On Thursday night, it was a youth movement in Monster Jam. The headline event of the first night at the World Finals was the Young Guns Shootout, where the young drivers get their opportunity to not only show what they can do on the fastest course on tour, but also make it into the main event.
Friday’s festivities focused right on the racing aspect of the weekend. Teams began to prepare their machines for the fastest course, tuning the motors, transmissions and even the gears in the transfer case to make it down the fastest course on the season.
Everyone was focused on how quick the track was because the field of 32 competitors was separated by just under 1.5 seconds, with fast qualifier Damon Bradshaw breaking the previous track record with a 15.816 time in his Monster Energy SUV. As the fans began entering the stadium following the field of trucks parade, everyone was wondering what kind of track they would get. Would the pace go even faster, would there be some upsets in the field.
One thing is clear about Las Vegas, especially with how another sport’s bracket was being broken seemingly at a rapid pace. If Middle Tennessee could pull off a big upset, anything could happen when the field of trucks hit the track.
What would happen if that actually happened?
The 32-truck field immediately had a major upset in the first round, and it didn’t take a full run to do so. One of the favorites coming into the night, Jimmy Creten in the American Sniper Bounty Hunter, suddenly shut off coming off the line. That allowed Chad Fortune to move on in the Soldier Fortune machine. In the pit area, Creten was not happy with what happened, but yet it was unclear as to the trouble.
Another upset came in a matchup between the Lucas Oil Crusader and Monster Energy. Normally this wouldn’t be an upset because Linsey Weenk and Damon Bradshaw always have raced each other hard. But, it wasn’t Bradshaw in the opposite lane. Instead, it was team driver Coty Saucier in the Monster Energy pickup, and Saucier used the right lane advantage to make it to the second round.
But, in the second round, it was the biggest matchup of the night, and it turned into one of the wildest. The greatest rivalry in Monster Jam was renewed for the first time since 2010 as Dennis Anderson lined up his chrome Grave Digger to take on Tom Meents in Max-D. The two would take the turns even, but then it got intense.
Anderson missed the corner slightly and cut his momentum, meanwhile Meents almost missed the ramp by going up the side of the freestyle lane. Somehow he got both tires up the ramp and was pointed both skyward and to the ground. Meents nailed the throttle and made it across the line, holding down the fort and moving into the quarter finals.
All the while, even though Bradshaw was hot, the hottest truck on the night was Ryan Anderson in the Son-Uva Digger panel van. Bradshaw set the fastest time ever the night before in qualifying at 15.816, but the young driver lowered it down not just once but twice. In the second round, he would blister the field at a 15.544 lap, nearly three-tenths faster than Bradshaw.
Anderson and Bradshaw would make it to the quarter finals, but the marque matchup was actually a race between team trucks.
Bradshaw and Saucier looked poised to take on one another, but in a shock, the top qualifier would not restart after the RII test. Time was ticking away and suddenly, it was over. Saucier would make it to the semi-finals for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, team Grave Digger still had two dogs in the fight, but Adam Anderson’s spectacular season came to an end in the quarter finals in a loss to defending champion Todd Leduc. Not to be outdone, Ryan would take down Meents in another fast lap to move on, and in somewhat of a surprise, Morgan Kane in the “Halloween Grave Digger,” which featured orange flames and an orange chassis, would take down BJ Johnson in the Gas Monkey Garage hot rod.
The semi-finals looked to be one of the quickest ever in the sport, but it wouldn’t be long till the fans at Sam Boyd Stadium would have the big finale matchup.
In the first run, Saucier had Leduc beat by a few truck-lengths in the straightaway, but entering the turn played it too conservative. Leduc pounced on the throttle and soared to victory, and was one race away from defending the championship he won just a year ago.
But in the second race, it was Digger vs. Digger, and it was worth the price of the tickets. Both Anderson and Kane were dead even both in the straightaways, and each flat-tracked the corner like a late model. Kane seemed to have a slight edge but the Son-Uva Digger machine was not going away. At the ramp, Anderson began spewing smoke from under the body, almost as if the transmission was getting too hot and was giving way. It was enough to send Kane to his first final in just his second appearance at Las Vegas. Not only that, but he would have the faster time, meaning he would have lane choice for the biggest race of his career.
The tune “We Will Rock You” hit the speakers, and the fans rose up. Not one seat in the crowd was being used, because they wanted to be there and feel the energy for the final race of the night.
Kane took the right lane, Leduc was in the left. Pre-stage lights illuminated, then the stage lights. One hit of a switch, and the championship race was on. Both left hard, and each were even entering Thunder Alley. But the corner made the difference. Kane did yet another perfect sweep to the left, and he would hit the ramp first, soaring the Grave Digger across the line, and to his first ever World Championship. After winning the More Monster Jam West championship this season, exactly one year after he won the inaugural More Monster Jam tour a year ago (then in Max-D), he is officially a world champion.
However, despite the celebration, the night was not over. Rolling out onto the track were five of the previous night’s Young Guns Shootout drivers. Cynthia Gauthier rolled out her Dalmation, then came Pirate’s Curse with Steven Simms. Alongside, the yellow Max-D of Jared Eichelberger. Then, Kayla Blood brought out her El Toro Loco, and finally this year’s runner-up of Tyler Menninga of Blue Thunder. All parked right in the center of the track, tire-to-tire, and stayed put.
Suddenly, from the right tunnel, out came Meents in the Max-D stunt truck. He rolled to the center, and up the steep incline. Earlier in the year, he attempted to clear three trucks in Tampa, skying the truck to the stars and landing just beyond the last vehicle.
Tonight, he was going for FIVE.
He hammered the throttle, and the spiked futuristic SUV would clear all five vehicles with ease, bouncing once when hitting the ground. Not wanting to kill the momentum, Meents rolled forward and nailed the containers at the end of the track, completing a backflip to close out the night. It was Monster Jam’s version of “X-Games Skakeboard Big Air” and Meents would not disappoint.
And to think, this was only one competition. Immediately when fans were gone, and the celebrating began to die down, the six trucks on track headed to the pits, and the loaders came in.
The track crew would have less than 24 hours to completely change over the look of the Sam Boyd Stadium floor.
Saturday night is when the freestyle world champion will be decided. Can young Michael Vaters Jr. defend his title from a year ago in Overkill Evolution? And what could be in store for the encore for 2016? The festivities will begin at 11 a.m. PDT with the final Party In The Pits, followed by the massive 100+ truck parade to the stadium, and at 7 p.m. PDT it is the beginning of the wildest freestyle event all season for Monster Jam.