When the bracket was set Thursday night for the racing portion of the Monster Jam World Finals, everyone could tell who was fast…because everyone was. The field of 32 trucks was only separated by just over one and a half seconds from fast qualifier, Coty Saucier in Monster Energy, to the last-place qualifier, Bryce Kenny in the Great Clips Mohawk Warrior.
Fans came out for the second day in major numbers, ready to witness the crowning of the newest driver to earn the right to say “I won a world title.”
The weather for the event could not be more perfect, with temperatures in the high-70’s with a lot of sun, very comfortable for the fans. The Monster Jam track crews kept the track in the best shape by keeping it watered down, but also added some calcium chloride to pull the moisture to the surface, ensuring a fast, but strong, track with a lot of grip.
For the fans, this is the first night of what has been an epic event for everyone in Monster Jam. They came out from all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, and from across the globe just to be a part of this one event, and they were in for one epic night of action.
As the sun began to set on Sam Boyd Stadium, it was time to have the parade of 32 trucks hit the floor and start what was the most difficult and most tedious trophy to earn in the sport.
One thing fans had to get used to was seeing trucks on the track that were identical. With four Grave Diggers, and two Max-D’s, plus two El Toro Loco’s, fans were curious as to how the different drivers were to be designated. Turns out, Monster Jam kept it simple. Each truck that had multiple drivers had a flag on the back with the name of who was at the wheel.
What shocked everyone in the first round were some of the surprise victories. In her first main event appearance, Becky McDonough piloted her El Toro Loco past Colton Eichelberger in Max-D. Unfortunately for McDonough, her run came at a price, as coming across the finish her crazy bull took a hard tumble, destroying the body and causing major suspension damage. Her truck was towed from the track, and it was clear her night was done, meaning Eichelberger moved into the next round.
Jim Koehler surprised everyone by winning his first-round race in his all new Avenger, taking down Bari Mussawir in Zombie. Koehler actually shocked everyone as the night progressed, but that is still to come.
Three of the Digger teams moved on, with the lone exception being Adam Anderson, who fell to the Lucas Oil Crusader and Linsey Weenk.
The second round of competition had fans seeing double, as the second race in the action was Tyler Menninga in Grave Digger taking on last year’s racing champion, Morgan Kane…in Grave Digger. It marked the first time that team drivers would run one-on-one in the same truck, with the same look. What stunned everyone in attendance was it was Menninga to the finish first, ensuring a new champion was to be crowned on this night.
Menninga was the lone Digger driver to advance in the round, as it was Ryan Anderson in Son-Uva Digger taking out the fourth member of the Digger team, Randy Brown, in that round.
As the third round progressed, the surprise of everyone was Koehler. His new chassis, which had a longer wheelbase and better center of gravity. It was very obvious this truck was built to do a lot better in racing than his previous truck, and he continued to show it by making it into the semi-finals, defeating Michael Vaters Jr. in Overkill Evolution.
Meanwhile, Menninga moved on, taking out Saucier, while Anderson took out Neil Elliott in the other Max-D. The final one to make the top four, BJ Johnson in the Gas Monkey Garage “Monster Jam Muscle Car” after beating Alex Blackwell, who took over driving duties of Megalodon this weekend.
Both races in the semi-finals were extremely close, but it turned out to be a Digger vs. Digger final. Anderson finally took down the surprising Koehler, while Menninga showed that he’s just as competitive on a big floor as he is in an arena in taking down Johnson.
The two good friends knew this was a battle to be had, but Anderson knew he already experienced this letdown before. Two years ago, he had the lead entering the corner, and saw it disappear when his truck high-sided, letting Todd Leduc head to victory. Anderson had lane choice, and he opted to take the same lane as he did that same season.
The fans stood up, got roaring, and both drivers came to the line. The starting tree went off, as did the fireworks, and both trucks headed through the chicane into Thunder Alley. Anderson held a slight lead, but Menninga wasn’t letting this opportunity slip away.
Both took the corner tight, hammering the throttle, nailing the final ramp. It was black and blue vs. black and green, and after coming so close, it was the 1950 Willy’s Panel Van, piloted by the second-generation driver, taking victory. Finally, the title that has eluded him for years, Anderson captured the 2017 World Racing Championship in Las Vegas.
It was the ultimate high for a man who debuted this truck at this event in 2011, following a year where he couldn’t drive as he was recovering from a dirt bike accident. It’s also an event that has seen some turmoil for him, as a year later he suffered a serious injury in the encore following the show, and many thought he was never going to return to top form. He’s suffered short runs, broken wheels, and come so close he could taste the victory.
This time, the trophy belonged to him, and with his father, his brother, and sister looking on from the stage, Anderson stood tall.
However, the night was not done. As is tradition at this event, the show had an encore planned. And what an encore this was to be.
On the screen, it was a flashback to the beginning of Monster Jam, 25 years ago. Leaf-spring trucks, moving into the tubular designs. Straight-line racing, yielding to tight corners, and wild freestyles that have become epic performances. It was clearly time to “Light it up” as the music said, and rolling out to the track were the other 31 competitors that ran in the racing program, parking right along the dirt hills that made up the side of the racing lane.
Track officials then peeled away a tarp that was put in the center of the track, and the Max-D team joined them in setting up what appeared to be a unique metal ramp.
From the tunnel, the truck that was revealed one night ago, the 25th Anniversary Monster Jam machine, rolled onto the track, Elliott at the wheel, and made a lap around the track, before coming to the center and backing up to the container wall. He took one practice run, then backed up. He did it again…and backed up.
Finally, with a couple hits of the throttle, his pyro from the rear of the truck was lit, and he pushed the accelerator to the center of the track. The front tires hammered the metal ramp, then the rear kicked in, and up the truck went with amazing height. A complete rotation of the truck, while still going forward. The tires hit the dirt, and Elliott drove away.
It was the first time in the history of this industry that a truck completed a motocross-style backflip, completing a full rotation while going in a forward direction.
Elliott pulled up right behind Anderson’s truck, and from the tunnel more teams came to the floor…then some of the display trucks, and then EVEN MORE display trucks. It looked like a dealership of monsters on the floor, teams parked from the entrance to Thunder Alley to the very wall of the stadium, a sight that many could not get over, and may never see again.
Once the fans made their way out of the stadium, beginning the drive back to their hotels, the trucks came off the floor and immediately the dirt crew had a job to do. In less than 24 hours, the task was to turn the fastest course on the Monster Jam circuit into the most technical and most challenging course on the season. This is the fourth year that Monster Jam decided to hold two nights of action, with two completely different courses.
It is also the first time there will not be a panel of judges scoring the action. It has always been with Vegas, a panel of six judges scored the freestyle runs, with the high and low score being dropped. The tie-breakers were first adding back in the low score, then the second was adding in the high score. If a tie is still maintained at that point, a secret judge is then given the task of determining the winner.
This year, the judging will be solely done by the fans. The fans will use the Judge’s Zone App on their phone, and after the run will have a certain amount of time to determine their score. Those scores will then be averaged together to give the official score to the run.
There’s no panel to be mad at, because fans will show their feelings, as evident with many boos and jeers when a run is scored lower than they expect. This time, the fans themselves in Sam Boyd Stadium will only have themselves to be mad at if a run is scored lower than it should be, or if a score was higher than what they felt.
Monster Jam has not revealed how a tie-breaker will work, but the feeling among some is it will be similar to how NHRA determines a winner in drag racing. However, nothing is clear at this moment.
The final night of action for the Monster Jam World Finals will begin at 7 p.m. PT, following one final day-long pit party, and the longest monster truck parade of the entire weekend.
Who is going to take the freestyle title? Can Ryan Anderson be the first driver since 2002 to sweep both racing and freestyle in Vegas? What is planned for the final encore performance? Everyone will find out tonight.