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The Mad Scientist Literally Flips to Freestyle Championship in Las Vegas

Lee O'Donnell turned the Mad Scientist into a YouTube phenomenon in March.

The final day of the Monster Jam World Finals always garners the most attention.  Monster Jam understands this, because they offer a ticket package that is for only one night…the final night.  The reason, it’s the one part of the weekend everyone remembers for multiple reasons.  The final night of Vegas means it’s time to freestyle.

Teams prepared the entire night after the racing concluded to actually make changes to the trucks, from gearing to suspension, in order to make the best effort on the track.

The dirt crew had been at work ever since the record 83 trucks left the floor the previous night to completely recreate the design of the track for freestyle.  Gone were the two dirt walls to showcase the racing lanes.  Instead, there were step ups, log walls, tire barriers, and this year’s track also included a classic bus stack and even a fountain.  It was a team effort in less than 24 hours to transform the track into something everyone could enjoy, while also making it a rather difficult for the driver to survive an entire two minute run.

One big difference this season compared to other World Finals is not just the track, but the judging.  What is normally the case in Las Vegas is a panel of six judges will rate the run from 1-10.  Then, the high and low number is dropped to give an official score.  In the event of a tie, first the low score is added back in.  Then, if still tied, the high score is added in.

If a tie is still remaining after that, a Monster Jam judge, who doesn’t add in their score, then determines the winner based on their effort.

However, over the years this has been a controversial topic and discussion due to fans thinking a run was not given the right score, whether too high or too low.

This year, that panel didn’t exist.  Instead, the judging was given to the fans, by way of using the Judge’s Zone website.  Fans would score the run from 1-10, with the official score being the average the fans gave.  These scores would go out to the thousandth of a point, however that is what will show on the score sheet.  The score itself will include many more decimal points in case of a tie, which then will be determined by way of going beyond the thousandth of a point, similar to how NHRA will determine a winner in case the elapsed times for both lanes are the same to the thousandth of a second.

All eyes went squarely onto the truck that won the racing championship, Ryan Anderson in Son-Uva Digger.  He captured his long awaited championship after coming so close for so many years, and now had a chance to become the first driver since Tom Meents to capture both major titles at the World Finals.

In order to accomplish that, he needed to best 31 other drivers on the most challenging course constructed of the entire year.

Out the gate first was a driver that didn’t expect to compete this weekend, but unforeseen circumstances changed that.  It was Alex Blackwell instead of Justin Sipes starting things off in Megalodon.  Normally going first is a challenge because it means that driver sets the bar.  At the same time, going first has a major advantage because the track is fresh.  The paint on the dirt shows the angles of the ramps and where the logs and obstacles are located.  As the runs continue, the paint disappears, meaning it is harder to actually determine angles, and wear.  Luckily for Blackwell, he’s used to going early in Las Vegas, so he put on a strong start to get things under way.

Out next was Bryce Kenny in the Great Clips Mohawk Warrior, and he decided to take out one of the major attractions in the track.  He landed squarely on the fountain down the right lane, taking out the spray, and spreading the water all across the track.  This meant part of the track went from being tacky to slick, and instead of kicking up dirt, the mud was sticking to the BKT tires.

It did, luckily, put him in the lead.

The guy that decided to really kick up the action was a former world champion, who was debuting a brand new truck this weekend, and was ready to show it could not just handle the punishment, it would do so without any issues.  Jim Koehler’s all-new Avenger hit the track in the unlucky 13th position, but he went out to prove this spot was not superstitious.

Avenger AIRHe kept the momentum early, and then decided to open the throttle in a big way.  Koehler went full throttle into the plateau that held the fountain and held on for all it was worth, sailing the 2000 Chevy S-10 so high the back tires were on the same level as the top level seating.

He then went right into a backflip, blowing out the left rear tire due to a destroyed rim.  But Koehler kept going, not stopping for anything, even after losing the drive in the front wheels.  The fans roared their approval, and Koehler could hear it.

More importantly, after being absent since 2010, Koehler went over to the water, and despite the murkiness, and ugly appearance, as is tradition at this event, he took a plunge into the pool.

Afterwards, he made his way into the hot seat because he officially took the lead in competition.

Koehler was sitting comfortably in the lead as the field passed the midway point of entries.  Then, on the first truck to enter after intermission, it was time to get serious.  Lee O’Donnell had found himself a great opportunity as he was in the second season driving the VP Racing Fuels Mad Scientist.  After spending part of the latter 2000’s as a fill-in driver in many different trucks, and being victorious very often, he finally landed a full-time ride, and has since become a premier driver on the tour, and now has major sponsorship.

He came out a bit slow but quickly found his momentum and began roaring to the crowd.  With less than 30 seconds to go, he hit a backflip at the container wall and kept rolling.  But what he pulled next put him at the next level of competition.

He came from the flip and hit a slap wheelie, carrying the truck across the floor in between the pads, but then his rear tires clipped the hill, and what ensued was history.  The truck went into a complete front flip, not once seeing a tire, a body panel, or any part of the chassis touching the ground.

It was the first official front flip without the use of a special ramp or any specialty equipped truck.  O’Donnell pulled off the move right as time expired, landing on all four wheels, and continuing to ride on.  The crowd, and even Koehler, was in disbelief in what he witnessed on the Sam Boyd Stadium floor.  O’Donnell just put on the ride of his life, and found himself sitting in the hot seat on stage, ready to see who could follow that performance.

Truck after truck, they couldn’t match him.  It got down to the final seven trucks, all drivers who proved their worth in this event.  It was Anderson’s turn to potentially take home both major trophies to North Carolina, but his attempt ended short.  Charlie Pauken did not even break through a minute of action, as his Monster Mutt gave out early.  Scott Buetow, sporting the all-new Team Hot Wheels body, did his usual performance, but he could not match the O’Donnell performance either.

Last year’s champion, Adam Anderson in Grave Digger, then roared onto the track, having a strong run, but did not fill the entire time.

It wasn’t until the final two trucks when it was going to be the biggest challenge for O’Donnell to face.  Next-to-last in the running was Neil Elliott, back in Max-D after a successful “super flip” stunt the previous night.  Not only did Elliott pull off a classic Max-D run, he did something that a few years ago many saw attempted, but not completed.

Elliott rolled up to the containers for the backflip at the end of the stadium, but he did so by lining up with the rear of the truck towards the wall.

In reverse, somehow, Elliott found the speed and flipped the truck forward, by going backward.  The fans lost it, and in doing so had to figure out what to call the maneuver.  It wasn’t exactly a backflip, nor was it a front flip like O’Donnell performed.  Among many, it was a compromise to call it a “reverse flip”, but even that move was not enough to bring a championship to the Max-D team of Paxton, Illinois.

The final truck to compete on this night, a former champion who after one week in the season was given a new truck, and a new identity.  It was 2014 when Todd Leduc won his first world title with a run that is still talked about to this day.  However, that run came in Metal Mulisha.

It was the second week of January when Leduc was moved from his championship truck into the machine that won last year’s Double Down qualifying session, Monster Energy.  Leduc came out charging, ready to captivate and put on a performance just like the one that brought that title home.

Instead, it ended early, with the black and green Cadillac on it’s side.  That meant a new name could be added to the list of world champions.  After years of being a backup, then spending many years at the helm of Ironman, then one season driving Zombie Hunter, he finally has a home with the VP Racing team, and it took a front flip to officially become a world champion.  A well deserved run by a very strong competitor.

As the celebration went on, everyone knew what was coming.  Traditionally in Las Vegas, the final night had an encore that was unlike anything done to that point.  Considering how hard it would be to top having 83 total monsters on the floor the previous night.

But, for the final performance, it was a family affair.

On the screen, images of the past 35 years of Grave Digger action was portrayed.  Dennis Anderson talked about how he never imagined how big he would get, or how big the industry would get.  Then he gave an announcement that came as a bit of a surprise to some, but not to others.  The patriarch of the Digger team announced that last year’s event in Las Vegas was the final time he was going to compete at the World Finals.  It wasn’t a retirement in his eyes, he was still going to drive, but last year was his final time to strap in and drive the Digger at Sam Boyd Stadium.  He was handing over the big show duties to his family, and from behind walked up his two sons, Adam and Ryan, and his daughter, Krysten.

It was time for the Anderson family to give an encore for the first time since 2010.  Adam roared on the track first, his truck sporting the blue and grey look that he campaigned from 2011 until 2015.  Krysten then followed, her chassis wearing the original “Grandma” spooky paint job.  Ryan came last, his truck carrying the classic Digger look, but on the chrome body that Dennis ran last season.

The three of them hit the floor and ran through a set of donuts, almost following the leader.  The Anderson kids then came to the end of the track, looking at the stadium wide container wall.

Adam hit the wall, nailing his backflip.  Krysten followed, pulling off her first backflip in her career.  Ryan followed suit, all three landing on the tires.  Then, from the tunnel, four more Digger trucks came roaring from the back.

The entire team came back out to perform a tandem freestyle, starting with all seven trucks leaping the big pad across the floor, and from there each doing their own to tear up the entire floor for the sold-out crowd that came out to see the biggest show Monster Jam holds every year.

A spectacular season has come to a close, and now despite the schedule letting up from the weekly grind to repair, run, repair, run again, and repeat, Monster Jam still has shows for fans to attend beginning in April and all through the summer.

Be sure to visit MonsterJam.com to see where over the spring and summer the tour will visit, and how to get tickets to the biggest promoter of monster trucks in the country.

About Dustin Parks

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