All roads in Monster Jam lead to one weekend of action. It is the one event where fans come from all 50 states, from Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Europe and even Asia to see the stars they see on television compete on the biggest stage. Champions past, present, and the future stars all combine to go into battle for the biggest trophies in the sport, on the most challenging, and fastest, course in the sport.
For the 19th time, Monster Jam traveled west out to Sin City, bringing about an event unlike any other the sport sees every year.
It was once again time to decide Monster Jam’s world champions as Las Vegas played host to the World Finals, and Sam Boyd Stadium welcomed in the stars of the sport, and a massive amount of fans.
This year was a bit of a change, as normally for the last four years the event encompassed three days, including qualifying, racing, and freestyle. But, officials decided this year to combine two racing programs, the Double Down Showdown and the main event, into one day, with freestyle still having it’s own exclusive night. But even the preparation for the week became a bit of a change, not because of the schedule itself, but because of the skies. Despite the weather looking extremely well for the competition, the plan was for Thursday to be the day where drivers would qualify for positions in the bracket.
Unfortunately, the weather for Las Vegas on that day looked to include a lot of rain and wind, which officials felt would not be fair to the drivers because they wouldn’t have a great track to qualify on, and could cause more problems than solutions.
Qualifying was moved ahead a day to Wednesday, where the wind was the only factor, but what also seemed to be a factor was seeing a familiar man at the top of the charts. Todd Leduc has consistently been fast in Las Vegas since he debuted as a full-time driver back in 2012, winning the pole position that season.
In his newest ride that he took over a year ago, Mutant by Monster Energy, he again proved he was one that was fast, and in charge. This year, he powered his way to the top with consistent practice runs, and then a low 16-second pass to put him in the top spot once again for the main event.
Before the big show on Friday could begin, the other big attraction was seeing the pit party, as the competing trucks in the Showdown, main event, plus another near 50 just there to display, were ready to welcome the fans for their chance to get up close. Friday’s pit party is always special as it’s a chance to see some new looks get revealed for the first time.
On display that were some fresh looks included Kelvin Ramer revealing an all-new yellow colored Time Flys, but what really caught the eye of everyone was an old-school truck coming back for the new year. Mike Vaters was in attendance cheering on his son, along with team driver Matt Cody who qualified seventh for the Double Down Showdown in Blue Thunder. He did not bring his own truck to show off, but instead went old school in more ways than one.
On display was the truck that he unveiled last November in Indiana, the completely resurrected Taurus Racer that fans remember from back in the day. But alongside it, an incredible debut of a brand-new body on one of Vaters’ other trucks, a 2018 version of Taurus, the same paint as the classic truck, but on a modern chassis. With original owner Jack Willman in attendance, and giving him the clear to run, Vaters will be campaigning the Taurus truck out of his fleet later this season.
The other truck fans were really excited to see is one who always brings something different to Vegas, Jim Koehler in Avenger. Thanks to social media, the Team Scream operation had fans asking what color the truck was going to be this year.
When Koehler and company came this year, the truck was revealed to be…green. The thing is, the truck is always green, as he’s consistently campaigned a green 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air for the last 16 years, minus last season when for his 20th anniversary he went back to the S10 body he ran at the first two Vegas events.
Koehler this year went a different route, one that some fans have been wanting for a while. He rolled into Las Vegas with a freshly painted body from Garner’s Towing, but the body for this year’s show is a retro 1957 Chevrolet Nomad. The long white top and accents matched the chassis to perfection, and fans were eating it up. Even Koehler himself was a big fan of the design, saying he’s wanted to run the body for a while but now with a longer wheelbase, it fit like a glove.
The final reveal in the afternoon came thanks to the Team Hot Wheels bunch. This year is the 50th anniversary of
Hot Wheels as a toy maker, and since 2000 they have been making collectible toys for fans, many of which debut in Vegas before they are available in stores. The Hot Wheels team ran a special body all year with the classic Hot Wheels logo, but heading into Vegas team driver Scott Buetow was told he was going to have an all-new body. Buetow decided to not even look at renderings, only seeing hints of what it was going to be, but refusing to see a full look until Vegas.
Friday, the tarp finally came off, and what came out was a truck unlike anything done in the history of the sport. The body of the Team Hot Wheels machine literally looked like a true fantasy Hot Wheels car, complete with fake headers out the back of the trunk, and a wing much like that of a Plymouth Super Bird. It was unlike anything Buetow had seen before, and he was proud to campaign a classic body for the team he’s been with for many years.
As the night wore on, fans began filing into their seats, and the anticipation was growing as it was nearly time for the evening festivities that everyone was waiting on. The first part of the evening was the 16-truck Double Down Showdown, with the winner moving directly into the main event bracket.
Everyone was looking at the team trucks of Grave Digger, piloted by both Brandon Vinson and Krysten Anderson. Anderson, sadly, fell out in the opening round of competition, but Vinson proved he was up to the task. The truck he was driving was formerly driven by the patriarch of the Digger team, Dennis Anderson, who also happens to be Krysten’s dad.
But, what was catching a lot of people by surprise was some of the youth in the sport, as moving consistently through the bracket was Team Scream driver Cory Rummel, who for the first quarter of action was piloting Pirate’s Curse. Fellow Curse driver, Camden Murphy, also had a strong showing, making it to the semi-finals.
The final four in this year’s Showdown came down to Rummel, Vinson, Murphy, and Jared Eichelberger in Max-D.
Up first was Vinson taking on Murphy, and it seemed Vinson was locked into the track as he made his third consistent pass of the night to make it to the finals, putting the potential of having an unprecedented five Grave Diggers into the main event. On the opposite side, Rummel took down Eichelberger, who one round earlier somehow held onto the victory over Ami Houde in Zombie despite crossing the line sideways and tumbling. The young man drove the truck off the track, and was ready to go despite some body damage. But, his night came to a close when Rummel found his groove.
The crowd was on their feet and ready to see who was going to make it into the main event. Rummel took his preferred lane on the right, while Vinson took to the left that he consistently ran all night. Both drivers were ready to get after it, and each pulled to the line. But, one was too eager to get after it.
Vinson left the line quickly, but the problem was thanks to the use of drag-racing timing and light setup, he left too quick, tripping the red light immediately at the line. Rummel left as normal, and made a consistent pass. The fans saw the Digger cross the line first, but did not realize the mistake until the announcer revealed the foul, meaning Rummel was bringing in a second Team Scream truck into the main show for the first time in many years. Rummel was showing his excitement, but couldn’t do much celebrating, because he had to immediately get in the frame of mind that he was in the main show, but also knew he had more passes down the track than anyone, so advantage seemed to be in his favor.
After a short intermission, the fans were ready, and the 32 trucks made their way out to parade around the track, and also make a leap for the crowd to show off what was coming in the night. It was time to crown a world champion.
For those that were wanting upsets to start the night, they got not just one, but two. The first came from Rummel, who in the first round took out last year’s World Freestyle Champion, Lee O’Donnell in the VP Racing Fuels Mad Scientist. The second, however, could be considered the upset of a lifetime.
Pulling to the line, it was Candice Jolly in the Monster Mutt Dalmatian. To her right, a guy who was after a racing title more than anyone, Jimmy Creten. Heading into this season, Creten decided to make some radical changes to his Bounty Hunter, literally chopping the top and narrowing the roll cage. The top of the truck was even with the rear shock towers, and the body was narrowed by at least six inches, reminding fans of the classic Awesome Kong design from back in the day.
Both trucks left the line even, with Creten holding a slight edge but Jolly was right at his side. Out of the last corner, each pulled to the hill, and by one narrow margin, Jolly somehow pulled off without a doubt the biggest upset that Las Vegas had ever seen, and possibly ever will.
The one guy that wasn’t fast on Wednesday, but found the groove early on, was Adam Anderson in Grave Digger. The chassis he has run this year debuted in December in Las Vegas at SEMA, but he was battling steering issues since Wednesday and found himself qualified 21st in a field of 32, the lowest he ever qualified for Vegas.
But, through the first round, he was showing he was going for it, taking down Cam McQueen in Northern Nightmare.
What did shock many though was Tom Meents, who suddenly found himself on the sidelines in Max-D after falling to Bari Mussawir. That meant team driver Neil Elliott had to carry the banner for the Max-D team into the second round as Colton Eichelberger also fell by the wayside.
Round two showed to be a consistent round, as the expected drivers to advance did, including both Adam and Ryan Anderson. The defending world champion in Son-uva Digger was again out to win, hoping to become the first driver since Meents to win back-to-back championships in racing. Ironically enough, after the second round, a total of four Diggers would move on as team driver Tyler Menninga, who was running Adam’s old chassis, moved into the round of 8, along with Morgan Kane in another Digger machine.
That round began with the Anderson boys going head-to-head, meaning Ryan literally had to be perfect in order to continue his defense. He was, but his big brother was as well, and it was Adam who made it into the final four on this night, meaning a new champion would be crowned in 2018.
Kane, sadly, was eliminated by Marc McDonald in the FS1 Cleatus machine, but Menninga moved on into the semi-finals, along with Leduc.
It was getting down to the elite and Leduc was itching to get back to the finals. But this time, Anderson was focused, and he stunned the Mutant driver in the semi-finals, taking him down and making it back to the final round for the first time since 2014. On the opposite side, Menninga was itching to get back to the finals after coming so close a season ago, and did just that by taking Cleatus to school. For the first time, identical looking trucks would compete in the finals, as it was Anderson vs. Menninga, and no other driver in the pits could be more excited than Krysten Anderson. The reason, on one side it was her older brother, who she constantly looks up to and gets advice from during the year. On the opposite side, it was Menninga, the man who she was dating.
Either way, it seemed she was going to win.
With the crowd on their feet, “We Will Rock You” blared through the speakers, and two Diggers came to the line set to do battle. Menninga took the right lane, Anderson took the left, and each zoned in on the light, ready to go after the biggest crown in the sport. Both staged, and the lights went green, charging into the chicane and then blasting into Thunder Alley. Menninga held a slight advantage, but the corner was the critical point.
Each slid in, nailing the gas like a late model, hitting the final ramp dead even. When the trucks landed, neither knew who was the champion, waiting on video to decide. Each decided to stay out and watch the board to find out.
On this night, the Anderson name once again reigned, as Adam pulled out the victory by a mere 0.061 seconds, almost the length of a headlight, but it was still a victory, his fifth in Las Vegas and his third racing title. The Digger team was at the top of the mountain once again.
But the night was not quite over. The fans were ready for the finale to the night, the encore. Fans saw during the track walk a unique looking ramp in the center of the track, similar to what they saw a season ago. Then, the big screen showcased a 15-year span of a truck that truly lived up to it’s name. The Max-D team this season was celebrating 15 years of destruction, and decided to honor that on Friday night with an epic encore performance.
Coming out the tunnel came the first three Max-D machines, with Jared carrying the current grey design. Behind him came Colton in the gold-colored truck he ran two years ago in competition. Elliott followed in his candy apple red design that he ran in 2016. Then, thanks to a dump truck, team driver Chuck Werner rolled out his Max-D, which normally is his El Toro Loco chassis, but his look was a design that was the original look, the Maximum Destruction design that was run from 2003 until 2012.
Elliott and Jared backed up to the container at the end of the track, pulling off a pair of nose-wheelies, while Colton and Werner each tried the same at the end of the track. Neither pulled it off, but did hammer some donuts to the fans delight.
Finally, out of the tunnel again came a CAT dump truck, this time with Meents in the Max-D stunt truck, but with a look that had only been seen in die-cast. His truck was all blacked out, dark and mean. The parade of trucks then lined up at the container wall at the end of Sam Boyd Stadium, but did so backwards. Up first was brothers Jared and Colton, who each pulled off the move that Elliott nailed a year ago, the reverse flip.
Jared’s truck suddenly came to a halt, possibly because of the damage from earlier, so it was up to the rest of the field to try and finish the night.
Colton rolled to the end of the track, while first Werner then focused on the center ramp, each hammered the throttle at the same time, and Werner went for the other move that Elliott pulled off a year ago, the forward motion backflip. Sadly, he landed short, but on the wheels. Colton then rolled to the opposite ramp, and lined back up, this time with Elliott focused on the center ramp.
The actuators were reset and Elliott went again for the flip, but he too ended up short.
Now it was up to Meents, but his hit went awry from the get-go. When he hammered the ramp, rather than flip, his truck pointed to the sky like the Space Shuttle, landing hard on the rear axle, and rolling over right at the end of the track.
Meents then said in the interview afterwards with his team, “What do you do when the ramp breaks? Just hammer down!” Quite the finale to a wild night.
Track crews were busy getting the wrecked machines off the track, and the mechanics were getting ready to do repairs as there still was one day left of both parties and competition. The track crew, meanwhile, was doing harder work, as the track that they built for Friday’s competition was not going to exist in less than 24 hours. Instead, they were to move the dirt and add in obstacles like tire walls, logs, cars, and buses, as the freestyle competition would have a track all it’s own.
All 32 trucks from Friday’s show will be ready to go for the World Freestyle Championship, but Adam now had the chance to do something not seen in 16 years…a complete sweep of titles.
Monster Jam’s freestyle night is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. PST, with live streaming prior of the monster parade, along with after of the encore. Follow @MonsterJam on Twitter to stay up to date with scoring, and the “wow” moments that are expected from this wild night.