When Monster Jam officials decided to expand the World Finals from a two-day affair into a three-day extravaganza, the concept was to give racing and freestyle it’s own unique day. Teams could prepare their trucks for one event, then completely change their setup for the next day’s action.
At the same time, the track crew itself would have the task of taking the fastest course on the tour and make it into the most challenging freestyle floor all season. Not only that, but they had to do so in less than 24 hours. By the time the track was cleared the time was nearly 10 p.m. PDT. Immediately the heavy equipment dug into the dirt and converted the floor into an obstacle filled arena.
Teams were tough at work to get their machines ready for the final day of action, none more than Ryan Anderson and his Son-Uva Digger team. The prior night, what was thought to be a transmission issue, turned out to be a blown engine.
With over 100 trucks and teams in attendance, there were plenty of hands to spare to get a brand new engine put between the frame rails.
Prior to the event, and after the pit party had concluded, one of the biggest moments to happen has long been the truck parade leading right into the big show. The night before, it was only the 32 competing trucks that would make the parade run. But for the final night, it was the entire pit party. A total of 114 trucks would make the slow crawl down the parade route and in front of the fans that lined both sides of the pavement.
But finally, after all the preparation that started the night before and ran right up to the final tick of the clock, the track and the teams were ready to take on the challenge of Sam Boyd Stadium and try to take home another championship.
The theme that ended up taking on the night: Beat the track, not each other.
Steep ramps, tire walls, log rolls; every bit of the track was a challenge. From the first truck to hit the track in Cole Venard, driving the purple Grave Digger, it was clear that the course would be a challenge. As has been the case the last few years in Las Vegas, to win the event means surviving the track, and making the entire time last. Although the first highlight came from the second truck to hit the course.
Brianna Mahon, who was tabbed once again to drive Madusa as Debra Miceli herself was still recovering from a shoulder injury, would complete her first backflip in her career and get the crowd on it’s feet, saluting the new “Princess of Carnage.”
The one constant that seemed to happen a lot early in the field was broken wheels. From Jimmy Creten in the American Sniper Bounty Hunter, then Colton Meents Eichelberger in the gold Max-D, and even newly crowned racing champion Morgan Kane in the orange Grave Digger, wheels were snapping off like twigs on a dry tree.
But the one guy who stood the crowd on it’s ear was one that wasn’t used to going early in the field. Going out 16th in a field of 32 was Dennis Anderson, but he made sure it was a run that would be remembered. The reworked #30 chassis, complete with a chrome body like he’s campaigned all season, hit the track with the classic throttle rhythm he’s been known for. Midway through the run, a bad bounce on the far end put the truck on the right side, and onto the roof, but he nailed the throttle and back onto the tires it went.
Into bonus time, he had another save, thanks in part to the roll cage hitting the side of a ramp. The crowd was roaring loud and proud, and with a donut into the container wall, the run ended right as time expired. The scores were a 31.5, giving him the lead and the chance to watch those that came after.
What came after, however, was a lot of controversy.
Drivers like Marc McDonald in El Toro Loco, and also Scott Buetow in Hot Wheels, had runs that rivaled the run of Anderson, but were given lower scores. The crowd was not happy.
The crowd was extremely upset when Cam McQueen hit the track and did something no driver had ever pulled off in the sport. Right as bonus time was getting started, he hit the containers down at the closed end of the track, but did so off-center. The truck twisted in the air, corkscrewing to the right, and back down on the tires. The ground and bleachers were shaking in seeing what was just done. His run ended shortly after, but it was one that lit the crowd up. However, the crowd quickly turned when the scores still were not enough to get the lead.
Two runs later, another Anderson hit the track. This time, however, it was the FS1 champion, Adam Anderson, in the black Grave Digger. After having such a strong year on the stadium tour, the three-time champion wanted to make his biggest impression on the biggest stage.
From the first hit, the coil suspension sucked up the landing. For having the truck being completely rebuilt from the roll cage forward, the young Anderson made it seem like it was a new truck. He would make it into bonus, and end on his roof.
The score was a 33, enough to give him the lead, but seven trucks remained.
Run after run, Anderson stood tall. The final three runs would be the most critical. Todd Leduc in Metal Mulisha would try hard, and came out quick, but on his lid he went. The next-to-last runner was last year’s champion, Overkill Evolution with Michael Vaters Jr. at the wheel. His truck was soaring high early, and often. But his final hit came too soon. The 2011 Ford Super Duty launched like the Space Shuttle to the skies, but when it landed everyone got concerned. As he got air, the rear tires began passing the front. Upon landing, the fans were concerned as the truck came to rest on the roof.
Fans wondered if the young driver was fine, but he emerged from his machine a bit stunned, but alright. No damage was seen and the truck was towed off.
At last, it was one final run, and one final opportunity. A year ago, fans felt he was robbed of a championship. This year, with a new chassis, and now a fresh engine, it was time for Son-Uva Digger to tear into the dirt. He would keep up the hits and the momentum.
Everyone was wondering if he would pull out the newest move in his arsenal, the “Monster Moonwalk,” which became an internet sensation when he pulled it at a couple arena events.
He would never get the opportunity. Right as bonus time would close, he would go for a backflip and would over rotate, coming to rest on the roof. As officials came to get him out of the truck, the scores came in. His total: 30.5
It was not enough, meaning after dominating the FS1 Stadium Tour all season, with win, after win, and even having to borrow another team truck for one weekend, it was meant to be. It was a Grave Digger night, a dominant Grave Digger season, and a Grave Digger dominant World Finals. Prior to the World Finals, along with Anderson’s FS1 championship, Venard would take home the More Monster Jam West title, and Kane would take the More Monster Jam East title.
The only trophies not won this season by a Digger driver were the Young Guns Shootout, won by Scott Liddycoat in Dragon, and the Double Down Qualifying trophy, which went to Damon Bradshaw in Monster Energy.
With the 35th Anniversary of Grave Digger happening in 2017, the momentum the entire team has is unmatched, and will be difficult to stop.
What didn’t stop was the night. Just because the competition was finished, it didn’t mean the action was. As the celebrating began for Anderson and the entire Digger team, track crews were getting set to do what has become a tradition for the last 15 years: the encore.
This year, it was going to be a major tribute. On the big screen, images of Armed Forces members from across the globe would be shown. Some standing tall, others kneeling at their fallen brothers and sisters. Some were saluting a flag, while others were holding heavy artillery. On the screen below, it was Old Glory, waving proudly. The sounds on the speakers were from Toby Keith’s “American Soldiers”For the 2016 season, the final encore at Las Vegas would be one that would honor the men and women in uniform.
Onto the track first, teammate trucks. In front, the camouflage military Jeep design of Soldier Fortune, driven by Chad Fortune. In tow, the entirely new Soldier Fortune Black Ops look, complete with a stealth black paint scheme, of rookie, and former soldier, Tony Ochs. They made a parade lap around the track before heading back into the pits behind the screens. When they returned, they were not alone.
In tow, another five machines. Each truck adorned with the five major branches of the military. In front was the Army, dressed in black and gold. In tow, the red and yellow colors of the Marines. Blue and yellow would follow in the US Navy. Fourth in line, the blue and white hues of the Air Force, and pulling up the back was the white and red colors of the Coast Guard.
All seven trucks came onto the track, and then to a stop. On the cue of the pyrotechnics, each truck went into donuts, kicking up dust in every direction.
Once at a stop, the five branches of trucks lined up at one end, facing the container wall. Fortune and Ochs faced one another at the container setup on the opposite end. As if someone hit the firing canon, all went for it, and it was a record of seven backflips on the track at once. The fireworks would light up the skies, and bring to an end the first quarter of action for the biggest promoter of monster truck entertainment.
Already there’s people ready to renew their seats for next season, and the time to buy is already near. In a few weeks, for fans that purchased the Double Down Package, and want to keep their same seats, they will be able to renew. Shortly after, fans that want to change where they sit for the big show will get their opportunity for 2017.
Then in May, anyone wanting single-day tickets, two-day tickets or the complete Double Down Package, they can purchase their seats for the biggest gathering of monster trucks in the country.
Go to MonsterJam.com for all the information, and also find out where Monster Jam could be coming to during the spring, summer and fall.