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The Monster Nationals “Big Air Weekend” Kicks Up Dirt

The only dirt show of the Monster Nationals indoor season saw a lot of dust flying, and an air assault. PHOTO CREDIT: Brett Moist

All season long, arenas have been able to host the Monster Nationals and thrill the fans.  Every show, sliding, squealing, and hammering the throttle on the concrete floors.

Yet for the folks at Family Events, the one show they look forward to every single year is unlike any event that they hold through the first quarter.  It’s a show where officials haul in extra seating to ensure they can get as many fans in to watch the action.  It also means preparing the track is more than just hauling in cars, laying down some cardboard, and adding some paint.

When Family Events visits the DuQuoin State Fair in DuQuoin, Illinois, and comes inside the Southern Illinois Center, it’s the biggest floor they have to perform on.

It also means they are hauling in truckloads of dirt, and letting the field of trucks turn it up even more, because the fans that come here enjoy seeing the dust fly.  But this year, the six-truck field would get an even greater treat.  Track crews spent two days preparing for the wildest track they could of the entire season.  Lead official and safety coordinator, Paul Monroe, designed what is called a “Vortex” track.  Trucks would begin on the outside plateaus facing one another, and make the first corner, crossing over the opposite plateau their opponents began at, just like a normal Chicago-Style track.

But on the final corner, it’s a tighter turn to the inner part of the track, and over a very tall finish line jump.  The reason it’s so tall, the end of the jump is the “blaster” car, sitting on the door.  That means when it’s hit from the other direction, the only thing the driver will see is the roof of the arena.

Officials deemed the event “Big Air Weekend”, and fans that were going to buy their tickets were anxious to see what it entailed.

The field of trucks had five machines that already saw action on the season.  The dominance of Bigfoot looked to begin once again with Darron Schnell bringing out the #19 chassis, while Dale Benear brought in the HEMI power of the Hotsy Ram, now on a track where all the horsepower of the HEMI could be unleashed.  Doug Noelke got set to take a bite in the Tail Gator, and rookie Dalton Van Skyock had the Predator set to roar.

Making his return to the tour was Denver Echternkamp and his Venom Chevrolet, who celebrated an anniversary in the sport.  It was a year ago at this venue when Echternkamp debuted the truck, and now is more familiar with his equipment, and was ready to show the home-built machine could beat the more heavily funded trucks.

To round out the field, making his lone appearance on the tour, was Mac Plecker in his bright yellow Ford dessert race truck, Ballistic, who is well known for pulling off some incredible wheelies in his beast.

Starting off the action on Friday night was the wheelie contest, so Plecker had a chance to immediately make an impact.  With a much bigger track, drivers could go for the sky wheelies if they elected to, or even ride out a long slap wheelie thanks to a couple jammer hills set up on course.

Although Plecker made a great effort, this competition belonged to Schnell, as he launched the patriotic Raptor to the roof, once on a sky wheelie of the blaster ramp, and another slap wheelie right across the floor.

Schnell then backed it up by taking to the vortex track design with the fastest time in qualifying.  With six trucks, the winner would need to run three races, as the three winners from the first round plus the fastest loser made the move to the semi-finals.

Because the track was dirt, officials do not hold the donut contest, mainly because they don’t want to risk the fans that are sitting lower on the track to end up eating some of the dirt and dust slung by the big tires.  There would be donuts later when freestyle came about, but officials decided to play it safe for the sake of the crowd.  With no donut contest, it was then time to get the trucks to live up to the “Big Air Weekend” name in the long jump contest.

In order to get the distance larger, all the trucks launched off the final jump in the racing lane, which meant distance and height.

Of all the trucks that hammered down the hardest, it was the resident reptile that decided to leap the farthest, and Noelke made sure his name ended up as victorious on the night.

Following intermission, the monsters were ready to tackle the fastest and biggest track on the tour.  With 100 points on the line, everyone was gunning for the top spot.  More importantly, Schnell had vengeance on his mind.  In the final event at the last show in Kentucky, Schnell’s streak of seven straight racing trophies, and 18 rounds of victories, came to an end.  He was ready to get back on the winning side of the ladder, and took his fast qualifying effort to the final round.

Noelke also made his way to the finals, setting up another showdown between a Raptor and a reptile.  Off the line, Schnell had a slight edge, but Noelke made up the ground in the first corner, and held it over the second hill.  Entering the final corner, the Gator was on the prowl and looking to keep Schnell from victory.  But the #19 truck with it’s capable driver was not through.  A fast corner, and a heavy right foot put the Bigfoot machine right in line with the Gator, making for a showdown at the line.

The closest race of the entire year, whether on dirt or concrete, needed video to check on who crossed first.  After viewing and checking with officials, Schnell somehow pulled off the victory from a short distance to add another 100 points to his total, and another trophy to take back to the shop.

That victory also was key for Schnell, as all he needs to do is compete in one round in the next show, and it will guarantee that Bigfoot will take home back-to-back racing championships.

But one big trophy wasn’t enough for the young man.  When it came to freestyle, Schnell was set to prove this truck was going to be the one to beat all weekend long.  His run meant every hill, every car, and every corner was getting hit.  Donuts, wheelies, air, and a bit of cross-threading meant the Bigfoot Raptor once again was at the top of the heap.  Schnell finished the night 4-for-5 on events, meaning any driver that wants a victory, they would have to beat the “Original Monster Truck.”

FRIDAY RESULTS:

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

 

In preparing for Saturday’s schedule of events, a few teams had to do some surgery in order to just prepare for the action.  Noelke had the biggest task ahead of him, as he was likely on his way to a freestyle win the night before, but the 572 cu. In. Ford engine laid down halfway into the run, so the team had to work on diagnosing whether the engine could be fixed or needed replaced.

The team figured out what needed changed, and prior to any activity on the second day, Noelke had a fresh bullet ready to go in the Tail Gator.

Saturday’s festivities started early, as a 1 p.m. matinee performance for the packed crowd inside the DuQuoin State Fair started everything off.  Track crews packed down the dirt once more, and brought in a few fresh cars in the starting lanes to let the teams go skyward, which is exactly how the afternoon began in wheelies.

Just like the night before, Schnell skied out the Raptor to the roof, giving him an eighth wheelie victory on the season.  With only three remaining events on the season, no other truck is capable of catching the Bigfoot Ford, meaning Schnell has officially locked up the 2017 Monster Nationals Wheelie Championship.

But, once the time came to qualify the trucks, it was clear for the afternoon, it was going to be all about one truck, and it was the truck that needed to be repaired the most just to make the second event.

Noelke started his night with a strong wheelie effort, but then came back to take the fastest qualifying run.  Over the first show, trucks were running in the low 16-second range, but Noelke stepped it up by putting the reptile in the sub-15 second range, showing that this Gator wasn’t here to play nice on the dirt.

Qualifying did spell doom for one competitor.

On his pass on the course, Echternkamp suddenly saw his Venom machine lose a little bit of bite.  The purple and white Chevrolet pulled into the pits and had a major problem.  The pinion gear in the rear of the truck had failed badly, meaning no drive in the back half of the truck.

It was a bad enough problem that Echternkamp was not only through competing for the afternoon, but there were not enough parts and not enough time to get the truck repaired for the evening show.  One year to the day that the Venom machine debuted, the truck now was sidelined for good on this night.

Noelke played rough again in the next part of the show, taking home the long jump competition, his fifth of the season.

But, the question was could Noelke break through and get the first racing win of the season, something he had not done all season.  Meanwhile, Schnell once again found himself back in the finals, setting up yet another matchup between the Raptor and the reptile.  With Schnell finding his winning ways once again, Noelke had a tough task ahead of him.  But this time, the Gator suddenly found some extra motivation, because Noelke somehow handed the second loss in racing to the Bigfoot machine, taking home his first racing win of 2017, nearly one year to the day when he captured his racing victory in the same venue one year ago.

Not wanting to lay down for anyone, especially coming off such a big victory, Noelke decided to throw it down in freestyle.  The Gator was getting air off every hill, every car, soaring from out of the swamp onto the dirt.

There was no question in who was winning this competition, as Noelke pulled off the sweep of the big events for the afternoon.  Everyone in the crowd showed that he literally was chomping down to show their appreciation for the effort and action Noelke provided.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON RESULTS:

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

 

Turnaround time to get prepared for the final event of the weekend was short.  With the 1 p.m. start for the afternoon portion of the day, plus approximately three hours of show time, it left the track crews a small window of opportunity to groom the track, bring in fresh cars, and get the trucks set up for the third pit party of the weekend.

Only one show remained, and historically when it comes to the final show in DuQuoin, things can get a little wild and there usually is some surprises, plus some broken parts.

The wheelie contest started out once again with a familiar face at the top.  Already having locked up the 2017 wheelie championship, Schnell decided to bring out the broom for the weekend.  Another pop off the “blaster” ramp, plus a slap wheelie from one of the other hills, was more than enough to get the crowd roaring, giving him the third wheelie victory of the weekend.

Qualifying for the racing bracket all weekend has been tight among the six-truck field, but at the same time it has also been a track that all weekend has been getting faster.  In the afternoon, Noelke put the Gator below the 15-second time stamp, topping the charts which eventually led him to the afternoon victory.  For the night show, he decided to up the game once more.

Noelke blistered the field with a run that concluded just over 13 seconds on the stop watch.  It was becoming clear the only way to beat the Gator on this track is to be downright faster.

Noelke followed up his fast time by putting up another strong leap to take home yet another long jump competition.  That jump was also enough to give him a big cushion prior to the final scheduled event of the winter tour to ensure the resident reptile would take home the 2017 long jump championship.

Intermission came and went, and now the time came to crown another racing champion on the weekend.  That meant the focus came to stopping Schnell once again.  Noelke was able to do so in the afternoon, but the Bigfoot team had also kept another streak alive.  Despite losing two final rounds all season, Schnell put his #19 chassis in the final round at each show.  His record of 23-2 in racing this season has been incredible.

But his opportunity to make it back to the finals suddenly came to a halt.

In the final show of the weekend, Noelke squared off against Schnell in the semi-finals, and put forth a run that would keep the patriotic Raptor from the final round for the first time all season.  No one in the pits nor in the stands expected Schnell to miss out on a final round appearance.  But, with how Noelke has been running this track, no other truck was proving to be the top dog, or in this case gator, on this track.

However, when the final round came, two surprises came about.  It wasn’t the fact that Noelke just stopped Schnell from making to the title race.  But, it also was who was in the opposing lane.

Noelke on this night would got head-to-head with Benear, who only has one final round appearance all season.  It’s been a surprising struggle for the Hall Brothers on tour this year, with only one victory to it’s credit in any category.  However, that did not mean Benear was running soft all year, as he’s been pushing the Hotsy RAM Heavy Duty hard each week.

Now with an opportunity to steal some thunder from the Gator, he took it.  Benear was on a tear on this night, and somehow took down the fastest truck on the night, capturing the Saturday night racing trophy, and his first racing championship of the entire season.

To close out the night, it was time to freestyle.  Plecker put on a solid performance, as did Van Skyock in Predator.

Bigfoot had one of the most spectacular runs of the entire season on Saturday night.  PHOTO CREDIT:  Brett Moist.
Bigfoot had one of the most spectacular runs of the entire season on Saturday night. PHOTO CREDIT: Brett Moist.

But then, Schnell took to the track.  After missing out on his first final round of the entire season, it was clear that he was angry.  One thing that has been absolutely clear, no matter who is at the wheel, an angry driver can yield to an angry performance.  What the sold-out crowd got on the dirt from Bigfoot on this night wasn’t an angry run, but more of an annihilation of the floor.

Schnell roared out of the pits fast and mean, nailing every obstacle built on the track.  He cross-threaded the racing lanes more than once, nailed a pair of wheelies across the floor, hammered down a set of donuts that made a washing machine jealous when it hits the spin cycle.  Schnell then aired out the #19 chassis on more occasions than any previous run.

It was clear that his frustration of missing out on the final was being taken out on the track, and the crowd roared to life as if they saw the Fighting Illini pull an upset on the hardwood.

Noelke and Benear had a tough task to top what they had just seen, and each of them pushed their trucks to the limit to take victory.  But, this night belonged to the Foot, as Schnell took home the freestyle title with a run that was not just the best of the night, nor the weekend, but quite possibly the entire season.

SATURDAY NIGHT RESULTS:

  • Wheelie Competition:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
  • Fast Qualifier:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Long Jump:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Racing Finals:  Dale Benear, Hotsy High Pressure, def. Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Freestyle:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot

 

One final weekend of action remains on the 2017 indoor tour, but that weekend of action is a long way off.  In fact, teams will have one month to get prepared for the indoor season finale.

The last shows of the 2017 indoor campaign remain in Illinois, as it will be a trip to Hoffman Estates, just outside of the Windy City of Chicago, for a pair of shows at the Sears Centre Arena.  Five trucks will make the trip out, with all five having been in attendance in DuQuoin.  The lone truck not making the trip to Hoffman Estates is Plecker and Ballistic, but the other five beasts that competed on the dirt will come back on the concrete of the arena tour.

Hoffman Estates will host the Monster Nationals on Saturday, March 25, and the following Sunday, March 26.  The Saturday competition will start at 7 p.m. local time, while the next day is a mid-afternoon start at 3 p.m.

Tickets for both days are available, and over the years this building has produced some incredible memories.  Who could ever forget the reverse hit by Mark Hall two years ago on the van stack that stood the Raminator right on the wheelie bar on landing, giving everyone in attendance one spectacular photo opportunity.  Fans are hoping for just as spectacular of a show this time around.

It’s the final indoor show of the season, and that means it’s the final opportunity to “Let Freedom Roar.”

 

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

Wheelies

  1. Bigfoot (9)
  2. Heavy Hitter (1)
  3. Tail Gator (1)

Donuts

  1. Tail Gator (5)
  2. Bigfoot (1)
  3. Predator (1)
  4. Hotsy (1)

Long Jump

  1. Tail Gator (6)
  2. Heavy Hitter (2)
  3. Bigfoot (2)
  4. Venom (1)

Racing

  1. Bigfoot  925
  2. Tail Gator 500
  3. Hotsy  400
  4. Predator 375
  5. Heavy Hitter 150
  6. Venom 150
  7. Ballistic 75

Freestyle

  1. Tail Gator (7)
  2. Bigfoot (4)

About Dustin Parks

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