Seven weeks. That is how long it has been since Family Events held their last Monster Nationals indoor event. March 5 was the last time five MTRA-certified trucks would take to the track, but it gave extra time for every team to get every bolt tight, and even make a couple changes where needed.
Finally, the time had arrived for the machines to load up and head east. It was time to make a lot of people happy, because the venue being visited hadn’t seen a monster truck show of any kind for five years. The last time they were at this arena was in 2012, mere months after their famed campus was stunned by undesirable news, and a beloved figure passed away.
The wait was over, because thousands of fans in Pennsylvania descended on the Bryce Jordan Center, right in the heart of what is known as “Happy Valley” in State College, Pennsylvania, the home of Penn State University.
The five trucks that came to the arena were the same five that have toured all season long, but this weekend there were some slight differences. Doug Noelke was in attendance with his Tail Gator, while Vinny Venom pulled out the Snake Bite, although with many battle scars from this year. Mark Hall was ready to take care of business in the Raminator. The final two trucks may have been the same ones that have been to all the previous six shows, but some things were a miss this time.
Hall Brothers Racing brought the Rammunition into town, but instead of Dale Benear at the helm, it was the man who could normally be found wheeling the Ram Rebel around the floor, Mat Dishman, piloting the beast.
Across the floor, Darron Schnell had his Bigfoot #19 ready to go, but his look as well was slightly different. A few weeks ago, Schnell was at another event with the racing stripes machine when the truck caught the dirt in a donut, and over the Raptor went.
Last weekend, with a different body installed, he had a case of repeats because he would put the truck on it’s side once again.
The Bigfoot team has been running rampant on bodies this season, but with the first quarter of action pretty well complete, the team was able to utilize another body to put on the chassis for this weekend. It is one that Family Events has seen before, because Schnell’s truck was equipped with the same body that Dan Runte ran last year at Bloomsburg, the fan-voted Power Wheels design complete with orange and yellow flames over top of a black base coat. The special body was a hit last summer, and it was no different indoors because the fans at the pit party were enjoying taking photos of the piece right up until it was time to clear the track.
Everyone around the Penn State area was longing for the Monster Nationals, or any monster truck event, to return, and finally the time arrived for the five-year wait to end.
Up first to set the tone for the night, the wheelie contest. The fresh metal on the track was ready for it’s first test on the night, and each truck took two strong hits to get things going. But the one who ended up at the top of the heap to start the night, it was a truck that hadn’t won a wheelie contest all season. Dishman somehow was able to get the Ram Rebel to soar to the roof on both hits, and according to the crowd, it was the best attempts because he would take the win on the night. At the same time, that win brought forth a dramatic finish for the wheelie crown on the overall season.
For 2016, there would be co-wheelie champions in both Schnell and Venom, bringing this rivalry, at least in this aspect, to a draw.
Qualifying was set to take place next, getting everyone in their proper spots for the racing bracket to come later in the night. The Ram theme would continue because Hall would put the Raminator at the top of the board with his fast time, and this coming after the team had to do an emergency swap on the line because of a faulty RII box, something that seemed to plague the team later in the night as well.
Once everyone had a chance to breathe a bit, things were going to get noisy, as the donut contest meant loud engines spinning in circles, hoping to delight the fans.
In this instance, the Ram streak came to a halt because the one man that seemed to have the donuts down to a science this year was Noelke. Once again, after he got the truck to take a set on the concrete, off came the steering wheel. He would hurl it like a frisbee out the window and still kept the truck roaring. That was enough to capture a dominant eighth win in donuts for this season, giving him the championship for 2016.
Now, it wasn’t about height for these trucks, but distance. The long jump contest was also the only category on the night where the single-truck runs wouldn’t be judged by the fans. Instead, after each run, lead official Paul Monroe would step onto the floor and mark where the rear tires landed, and whomever got the most distance would take home the victory.
It wouldn’t be until the last run where the winner was crowned, but it was the same truck that would take the previous event that would take this crown. Hall would be the last in line to launch the Ram Limited, and did so with ease, taking out Schnell with a rocket of a leap to take the victory, and giving him the long jump crown for the 2016 season.
Once intermission was finished, and the track cleared of the remaining pieces of a meal car for the Transaurus beast, it was time to hand out some hardware. The big trophies were at stake, with the first being the racing crown. On this night, it was an advantage to have lane choice, because there were beginning to be some distinct differences between the left and right lanes.
All the trucks that had the quicker time, even with Hall in his bye-run in the first round, opted for the left lane, as the cars began to give more on one side, making it a bit easier for the driver to keep the machine low to the ground, improving the overall time. The brackets would go down one by one, and in the finals, it was a teammate shootout. Thanks to a quicker time, Hall elected to put Dishman in the right lane, the one lane that seemed to give more of a straight hit versus a lengthy hit.
It did the trick because at the finish line, it was the black Ram getting the victory.
Despite the final victory, Schnell was sitting pretty in the pits because entering this night, his lead in the standings was far too great. He could actually sit out the show and it wouldn’t make a difference. This year, the racing championship belonged to the Bigfoot group, and the heavy hardware was set to go back to the Pacific, Missouri, shop.
Finally, after everything that had gone down for the night, every driver was given the chance to let loose. It was time to freestyle.
Every truck would put on a show for the fans, making it a bit of a challenge to determine who had just enough to sway the people. But despite Venom’s attempts to put the Snake to the stars, and then Noelke’s smoke show on the concrete. Despite Schnell flexing the Bigfoot Raptor across the floor, and Dishman deciding to air the Rammunition, on this night, one man was nearly perfect.
It would be the eighth time it happened this year, but it was plenty to capture the 2016 freestyle championship, as Hall would complete the sweep of the big trophies inside the same venue that next weekend will hold the commencement ceremonies for spring classes at Penn State.
- Wheelie Competition: Mat Dishman, Rammunition
- Fast Qualifier: Mark Hall, Raminator
- Donut Contest: Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
- Long Jump: Mark Hall, Raminator
- Racing Bracket
- ROUND 1: Darron Schnell, Bigfoot, def. Vinny Venom, Snake Bite; Mat Dishman, Rammunition, def. Doug Noelke, Tail Gator; Mark Hall, Raminator, bye-run.
- SEMI-FINALS: Mat Dishman, Rammunition, def. Darron Schnell, Bigfoot; Mark Hall, Raminator, def. Doug Noelke, Tail Gator (FL).
- FINALS: Mark Hall, Raminator, def. Mat Dishman, Rammunition
- Freestyle: Mark Hall, Raminator
And thus, the 2016 indoor season has come to a close for Family Events, but their spring and summer season is just getting warmed up. In just three weeks time, the 4-Wheel Jamboree kicks off in Lima, Ohio, at the Allen County Fairgrounds.
Meanwhile, the Monster Nationals will be given a jolt for their 2016 outdoor season with three big shows. June 4-5 it is a return to the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois. Then, a debut weekend will commence from July 30-31 as it is the first time the Monster Nationals visit the Brown County Speedway in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
From August 19-20, the Indiana State Fairgrounds will play host to the Monster Nationals, at the same venue that the 4-Wheel Jamboree will take place the following month, but the entire event will take place on the front stretch of the famed Indy Mile dirt track.
Go to MonsterNationals.com, which has been reworked for the 2016 season to be more user friendly on both desktop and mobile devices, to get your tickets and to get all the information on all upcoming shows.
Wheelie, Donut, Long Jump and Freestyle: Top-3 Only
- Bigfoot, Snake Bite-5 Wins
- Tail Gator-2 Wins
- Raminator, Rammunition-1 Win
- Tail Gator-8 Wins
- Bigfoot-2 Wins
- Raminator, Snake Bite-1 Win
- Raminator-4 Wins
- Rammunition, Snake Bite-3 Wins
- Tail Gator, Bigfoot-2 Wins
Racing Season Points (25 Points for Competing, 50 Points as Runner-Up, 100 Points For Victory)
- Bigfoot, 900 points
- Raminator, 775 points
- Snake Bite, 625 points
- Rammunition, 600 points
- Tail Gator-475 points
- Raminator-8 wins
- Tail Gator-4 wins
- Bigfoot-2 wins
Special Thanks to the Following Individuals:
- Paul Monroe, Safety and Technical Director
- Emily Boden, Director of Media Relations
- Doug & Brenda Noelke, Team Tail Gator & Big Dawg
- Mark & June Hall, Hall Brothers Racing
- Bryce Jordan Center staff
- Penn State University