The year is drawing to a close, and the men and women piloting the mean 11,000-pound monsters are seeing their time at the wheel for 2016 come to an end. The month of December means vehicles in the shop to be reworked, repaired, and resurrected for the new year.
All-new parts get installed, while the haulers get restocked with components to repair while on the road.
For many sports, winter is a time when not much happens outside of hitting the ice for hockey, the hardwood for basketball, or playoff time on the gridiron. That is not the case when it comes to monster trucks, because the first three months of the year is the time teams are crossing the country on a weekly basis, thrilling fans in arenas and stadiums from California all the way to North Carolina.
Yet before the new season can begin, it also is a time to reflect back on the year that was across the board for the sport. Different promoters saw big events, others saw wild incidents, and a few returns to the track made for quite the year in the monster industry. It’s a year that saw domination from one team, resurrection of a name that still strikes a chord with the fans, and many changes with the team that started the industry to begin with.
The new year is near, and a new season will kick off in mere weeks. In order to do that, one also must look back at the year that was. Here’s what took the biggest headlines of the 2016 season:
Entering 2016, it wasn’t talk of the actual teams or drivers that Monster Jam had as a headline. Instead, it was the talk of the rubber on the dirt. For the first time, a major promoter of monster trucks had tire sponsorship. That came in the form of BKT, who signed on at the beginning of 2015, but the extent of the sponsorship was set to take hold one year later.
This created controversy long before the season began.
With the title sponsorship came an obligation. That being any teams that were booked for at minimum four weekends of action, whether they be stadium events or 4-show weekends in arenas, were required to run the BKT rubber. Those that signed on for three shows or less had the option of running the tires.
This meant teams, should they be signed sponsorship by a different brand, risk having a conflict of interest when running the tires.
Monster Jam and Feld Motorsports had been searching for a tire that would provide teams grip, but also risk not slinging dirt like a late model into the crowd. The previous “EcoWork” design that came from the Ukraine gave plenty of grip, and was praised by the teams. But the problem was the steep outer sidewall cleats were gripping the dirt and tossing it into the crowd. In 2014, the tires got the sides of the tread shaved to counter that, but then BKT came out with an exclusive monster truck tire that was shallow cut, requiring no trimming, short sidewall cleats and even tread on the sidewalls in case the truck got in a tough situation.
In a sense, Monster Jam was going all “IROC” because for the most part, all teams ran the same tires, and many of the chassis were from the same manufacturer. This made it easy in case one truck had issues because likely another team had the required parts to fix it.
However, the shallow cleats did have one drawback…no grip when conditions were not ideal.
Events in Jacksonville, Florida, and Santa Clara, California, saw heavy rain fall on the track the day of the show. This meant the grip level was similar to that of being on an ice rink. Teams couldn’t go full-throttle to grip the track, but rather burp the throttle to maintain traction. It just showed the shallow tires, although good for weight, meant no grip when wet.
The new season has the same rules for tires, and some teams not directly affiliated with Feld Motorsports had to bite the bullet and purchase new tires to compete, some having to buy three or more full sets. The question remains, is having an “official tire” helping or hurting the sport?
It was September 2015 when fans first caught a glimpse of what the new year would bring. With all the new concept bodies and crazy ideas that some teams come up with, it was almost a sense that why those concepts come up had been forgotten.
It was 1991 when the original “concept body” came into existence, something no one had even considered for the industry.
That truck…Snake Bite. Although over the years, a couple different skins came about and were utilized, the new season was a silver anniversary for the team based in Colorado, and out of hiding came one Colt Cobra. The former driver began looking around for a new athlete to overtake the driving role for the Snake. When the search became futile, Cobra made a trip east to visit family, and he ran into his young nephew, Vinny Venom. Having known all about the Snake’s history, he wanted a chance to prove the truck still had some viciousness.
It didn’t take long for Cobra to hand over the mask, and at the beginning of the year, the retro “red and green striking machine” came back to compete against his well-publicized rival, Bigfoot.
Venom put the truck at the top of the heap, or at least met at the top, in the Monster Nationals tour, tying with Bigfoot for the wheelie title. Yet, that wasn’t enough. So, while Venom was busy on tour, Cobra went back to the shop in Colorado and made a call to Concussion Motorsports, the same company that built Bigfoots #18 and #21. His wheeling and dealing got a new Concussion chassis to the shop, and the build was on to get ready for the 4-Wheel Jamboree tour.
In Lima, out of the hauler came a more evil, more tenacious, Snake, complete with a Raptor design.
That new look would thrill the crowds all year long, while also being the victim of one of the spookiest accidents in monster truck history. That wreck came in Wildwood, New Jersey, on the beach when Venom made mid-air contact with Brandon Budd in the Red Solo Truck, cartwheeling the Snake and damaging multiple pieces of the truck.
In the new year, Venom and team have the new truck rebuilt, stronger, and packing more lethal snake oil. It’s only a matter of time until this Snake is back on top, proving the bite has never gone away.
If there was one team that could simply say they dominated the entire season, it would be the team based in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. The Grave Digger team, entering it’s 35th year of competition, finished out the 2016 season as being the team that simply could do no wrong.
It started when the main man that started the Digger craze, Dennis Anderson, got a unique look for his machine. The classic ghost and graveyard look remained, but instead of being a black background, it was chromed out. Then, Adam Anderson shed the skin on the “Legend” design, and officially took the reigns of his own Digger truck. Add in the newest drivers on the fleet, Morgan Kane and Cole Venard, and the “Black and Green Wrecking Machine” was loading for the competition.
Just how loaded they were stunned even their own selves.
Adam Anderson dominated the FS1 points tour, wrapping up the title a week before the final event. Kane and Venard won their respective Triple Threat Series in the arena tour, meaning each were heading into Las Vegas for the World Finals. Add in Dennis, and the Digger team brought four trucks to win two championships.
In order to distinguish the trucks, Kane and Venard had their looks altered for the event. While Dennis and Adam kept their chrome and black designs, Kane’s machine went to the paint shop, receiving an orange chassis along with orange flames on the hood. Likewise, Venard’s truck got a purple design, giving each machine an identity for the one event.
In Las Vegas, Kane would be the one to stun the entire Monster Jam community. In just his second trip to Vegas, the young man would beat out last year’s racing champion, Todd Leduc in Metal Mulisha, in a truck that was over six years old and likely was seeing it’s final year of competition. What was nicknamed the “Hallo-Digger” stood at the top of the heap.
One night later, when it came to freestyle, Adam had to beat out his own father to snag what would be his fourth world title in his career, but his first in an actual Grave Digger truck.
That meant for the year, Grave Digger drivers locked up five championships, including the two biggest of the season. How can one top that?
Bigfoot Sees Retirement, But Repeat Titles
For the team that started the entire monster phenomenon, 2016 was a year that saw a lot of change.
The year prior, despite having a successful 40th anniversary, the team had to bid farewell to a pair of trucks that were damaged in competition, and were deemed too extensive to repair in order to compete in a safe manner.
Down to five competing trucks was not a problem for the Bigfoot organization. However, the biggest change that came this year was the drivers themselves. In the early part of the year, it was announced that the team’s long-reigning top driver, Dan Runte, had decided after over 26 years with the team, that he would step away from being a full-time driver to focus on family, while still being there as crew. His accomplishments…endless. From championships, to world records, and the changes in the industry, he was there. But, he was not going away without leaving one last impression on the industry.
Runte won his final championship by taking his fifth consecutive Toughest Monster Truck Tour crown, ensuring the final time he was at the wheel would be a memorable one.
His driving career didn’t end fully, as his final performance this year came as part of Summit Racing’s “Operation Appreciation” in Kuwait, as he would become the first Bigfoot driver to perform overseas for the United States Military. Even with all the championships and records, that performance possibly was the most rewarding one of his entire career, and possibly entire life. Not bad for a guy that says it’s “all about the t-shirts.”
Later in the year, Rick Long announced once again, he was stepping away from driving duties. Having retired once, he was deemed the driver of the Australian Bigfoot a few years ago, and it brought him back into the fold. He’s spend a number of years at the wheel of Bigfoot #15, while this year he took the helm of #14 for part of the season. However, he now felt it was time to take a step back again, and let a new generation of driver take hold.
With two drivers leaving, it meant a shift in power. Larry Swim, who spent last season and the first quarter of 2016 behind the wheel of #18, stepped into the lead driver position, taking over Bigfoot #21 in May. Darron Schnell would keep hold of his chassis, Bigfoot #19, and Josh Gibson, last year’s Rookie of the Year in the MTRA, took over Bigfoot #18.
The two oldest chassis, #14 and #15, will be piloted by the two newest drivers in the Foot camp, A.J. Straatmann, who the Foot team is very familiar with having been a crewman for many years, and Bryan Heitz, who came on board during the summer.
The last man to retire from the Bigfoot team has been there from the beginning, helping mold the monster truck industry into what it is today. Jim Kramer, former driver and Vice President of Operations, decided after over 40 years with Bigfoot, the time was right to walk away and enjoy retirement. His influence, his ambition, and his popularity to never be equaled, Bigfoot would not be where it is today had it not been for he, and Bigfoot creator Bob Chandler.
It was a year of change, but one that brought about a pair of Monster Nationals titles, the TMT championship, and the 4-Wheel Jamboree racing championship. It shows that whomever was at the wheel, Bigfoot was still the king.
The year is nearly set to start, and from Family Events, Monster Jam, and all the other promoters, it’s time to get set for the new year of competition. Tickets are available now across the country to all the shows that take place weekly for the first three months of the season.
Happy New Year to the entire monster family.