The first of November means that the year of action on 66-inch tires has almost drawn to a close. Single weekend shows still occur, some here on American soil, while others travel across the Atlantic to thrill more fans.
But, November is the time when teams decide to put the big beasts into the shop to do some work. Parts get replaced, or freshened up. Improvements are made to make each performance better, and in some cases safer. New rules and regulations are drawn up, presented, and approved to make the trucks, and their pilots, safer than they were at the previous event.
The first weekend of January, every team across the country gets into the routine of heading to one arena, putting on a show, sometimes more than one, loading up, then doing repairs before doing it all over again the following week.
It’s the normal schedule for the first three months of the season, and drivers know time on the road will happen more often than time at home.
This makes the start of the most special time of year the appropriate time to look back on a great season, one that saw intense action, but also some that saw a career come to a close.
HEADLINE 1: DENNIS ANDERSON INJURY, AND RETIREMENT
When Monster Jam’s season began, the excitement of seeing every member of the Anderson family on the track was at a fever pitch. Ryan Anderson was riding high with all the skills he has learned over the years in Son-Uva Digger, including the now infamous moonwalk.
Brother Adam was ready to take to the wheel for the second straight year of the Digger, and felt ready to defend his world title at every venue.
Not wanting to be overshadowed, the newest Anderson to be thrust into the spotlight, the lone lady in the Anderson family now had to live up to her brothers and dad’s reputation. With only training at the Monster Jam University to fall back on, young Krysten Anderson was now taking her turn at the wheel.
But, it was Dennis that the fans wanted to see, but only got to see him one time.
His first event in Florida saw him thrill the fans as usual, but his freestyle run ended in an unexpected, and frightening way. The roll cage of his Digger truck collapsed onto the cockpit, and suddenly track crews were rushing the favored driver to the backstage area. Soon after, he was in a hospital bed, and waiting on surgery.
As to what happened, it’s not certain, but it meant Anderson’s season was likely over.
In Las Vegas, at the World Finals, he revealed that he wasn’t cleared to compete this year, and last year was officially the last time he was to compete in Vegas. Fast forward to October, at the live Facebook reveal of the Monster Jam schedule of tours, driver lineups, and new trucks, the feed went to the Grave Digger headquarters in North Carolina. Surrounded by his family, Anderson had an announcement to make regarding the Digger team.
“It’s time for the old guy to check out from racing and competition,” Anderson said. With that, the 35-year career that started with a beat up, rusty and primer red truck built from a junk yard came to an end. Anderson will still be involved, going behind the scenes in the pits with his team. However, to know his final ride in his famed truck was one that ended with a visit to the hospital, and emergency surgery, is painful.
However, the legacy that Anderson left in the business will never be matched. Already a Hall of Fame inductee, he has nothing more to prove. The time had come.
Nothing more was needed to be said. That is, except, thank you, Dennis.
HEADLINE 2: A SLY SNAKE SLITHERS AWAY A CHAMPION
When it was revealed that Bigfoot’s oldest, and longest running, rival was coming back for it’s 25th anniversary, the buzz was at a fever pitch.
The Snake Bite team suddenly came back with a huge vengeance and showed it’s newest shoe, Vinny Venom, was more than capable of handling the responsibilities from drivers past.
In reality, the newest shoe to drive the snake was a young man named Josh Gibson, who in 2014 found himself as a crew member on the Bigfoot team, but suddenly had to adjust immediately into driving duties. Immediately when he began showing that he could handle driving a Foot truck, and the next year got the chance to go full tilt as a driver.
Not only was he good, but he was Rookie of the Year, and began to put his own unique style on notice.
But once he put on that mask, he became a different human being. In 2016, he moved into Bigfoot 18, and took the Snake persona with him, and showed how truly skilled he was.
This year, Gibson had the best year of his entire career. The winter season, he took the Snake to the Toughest Monster Truck Tour championship, ending the five-year reign of Bigfoot driver Dan Runte. When the outdoor season began, he excelled even more, sweeping both the racing and freestyle titles on the 4-Wheel Jamboree tour. This came one year after he won the freestyle championship on the same tour.
With all that success, hearing Gibson announce that he decided that it was time to hang up the firesuit, and his snake mask, caught many off guard. But, at the same time, he was hanging it up after being the absolute best in both indoor venues, and outdoor fairgrounds. What driver wouldn’t want to hang it up at that point?
Gibson decided to go after his dreams away from the track, and be with his family. He’s earned the right to walk away, and has garnered a lot of respect in a short time in the industry.
His claim to fame is his time at the wheel of the snake, and he’s walking away as though he’s slithering away back into the swamp. But, don’t doubt that Gibson will on occasion decide to show up at a few shows.
Once one gets a taste of the methanol, and hears the roar of the crowd, they don’t stay away for very long.
HEADLINE 3: THE FRONT FLIP
If there was ever a moment that Monster Jam fans were reliving over, and over, and over at every opportunity, it came in Las Vegas.
A night that saw 32 drivers take to the track to freestyle, one moment had the crowd standing at attention, and immediately had video clips being found everywhere online. It became so popular and talked about, sports networks from FS1 to ESPN were talking about it. The clip even made it’s way onto network television thanks to the late night talk shows.
It was the moment that made the World Finals, and brought an entire stadium to a roar.
O’Donnell, riding out a power wheelie across the floor, stayed in the throttle until the rear tires hit the second obstacle. In what almost seemed like a video game move, the 11,000-pound behemoth rotated 180 degrees, not one part of the truck touching a mound of dirt, and landed on the opposite side of the hill with all four tires squarely on the ground.
That moment was the one that pushed O’Donnell to the freestyle championship, and suddenly saw Monster Jam get exposure that it had never seen before.
Every fan in attendance knew that run was going to be a sensation on the internet. It blew up Twitter in a matter of seconds, and is still talked about months after it happened. Frankly, this moment will still be talked about long after O’Donnell decides to hang up his helmet. O’Donnell started his Monster Jam career as a substitute driver, making his debut in Blue Thunder when he substituted for Linsey Weenk. That night, he won his first ever event in his first ever race.
He would go on to make a name for himself in Iron Man, then Zombie Hunter, before finally finding a major sponsor in VP Racing Fuels, and that relationship has led him to a world title.
O’Donnell has achieved his Monster Moment, his highlight, and his championship. Enough said.
Could there be similar, or even more shocking, come next season? Only way to find out is to get those tickets for the winter season, and then continue on through the spring, summer, and into the fall to see what these beats can achieve in 2018.