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Monster Nationals “Let Freedom Roar” to Start 2017 Season

Bigfoot has started the new year with a new look, and more wins. PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Maass.

The dawning of a new season for the monster truck family has begun.  New cities, new trucks, new drivers, and new desires to achieve greatness all come with it.

Along with that, promoters look for new ways to keep the competition interesting, and the fans thrilled with every moment.

Those at Family Events, when it comes to winter action, that means the Monster Nationals get a new theme so the fans have a different sense that the show many saw a year ago will be different from the one seen in 2017.  In order to do that, the new theme for this season is “Let Freedom Roar.”  Crews and officials arrived in Sioux City, Iowa, bringing in some fresh metal inside the Tyson Events Center.  Once the junk cars were lined up for destruction, the paint gun came out.

However, unlike a year ago, the new look meant the American Flag would be prominent.  One lane dressed in blue, while the other took on red and white.  Old Glory would fly high, and also be demolished.

Even the officials took on a new look, as the crew shirts donned the same colors as the cars.  It was truly time to let everyone see a new look, but with the same attention Family Events has given in the last eight years to the winter season.

In order to achieve a great show, a line-up needed to match.  Fresh faces would enter the fray, while some familiar foes came to compete.  After making his debut a year ago in DuQuoin, Illinois, Denver Echternkamp brought out the Venom Chevrolet for his first full winter season of competition.  Across the floor, a familiar black panther body of the Predator stood atop a bright orange chassis.  Representing the Pezo bunch for this event was newcomer Dalton VanSkyock.

For fans that like creatures, the reigning Donut champion also arrived on scene as Doug Noelke brought out the Tail Gator.  Representing the Hall Brothers, Dale Benear would campaign the Hotsy red colors, and to round it out was the defending wheelie and racing champion of 2016, Darron Schnell in Bigfoot, this year running an all-new red, white and blue Raptor body to match the Monster Nationals posters.

Everyone that came out for the first night of action saw the beginning of the new year, and event coordinators decided to continue with the format from a year ago.

Starting the night off was the wheelie contest.  Two hits a piece for each competitor, with the crowd determining the eventual winner.  Each driver decided to sky it to the roof of the arena, but the fans made it clear when Schnell balanced the Bigfoot Raptor twice on the wheelie bar that he was to be the one to start the new year off with the victory.  Mark one down for the team from Pacific, Missouri.

The racing bracket a few years ago was determined by points position, with the leader automatically getting a pass through the first round.  However, last year Family Events instituted a qualifying format, and with an odd number of trucks, the fastest truck would go directly into the second round, and would face the fastest loser of the first round.

Wanting to keep momentum up from the first competition, Schnell earned the quick time of the night, ensuring his title defense was starting on a high note.

From skying high to screaming loud, the fans would get involved once again to determine the winner of the second event, the donut contest.

Every truck screamed the tires as loud as the crowd roared when Iowa defeated Michigan months earlier.  But, avenging a controversial decision a year ago, Schnell went 3-for-3 to start the evening, picking up another victory.

The crowd wouldn’t determine the winner of the next contest, because this time it was a measurement that was needed.  Distance was the name of the game in the long jump contest.  Schnell once again looked to be having a strong night, putting on another great run.  But, the Venom team had other ideas.

Echternkamp floored the Chevrolet to the cars, launching his snake-skinned beast nearly a half-truck past Schnell’s mark.  In doing so, he was awarded the victory, and also awarded an early exit.

The Venom machine landed so hard, one tire blew out, steering lines shattered and stabilizers broke, sway bars bent, and not to mention all the minor pieces to put it back together.  Echternkamp’s night of competition ended, and following the tow back to the pit area, the crew immediately dove in, determining how and what needed repaired in order to make the double-header for Saturday.

With Echternkamp out, the line-up was changed to a four-truck bracket, meaning Schnell would still have two races to the finals.

He reached that point, taking on Benear, donning the Hotsy colors for the first time on the indoor tour.  Bigfoot against Hall Brothers Racing has become a go-to rivalry in monster trucks, but on this night the rivalry did not live up to the past races.

The reason, the RAM wasn’t moving.

On the hit of the throttle, Bigfoot launched straight at the car stack.  For Benear, his truck was crawling.  It was a wounded vehicle due to the rear end of the truck failing, and only having front-wheel drive meant trying to pull 11,000 pounds of dead weight was almost impossible from a dead stop.  It also meant the night started with five trucks, and was now down to three.

Three trucks or not, the fans were ready to see some freestyle action.  They got every bit of it and more as finally the van stack in the center of the floor got to collide with the monster tires.

For the fans, it was a time to do a chomp, as Noelke would find some big momentum in the Super Gator, slinging donuts and flying the creature across the floor, and even finishing with a no-wheeled cyclone that he is well known for.

The first night closed with the three remaining trucks parading around the floor to wave to the crowd, thanking them for coming out, and then the drivers spending a few hours afterwards signing autographs for those that attended.  One event down, two more remaining.

FRIDAY RESULTS:

  • Wheelie Competition:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
  • Fast Qualifier:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
  • Donut Contest:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
  • Long Jump:  Denver Echternkamp, Venom
  • Racing Finals:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot, def. Dale Benear, Hotsy (front-wheel drive only)
  • Freestyle:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator

 

A lot of the teams had easy nights to get prepared for the festivities on Saturday.  Others, however, had to do more extensive work.  The Hall Brothers team managed to change out the gearing in the back axles to ensure the repairs are secure, safe, and working.

Meanwhile, the Vengeance Motorsports crew had a long night on the Venom machine.

So long that the team was working on the truck until 6 a.m. local time to get repairs done.  Many of the crew, including Echternkamp himself along with his wife, Angie, got little sleep Saturday morning, but the team went back to work to ensure everything was ready.

With watchful eyes on every repair, and every safety requirement, the crews all pitched in and got the Venom truck repaired and ready to go for Saturday’s competition.

The second day of action began early, as an 11 a.m. pit party led up to a 1 p.m. matinee for fans that elected to enjoy a daylight of destruction.  While the teams were doing repairs the night before, and signing autographs, track crews took the opportunity to clear out a few of the destroyed vehicles in the racing lanes.  Some new metal was brought in for each row, and the cars that were already crushed now helped become part of the center pyramid, which still included a fresh van.

Right away, the wheelie contest got plenty of use for the fresh cars that were brought out, as all five trucks made excellent hits.  But, just as the prior night, the fans believed Schnell put the bet effort on the floor, taking his second wheelie win of the weekend, and fourth overall win to that point in Sioux City.

Feeding off that momentum, Schnell took yet another spot at the top thanks to his second time being the fastest qualifier for racing.

Unfortunately for him, the streak ended when it was time to spin some donuts.  After missing out on getting the win the previous night, just like one year ago in the afternoon show, Noelke would lock onto the concrete and get the Tail Gator spinning.  After the truck set, off came the steering wheel, and out the window it went.

A no-wheel cyclone gave the Gator it’s first donut win of the season, and although early, tied Noelke with Schnell in that category.

Noelke would find his way to victory once it was time to sky the trucks out, as he would also take the long jump contest.

Already through the afternoon, Schnell and Noelke were dueling between one another.  It was only fitting that these two would end up racing one another in the championship of racing.

But, it wasn’t listed that way.

In the semi-finals, Noelke was stunned when Echternkamp found the grip in the Venom machine to defeat Noelke, making his first final ever in his career.  In doing so, sadly, the truck had trouble.  When pulling into the pits, it was noticed that the steering ram on the front, the area that was repaired the previous night, failed.  Due to the amount of hydraulics needed to turn the massive tires, a failure from one of the hydraulic rams meant even with straight-line racing, not being able to control the truck could prove catastrophic.

Rather than risk running, Echternkamp was forced to the sidelines, and Noelke took the spot for the final round.

The opportunity seemed fitting, but Noelke’s quest to take down the blue Ford was not happening on this occasion, as Schnell pushed the blue, white and red Bigfoot to the finish line, taking home another racing trophy to the Pacific, Missouri, shop.

In the end, Noelke had the last laugh, as when it came to freestyle, the red eyes of the Super Duty Gator were glaring.  The angry alligator was out for a big meal, and every car, the van, and a few sets of cyclones ensured the fans knew who was taking the freestyle win for the second event.  Two shows in, two freestyle trophies.

The gator ended the night with a chomp for the crowd, while in the pits the Vengeance Motorsports crew went back to work on the front end of the truck.

A matinee show meant there was less time to get everything safely repaired for competition, because one final event awaited later that night.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON RESULTS:

  • Wheelie Competition:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
  • Fast Qualifier:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
  • Donut Contest:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Long Jump:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Racing Finals:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot, def. Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Freestyle:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator

 

The short turnaround time from the afternoon show gave crews a chance to go over the trucks one final time to determine if anything else was needing fixed.  The Venom camp had the spare steering ram to make sure the white and purple Chevrolet was ready for competition.

Track crews were busy once again bringing fresh metal to the track to start the night.  By this point every bit of the used cars from two previous shows were flattened as if they were taken to the scrap yard.  Rather than just take them outside, the pyramid in the center was made bigger and longer, which presented a challenge for the final show when it was time to freestyle.

One remaining pit party welcomed another huge crowd to the Tyson Events Center, and they were ready to witness the closing of the first weekend of events the Monster Nationals had to offer.

For those fans, it started off with a familiar sight in wheelies.

Another chance to launch to the ceiling gave Schnell another opportunity to showcase exactly why he loves the #19 chassis, as for the third straight event, he launched the Raptor to the roof, which is a lot different than what happened one year ago.  Last year, his final wheelie put the truck on it’s side, or partially at least, and destroyed the racing stripes body.

Not this time; three wheelie wins later, Schnell was rolling.

That momentum stopped in qualifying as he was shown up, by a truck that got repaired.  Echternkamp finally found the combination he was looking for and put the Venom beast at the top of the board, ensuring he was getting the bye in the first round for racing.

It was then time to smoke some tires, but on this night it was someone new getting into the fray.

After some time getting to know one of the older chassis in the Pezo camp, VanSkyock finally got the Predator cat to settle into the donut contest.  He did so by getting the rubber on the concrete, then waving to the fans during the spin.  That was enough to let the crowd determine he was the one to get the victory on this occasion.

After allowing the trucks to cool off, and to give the fans a chance to snap some selfies to post online, it was now time to launch these beasts off the cars.

It took a few times to get it done, but Schnell finally launched his Bigfoot monster farther than anyone in competition, taking home yet another win on the weekend.  It was becoming clear that the Bigfoot team was ready for this season, and wasn’t going down so easily.

Now, it was time to get down to business.  Big trophies were on the line as it was time to put up or shut up at the starting line.

Not surprisingly, Schnell made it back to the finals.  But, the real race of the night came in the semi-finals between two guys who had a real dogfight the show before, only to have one bow out due to breakage.

Noelke came into the semi-finals as the fast loser from the previous round, and was squared up once again to take on Echternkamp after he received the free ride in the first round.  Both trucks were ready, as were the drivers.  However, Noelke channeled his inner Gary Porter, drilling Echternkamp on the light and scoring the victory to get to the finals.  Everyone couldn’t believe how quick Noelke drilled the light, even some thinking he started early.  But, replays showed he was on time, and it was a completely legal run.

For the second straight show, it was Foot vs. Gator in the finals, and just like the afternoon show, Schnell was not getting denied a clean sweep on the weekend, as he drilled the light, soared over the junk pile, and took one more racing win on the weekend.  Three events, three wins, and a perfect score to start the season.

Those that enjoy sweeps also got a second one come freestyle.  With defending freestyle champion, Mark Hall in Raminator, not on tour this season, Noelke has already come into his own as being the one to beat when it comes to showing off what the Gator will do.

The Super Gator once again was sliding on the concrete, and thrilling everyone in attendance.  Not even a quality run by Schnell was enough to overtake Noelke, as he too would complete a sweep on the weekend, going 3-for-3 in freestyle in Iowa.

SATURDAY EVENING RESULTS:

  • Wheelie Competition:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
  • Fast Qualifier:  Denver Echternkamp, Venom
  • Donut Contest:  Dalton VanSkyock, Predator
  • Long Jump:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
  • Racing Finals:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot, def. Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Freestyle:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator

 

The tour now takes a hiatus for a week before the next weekend of shows.  From January 27-29, the Monster Nationals will make a return to the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.  Coming back to this venue has always been very emotional for all the teams, but has also been even more rewarding to everyone that does come out.

Tickets for the Friday and Saturday night events, plus the Sunday matinee, are already available, which includes the free pit party before each show.

Visit MonsterTruckNationals.com for the event info, and the ticket link, so that the trucks and drivers can “Let Freedom Roar.”

 

Season Standings
Racing Points:  25 for competition, 50 for runner-up, 100 for victory

Wheelies

  1. Bigfoot (3)

Donuts

  1. Bigfoot (1)
  2. Tail Gator (1)
  3. Predator (1)

Long Jump

  1. Venom (1)
  2. Tail Gator (1)
  3. Bigfoot (1)

Racing

  1. Bigfoot  300
  2. Tail Gator 125
  3. Hotsy  100
  4. Venom 75
  5. Predator 75

Freestyle

  1. Tail Gator (3)

About Dustin Parks

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