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Monster Nationals Hits the Dirt for Round 3 of Competition

Having an entire month off before the next event is hard for any sport.  Even just some days in between feels like an eternity.  But, when the WHR Monster Truck Nationals concluded it’s double weekend at the end of January, it meant that the layoff until the next show would be an exhausting four weeks.

At the same time, when it came time for that next event, it was the most unique one of the entire schedule.

Nestled in DuQuoin, Illinois, is the DuQuoin State Fair and the Southern Illinois Center.  It makes for a unique weekend as it brings about the biggest field of the entire season, but also the biggest floor, and the lone weekend where grip is never a problem.  The DuQuoin State Fair allows the Monster Nationals to make it’s home in the same arena where they hold the rodeo event.

That’s right, it’s the return of “Big Air Weekend” as the dirt was brought in to make a wide oval-style track with bigger obstacles and a lot more space.

The fans that made their way out to the venue got the best in the business battling for victory all weekend.  Series champion Darron Schnell was locked in with his Firestone Bigfoot. while Doug Noelke was chomping down with the Tail Gator.  Derick Anson brought in the Heavy Hitter while also having his teammate Steven Snellen taking the wheel of the popular square body Basher.

Calling on family, the Hall Brothers returned to DuQuoin with the Raminator, once again allowing Geremie Dishman, the brother of Rammunition driver Mat Dishman, take the wheel.

Also in attendance was a very slithery snake, as in the Snake Bite Raptor Reptile.  But, Kris Kopperhead was nowhere in sight, having been called to another venue to sink the fangs into the competition.  So what is Colt Cobra to do knowing his rookie is already in competition?  He decides to call up another newbie to the Snake crew, as making his driving debut in the “black and green striking machine” is Sid Sidewinder.

The Friday crowd began piling in and were ready to witness some strong competition on the dirt, and right away they were both excited, and a bit confused.

As always, the wheelie contest started the night, but what makes the DuQuoin contest different is the fact drivers can either hit the racing lanes to sky the truck to the roof, or even hit the hillside to actually get a slap wheelie going.  The setup of the track was even ready for possibly seeing a popper for this competition, but what really popped was when the big blue Raptor hit the track.

Schnell’s night in the Foot did not start as planned.  His wheelstands were excellent, but when he was done with the run, he decided to pay Noelke a visit.  But, the visit was not expecting, because the Bigfoot beast used the Gator as a bump stop.

Turns out what happened to Schnell was not the fact he lost his brakes, but the fact that the brake pedal broke itself.  Before the Ford could return to competition, it was a visit to the hauler to ensure the truck can stop.

Meanwhile, the next round of competition for the beasts was a contest that normally has never been done at the DuQuoin event due to it being a dirt surface, the donut contest.  But, lead official for WHR, Lee Collins, decided that the fans deserved to see these beasts sling some clay.

It didn’t matter if it was on dirt or on concrete, Noelke had the truck hook right up on the Illinois dirt, slinging the Super Gator in a set of cyclones that was more than enough to give him the third victory in the contest this season.

In between the donut contest and wheelies, the trucks normally would have a qualifying pass.  But this weekend, what teams got was a practice run on the track to get used to the setup.  Drivers drew numbers for the bracket to determine who they faced in the first round.  Schnell got his truck fixed with the help of his wife and crew chief, Rebecca, and his crew to make it out to make the racing portion of the show.

Thanks to now having the ability to stop, Schnell was able to work his way through the brackets and make it to the finals once again, his third consecutive final round appearance this season.

Schnell’s opponent on Friday night was Anson, who has consistently been a tough opponent for any driver lining up against the Heavy Hitter.  Schnell knew he needed to be ready to roar in his beast because Anson was not backing down in his run to the front.

Anson didn’t let up, and actually pushed the black Chevrolet to the lead and took down Schnell for his second victory on the season, inching closer to the points lead and now tying with the Snake Bite team for race wins on the season.

But Anson was not done yet.  A perk of winning the racing bracket is being the final truck out for freestyle, meaning he got the opportunity to wait through five other machines before tearing up the track.  The deep sound of his exhaust was roaring proud as he hammered the track, tearing up the dirt and hitting each obstacle with authority, sending his Heavy Hitter to the roof and ensuring he brought home both big victories on the night.

With two shows remaining on the weekend, Anson was just getting warmed up.

FRIDAY RESULTS

  • Wheelie Competition:  Sid Sidewinder, Snake Bite
  • Donut Contest:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Racing Finals:  Derick Anson, Heavy Hitter, def. Darron Schnell, Bigfoot
  • Freestyle:  Derick Anson, Heavy Hitter

 

The work to get every truck ready for the next day’s action for once was very minor.  Teams went back to the pits, did a check over of all the needed nuts and bolts, tightening down anything that could have worked it’s way loose from the previous performance.

It was critical to ensure everything was ready to go since the Saturday deck was doubled, as it began with an early 1 p.m. matinee for the fans that wanted an early thrill of monster action.

Any fan that saw what happened the previous night got a flashback, or maybe had a moment like in the movie “Groundhog Day,” because the start to the afternoon had exactly the same result as Friday night.  Sidewinder once again found a way to get the black and green snake to land on the wheelie bar and drag the beast across the floor to the delight of the Illinois faithful.  Call it two-for-two on the weekend because the fans voted the Snake the winner of the wheelie contest.

For those that like repeats, the donut contest provided that as well.  On Friday, Noelke spun his way to victory, and come Saturday afternoon, he did the same thing once again.

Noelke’s victory in the contest actually paid more dividends than he expected.  Because of the amount of shows remaining in the season, and despite Noelke not being slated to compete in the final show of the year, his amount of victories officially give him the title of donut champion for the 2018 campaign, a repeat of his feat one season ago.

Not too bad for the man at the wheel of the Gator.

Steven Snellen stunned the field on Saturday afternoon with his first career racing victory.
Steven Snellen stunned the field on Saturday afternoon with his first career racing victory.

Once the donut contest ended, the focus turned to racing, and at that point, the repetition from the night prior officially came to a close.  Instead, this event brought about some surprises for everyone involved.

It was no surprise to see Noelke make it to the finals as he’s consistently been fast on the DuQuoin dirt.  What did catch many off guard was seeing the fast action of Snellen in the Basher square-body Chevrolet.  Sure the truck looked like it was rusting away and weathered on the paint, but the truck has consistently been fast and for every driver that has been in the seat, fun to wheel.  Snellen took the Basher through the loser’s bracket to make it to his first final round on the tour, and he took advantage of it.

Snellen kept his truck handling in the corners, and found speed at every critical point of the title race, finding his way across the line first to capture his first major race victory of his career.  Snellen is no stranger to being a teammate of Anson, but it was his first time being the one to take the championship race and bring it home for the team.  An exciting accomplishment for a seasoned driver.

With freestyle remaining, Snellen’s position of going last seemed to be the nice option since he would see every truck compete before making his run.

Problem this time was the run that won happened before he ever took to the floor.

Schnell was not having the best weekend, despite only having a minor problem on Friday night.  But, finally, he put a run together that kept the fans engaged and made his weekend seem like it was going to be worth it.  A run consistent with big air, cross-thread action, and some strong wheelstands was enough to give the fans no choice but to declare him the freestyle winner for the afternoon.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON RESULTS

  • Wheelie Competition:  Sid Sidewinder, Snake Bite
  • Donut Contest:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Racing Finals:  Steven Snellen, Basher, def. Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Freestyle:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot

 

The turnaround time on a two-show day is extremely fast, and crews had to go back and do a once-over yet again before the trucks had to get set up for the final pit party and show of the weekend.  The fact that no major breakage had occurred to this point was a good thing and the trucks were all ready to tear it up for the final show for the crowd that was filing in for the night.

But if anyone decided to do the entire three-race weekend, the beginning of the show was awfully familiar.

The wheelie contest once again belonged to Sidewinder, who seemed to figure out exactly how to stand the Snake up on the wheelie bar once again, making it seem as though it was far too easy for the fans to decide the winner.

Then the donut contest was again a double repeat, because Noelke was slinging dirt all over the fair floor when he hooked up in the cyclones, and locked down his championship with yet another donut contest victory.

But that is when things took a change.

Schnell took the Bigfoot Raptor to a racing and freestyle victory on Saturday night.
Schnell took the Bigfoot Raptor to a racing and freestyle victory on Saturday night.

All weekend despite coming so close, Schnell was not finding success in the racing category in Duquoin.  This time a year ago, he was restarting his incredible win streak after being taken down in stunning fashion one event prior.  But this season, he found himself with just one victory to his credit, and playing catch up in the points from the beginning.

He finally managed to get back to the finals on the final night, facing off with his closest competitor in Anson.

This time, unlike Friday night, Schnell managed to get the truck hooked up in the corners, and powered the blue Raptor to victory, gaining valuable points which now become very critical coming into the final event of the season.

The final freestyle of the season fell the way of Schnell once again, as he pushed the Bigfoot beast all across the floor, pulling wheelies and donuts at every moment he could, and letting the fans know he had a good run when he went to salute the crowd, pounding on the roof and getting them riled up, as he would double down for the night, closing out another successful DuQuoin weekend.

SATURDAY NIGHT RESULTS

  • Wheelie Competition:  Sid Sidewinder, Snake Bite
  • Donut Contest:  Doug Noelke, Tail Gator
  • Racing Finals:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot, def. Derick Anson, Heavy Hitter
  • Freestyle:  Darron Schnell, Bigfoot

 

The season finale for the Monster Nationals now comes with a long layoff from competition…as in two months off.  But, it also means that teams can get the beasts fixed up and ready for competition, knowing every bolt is tightened and engines are tuned up to the best of their ability.

The final event will see Schnell and Anson battle it out for the racing title.  The Snake won’t make the trip this time, but has achieved the wheelie contest victory after sweeping DuQuoin.  There will be no Gator, but his donut championship is secured under lock and key.

Snellen is coming back to pilot the Basher machine, and the Hall Brothers team will make the long ride from Illinois with the Raminator.  Whether it is Dishman at the wheel, or if they decide to bring their lead man, Mark Hall, to take the wheel is not determined.

The five-truck field will be filled with a very popular truck sporting an anniversary look, and making it’s indoor Monster Nationals debut after a successful appearance in the outdoor Springfield, Illinois, show last summer.  Brandon Derrow will be bringing out the Bad News Travels Fast monster, celebrating 20 years of Bad News Racing, to the season finale.

Where is the final event of the year?  It’s in a college town, next to a very prominent stadium that can hold 107,000 people on a few Saturdays during football season.  The arena hosts the largest student-organized and run philanthropy in the country, recently raising over $10 million for pediatric cancer research following a long 46-hour dance marathon.

It’s in a place where most recently, the most popular man for the football team was described as a once-in-a-lifetime player, a man named Saquon Barkley.

The season finale this year for the WHR Monster Nationals will return to the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State University, one week after the football team holds it’s annual Blue-White Weekend spring game at the adjacent stadium.  It has been nearly two years since the monsters came to the Penn State campus, and the last time they were here the BJC staff had to keep opening up more seating areas to keep up with the demand.

Tickets are available now at Ticketmaster outlets, online at Ticketmaster.com, and at all Penn State ticket outlets.  The final event of the year happens April 28, with the pit party starting at 4 p.m., and show time at 6 p.m.

 

SEASON STANDINGS

Wheelies

  • Snake Bite (3)
  • War Wizard (2)
  • Heavy Hitter (1)
  • Bigfoot-Schnell (1)
  • Bigfoot-Tweedy (1)

Donuts

  • Tail Gator (5)
  • Bigfoot-Schnell (1)
  • War Wizard (1)
  • Incinerator (1)

Racing (50 points for show, 75 for finals, 100 for victory)

  • Snake Bite 425 (2 wins)
  • Bigfoot-Schnell 400 (2 wins)
  • Heavy Hitter 375 (2 wins)
  • Tail Gator 375
  • Basher 300 (1 win)
  • Raminator 275
  • Bigfoot-Tweedy 225 (1 win)
  • Midnight Rider 150
  • Incinerator 150
  • War Wizard 100

Freestyle

  • War Wizard (3)
  • Bigfoot (3)
  • Raminator (1)
  • Heavy Hitter (1)

About Dustin Parks

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