When the first World Finals took place in Las Vegas in 2000, no one expected to see how it would expand to the spectacle that it has become today. Monster Jam’s first World Finals had 16 trucks, lasting only one day. A year later, teams were bringing spare trucks in case something went wrong with their primary vehicle. The day prior to the big show, qualifying set the field.
As the years progressed, more trucks and teams came out just to show off the machines. In 2005, a number of fans were given the chance to experience the qualifying night. It was deemed the “Double Down”, and since that moment has become the most exclusive ticket in Monster Jam.
The field expanded to 20 trucks, then 24, and three years ago expanded to a massive field of 32.
It got so big, two days wasn’t enough. The three-day package for qualifying, racing, and freestyle, has become the go-to ticket for fans. The officials and all the track crew workers have more pressure, as in between Friday night’s action and Saturday night’s freestyle chaos, they change the track from the fastest course, to the most challenging freestyle floor of the season.
Yet through it all, a pair of drivers have constantly been staples at this event. The first World Freestyle champion, now a 4-time world champion, Dennis Anderson and his Grave Digger have only missed one of these shows. In 2003, he was sidelined with a broken arm prior to the World Finals, and team driver Pablo Huffaker took the wheel of the Grave Digger.
At the same time, Tom Meents has been the class of the entire field in Vegas since it’s inception. His 11 championships put him above any other driver in Monster Jam history, placing him in a category all it’s own. He has not missed any event at Sam Boyd Stadium, and heading into this year, did not plan on missing it again.
But sadly, for the first time, neither Anderson nor Meents will put on the driving suit, strap on the helmet, and push their monsters to their limit in Las Vegas.
Anderson suffered a hard wreck in his first event of the season in Tampa, one that no one knew would land him in the hospital, and into the operating room. Since then, he’s been recovering, not even stepping into the truck since he was taken off the field at Raymond James Stadium on a cart. There was already talk that this season could be the final one at Anderson would be the lead driver of the Digger team, but now with him not driving all year, it is unclear if he wants to leave under these circumstances.
On the opposite side, Meents did not expect to sit out at all this year.
His run on the FS1 East championship tour began strong, and looked to be just like any other season for the Max-D team. Meents had built an all-new chassis, which had just minor improvements compared to the truck he ran since 2011. Right away, it was clear that he was going to be a threat to win the title.
But right before the midway point of the season, the week leading into the event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Meents suddenly was sidelined. It was then revealed that Meents was suffering from pain in his lower back, and doctors told him to step out of driving duties until further notice.
Now that further notice for he, and Anderson, means they will miss out on competing at the biggest event Monster Jam holds every year.
So will the fans that paid the money for the best seats for the best show all season, not to mention the airfare, hotel, rental car and all the extras that Vegas has to offer, see less of a show because these two iconic drivers are not competing?
Not a chance.
Of the 31 competitors that are locked into competition next weekend, five of them have connections to either Anderson or Meents. The simple reason…family.
Last year’s freestyle world champion is Adam Anderson, the oldest son of Dennis. Brother Ryan, who drives Son-Uva Digger, is also back in competition for his sixth consecutive appearance in competition. Plus, trying to make the field for the first time is rookie Krysten Anderson, the lone daughter in the Anderson lineage, who will participate in the Double Down Showdown. That’s three other drivers from the family that will be hitting the track.
On the opposite side, it’s rather unique. Meents has two stepsons, Colton and Jared Eichelberger, who each compete in their own Max-D trucks. Jared will be running in the Showdown, while Colton has a spot in the main event. What makes it unique for the Max-D team is Colton had the unique experience of starting the season in his own truck, but when his stepdad needed to get out of the truck, Colton took over the driving duties.
The differences between Colton’s truck and Tom’s…many. Different axles, wheelbase, driver location, and engine placement. But, Colton handled the responsibility with ease, taking two stadium victories in his first three weeks in the truck.
It is highly possible that rather than have Colton drive his own truck in the competition, he will take the seat inside his dad’s truck. Historically, Meents has done extremely well in the newer design truck he drives. Between 2011 and 2013, his new chassis went undefeated for 11 consecutive rounds of action, including racing championships in both 2011 and 2012.
There’s no doubt that both the patriarchs of the respective teams will be missed in the competition, although each will be in attendance for other festivities throughout the weekend. However, to think that having neither of them compete in the event will be a burden to the show is completely false.
If anything, this means the field is even more competitive. Although both Meents and Anderson have been the class of the field each season at this facility, it’s been since 2013 that either one has won a title.
Anderson’s previous title came back in 2010, ironically in racing where he beat Meents in the final round, the only time the two drivers met in the final round at the World Finals in it’s 17-year history. Meents, however, owns the most titles of any driver, 11 in total. With six racing championships (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2011, 2012) and five freestyle championships (2001, 2002, 2004 co-champion, 2013) to his credit, it’s clear that anyone wanting to catch that record will need years to accomplish it.
Without Meents nor Anderson competing, the field is wide open to see who could come away with another title, or possibly their first title.
There is no question these two icons in the sport will be missed in competition this season in Vegas, just like both have been missed on their respective stadium tours this season. Anderson’s substitute drivers of Carl Van Horn and Jon Zimmer have done an exceptional job in his place. Colton surprised everyone with having to jump in his dad’s truck, a truck he never sat in at any point until the first practice session inside AT&T Stadium. But, he can easily handle hitting the track inside Sam Boyd Stadium.
Is there a substitute for having either Meents or Anderson on the track…no. The footprints both have left on the sport, especially in Las Vegas, cannot be equaled.
But, the guard has changed and both are seeing the second generation of their respective families show they are capable of carrying on the legacy they have created.
Anyone making the journey to Las Vegas for the World Finals extravaganza between March 23 and 25 will not be disappointed with the patriarchs of the Grave Digger and Max-D teams will not be driving. Instead, they will get to witness the new generation, the second generation, take to the track to add on to their respective family legacy.