripes” Bigfoot is the racing champion, the first for Schnell behind the wheel of the original monster truck.
All the fans at Hoffman Estates were ready to close out the night with one more trophy on the line, because freestyle was yet to come. But, after having a strong run the night before, and coming so close in racing, Hall was out for vengeance. The night before, his run ended with a blown engine and a lot of frustration. On this night, it was quite a bit different. His run would be the same high-horsepower, high momentum run from the night before. On this night, it ended almost in a mirror image from his run a year ago.
The final hit would be in reverse, and the Ram Limited stood on the rear axle, bouncing a couple times, all while breaking the rear tie-rod. The run brought the crowd to it’s feet, and it was clear no one was topping Hall on this night.
That win would be Hall’s seventh on the season, and with Noelke a distant fourth with four wins himself, Hall can say he is the 2016 freestyle champion of the Monster Nationals, backing up his title from one year ago.
- Wheelie Competition: Vinny Venom, Snake Bite
- Fast Qualifier: Mark Hall, Raminator
- Donut Contest: Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
- Long Jump: Mark Hall, Raminator
- Racing Finals: Darron Schnell, Bigfoot, def. Mark Hall, Raminator
- Freestyle: Mark Hall, Raminator
Despite three titles already locked up, two more titles are on the line at the final event of the season. One advantage for the field of trucks is they will have a lot of time to rest, along with doing maintenance to the trucks to get repairs done along with replacing any parts that may need to be looked at.
When it’s said there is a lot of time to rest, it is true. The final event of the season is nearly two months away, but it is at a venue that has not seen the Monster Nationals in action for nearly five years. The last time this tour came to this arena was for back-to-back shows in 2012. The only driver coming to this year’s show that was at that prior event was Schnell, but don’t expect that to be an advantage. Each truck is coming ready to put on a show in a town that is known more for having a great performance on the gridiron.
It’s a trip east on I-80 for these teams because the final show of the year is coming on April 30, at the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State University. There will be a lot of “We Are” chants to go along with the loud roar of the trucks, and after waiting five years to return, it will be a welcome sight.
I will be in attendance for this final event of the year, and there are still tickets available on either end of the arena. After selling out both shows in Du Quoin, plus having strong crowds at Hoffman Estates, the entire team at Family Events is wanting a spectacular turnout for their return to Penn State.
Visit MonsterNationals.com to get all the ticket information. Any displays prior to the event will be announced the week leading into the show.
Wheelie, Donut, Long Jump and Freestyle: Top-3 Only
- Bigfoot, Snake Bite-5 Wins
- Tail Gator-2 Wins
- Raminator-1 Win
- Tail Gator-7 Wins*
- Bigfoot-2 Wins
- Raminator, Snake Bite-1 Win
- Rammunition, Snake Bite, Raminator-3 Wins
- Tail Gator, Bigfoot-2 Wins
Racing Season Points (25 Points for Competing, 50 Points as Runner-Up, 100 Points For Victory)
- Bigfoot, 875 points*
- Raminator, 675 points
- Snake Bite, 600 points
- Rammunition, 550 points
- Tail Gator-450 points
- Raminator-7 wins*
- Tail Gator-4 wins
- Bigfoot-2 wins