Every promoter in the monster industry has a niche to make their shows different from the others, but Monster Jam has taken that concept to an entirely new idea over the last three seasons.
A majority of the first quarter of shows for Feld Entertainment come to arenas, such as basketball and hockey arenas. The smaller venues mean there’s not much room to do what fans normally expect to see in a larger stadium like what took place over the weekend in Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
So how exactly has Monster Jam changed their arena venues?
It’s called the Triple Threat Series.
Through the 2014 season, arena events had a rather bland setup. It included two lanes of cars, a dirt mound or a similar setup in the center, with a van being brought out later for freestyle. One difficulty of this comes from the aspect in the stands. Because of the big dirt mound in the center, it wasn’t uncommon for fans on one side to not see part of the action.
Beginning in 2015, arenas across the country got a new setup. Described as a “Hybrid” design, it was a series of ramps and a plateau in the center of the floor, with cars brought in later for freestyle. This gave one advantage for the fans as no matter where they sat in the stands, there was always a good seat to see wheelies, donuts, and the big air Monster Jam is know for.
The problem with this, both from the fans and even drivers, was the hybrid obstacle was boring.
At the same time this setup was designed, a little different competition took place with the Triple Threat Series. Drivers were not considered drivers any longer, but rather were deemed “athletes,” and in reality that is what they became. The eight drivers in the inaugural season went through extensive cardio, strength and endurance training. Now, rather than simply focusing on driving their Monster Jam machines, they also had to pilot two other vehicles.
Those were the ATV’s, and the new Speedsters, a version of the popular side X side vehicles seen on farms, ranches and in hunting camps.
Athletes had to get out of their big trucks, swap into new suits and protective equipment, and adjust to a different vehicle. Each competition earned points, which in the inaugural season sent the top two finishers to the World Finals in Las Vegas. The first two earning the trip were Colton Eichelberger, at the time driving Grave Digger, and Morgan Kane, who that season ran Max-D.
The series was so successful, it expanded a year later to include a west coast and east coast series, but also saw the hybrid obstacle take on a bigger challenge, which has now been included in all arena events.
At the corners of the dirt pile, the ramps had different obstacles buried to provide a different pop, or boost, for the big machines to get height and distance. One corner had large excavator tires laying on their sides, while opposite that was dual rows of semi tires.
The other corners included the classic dirt hill, while the fourth had a large log the size of a power pole sitting in a cage to keep it from moving.
Trucks and athletes were pushed to see how these new additions would help, or hurt, the trucks. It turns out, it meant the athletes had to be careful of hitting the throttle too hard, or not being centered up. The hard rubber of the loader tires doesn’t give, while the semi tires often deliver more of a pop than anticipated.
With this new design, there’s more thought into how to attack the center pod, and for the fans it makes every seat in the arena s great one to witness action.
Unlike other Monster Jam arena events, where the drivers of the trucks have a designated rider for the ATV portion of the event, the athletes in the Triple Threat Series must swap out from the firesuit needed for monster competition, and into the riding gear including the protective pads to run the ATV races. After the heats and the feature, it’s a break before getting back into the monster machines for more competition.
In between the final pair of monster competitions, the firesuits stay on, but the vehicle becomes smaller, and it is obstacle course racing in the Speedster category. Any fan that owns a RzR or any other side X side knows how fun they can be, especially when modified for more power and better handling. So seeing the drivers themselves swap between three different vehicles makes it more intense for the competition, and makes them all become athletes every single show.
All the athletes chosen to race in the series are ones who could become household names in the future, with some already showing that being on this tour already could lead to some major victories down the line.
Two prime examples are former champions on the tour. Kane earned his way to Las Vegas in 2015 by finishing runner-up in the inaugural series in Max-D. A year later, he won the East Coast tour in Grave Digger. That win earned him another trip to Vegas, and in just his second appearance at Monster Jam’s biggest show, he took home the World Racing championship. He did so by defeating the one who won the title one year ago, Todd Leduc in Metal Mulisha.
Eichelberger has taken his runner-up finish in the inaugural series with him to his stepfather, Tom Meents, team of Max-D. Currently, his task is much greater.
A few weeks back, Meents had a strong performance in his truck, but leading into the weekend of Arlington, Texas, Meents began feeling pain, and after speaking his doctors, it was determined his lower back had been injured. As a precaution, Meents stepped out of the driver’s seat in his newest Max-D truck. The man who got the nod to take over his ride…Eichelberger.
His first weekend out in the new truck, a truck he never even sat in until practice in AT&T Stadium, he would steal the show with his first stadium freestyle victory.
Eichelberger has since taken over his stepfather’s Max-D until Meents is cleared medically, but if the first weekend is any indication, this athlete can definitely handle the capabilities.
This series is now introducing fans to an entirely new generation of drivers, some with vastly different backgrounds. This year newcomers such as Justin Sipes, who is the athlete behind the new Megalodon machine, has experience in dirt bikes. Mernard Lyght is in his rookie season piloting Alien Invasion. Before taking over duties in the truck, quad and speedster, Lyght was an acrobat, having performed roles in the Spiderman along with Disney on Ice.
Then there’s second-generation names making their own path in the sport.
JR Seasock is enjoying time at the wheel of Monster Mutt Rottweiler, in a chassis based from the Michael Vaters stable. Seasock is the son of John Seasock, the 2007 and 2008 Monster Jam World Finals racing champion, former pilot of Batman, the Grinder, and his own truck known as Sudden Impact. That is a lot of pressure for a young man to take on.
But when it comes to pressure, no athlete has a more challenging task than Krysten Anderson. This 19-year-old is in her first pure rookie season. Her task, piloting the namesake truck of the Anderson family, Grave Digger. Her father, Dennis, is a four-time Monster Jam World Finals champion (2000-Freestyle; 2004, 2006, 2010-Racing). Her older brother, Adam, is a four-time champion as well (2008-Freestyle (Taz); 2013, 2014-Racing (The Legend); 2016-Freestyle (Grave Digger). The first female to take the helm of the Digger is enough pressure in itself. But, to be the only daughter of the man that built the Digger legacy only adds to that.
Anderson is learning her way in the sport, but with each show she gets more comfortable with the truck, and both the speedster plus ATV.
This series is becoming one that fans enjoy coming to, as many do not have the time to travel to a big stadium nor the funding that it would take to get there. This brings many of the larger stadium expectations to the smaller venues, while creating more challenges for the athletes to do in order to earn a title.
Now, with the champion of the East, Central and West tours automatically getting a spot at the big World Finals event in Las Vegas, every athlete is clamoring for as many points as they can. Come the beginning of March, three champions will be crowned, but also the athletes that perform in three different vehicles in one night, they too earn a lot of appreciation for their endurance, skill, and strength after what is an exhausting season.
For those that want to catch any of the remaining Triple Threat events in any of the three tours, visit MonsterJam.com to see when they are coming to a city near you.