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Final Truck Gives Lasting Impression as Ryan Anderson Wins Freestyle Championship

Photo Credit: Eric Stern

The one competition that fans live to see no matter where Monster Jam competes is the final one on the night.  That competition is freestyle.  It’s a chance to see the drivers show off the skills they have worked so hard on and try to out-do the rest of the field.

But there is no freestyle competition like that of the Monster Jam World Finals in Las Vegas.  It is a night where there is no focus on racing, but rather make the crowd realize that they are the one driver that has the best skill of any in the sport for that one night.  A massive field of 32 drivers competing on a track that 24 hours before was the fastest race course now must take to obstacles that take elements of the past, and the present, to put on a two-minute run capable of bringing home a championship.

Monster Jam’s track crew worked all through the night and into the early hours on Saturday to make the track something that would challenge the drivers in the field.

The new track consisted of many step-up options at one end of the stadium, while the second set of obstacles provided a feeling of the past and the present.  Half consisted of what many are used to seeing on the arena tours, complete with tire barriers, logs, and a pair of side jumps to cross the track.  The other half had a bus with two different ramp designs on either side to give teams a chance to launch high, or launch far.

There was even a fountain added to let teams decide to get wet if they so desire.

But what many fans were curious about was could one man finally overcome a 16-year plague of not seeing the same driver win both big trophies in one season.  Adam Anderson had the target squarely on his back, and he knew the pressure of trying to win both titles in one night often is a challenge that falls short on many occasions.  But, with him going late in the field, he was not as worried.

As fans filed in and prepared for the competition, teams meanwhile were waiting in the wings, hoping to hear the moment they are allowed to fire up their machine and head onto the track for their performance.  It would be the final time these drivers would compete at Sam Boyd Stadium for the World Finals, and each wanted that last title to honor the memories that Vegas has provided over the years.

With the grandstands filled to capacity, the time had come to begin the competition, and it was starting off with a former champion on the arena tour.

Colton Eichelberger began the night with a fresh track in his Max-D, and made sure that his run on the track would score relatively high to make it a challenge.  The difficulty was that the fans were the ones scoring the run instead of a judge panel.  Fans would score 1-10, and after the scores were in, the computer would average out the score, ensuring no tie could happen and guaranteeing one truck would win.

Eichelberger put up a strong score that lasted till the fifth truck hit the floor, Justin Sipes in Megalodon.

His shark-bodied truck rolled onto the track and parked right next to the fountain, almost as if the water was calling his theme.  Suddenly he nailed the throttle and blasted through the water, and the run was on.  Two hits later, the truck tumbled over the small jump between the pod and the bus, cartwheeling and shedding the body, but landing on all four tires.  He would go on and push through a full run to the tune of an 8.530 score and into the lead.

After that, things took a change that no fan wanted to see.

Suddenly the track began taking victories with trucks having runs that wouldn’t last 30 seconds before breaking.  Trucks like Jim Koehler’s Avenger would hit one obstacle, then roll backwards.  The Bounty Hunter of Jimmy Creten had the same fate, rolling after just two hits.  Through the first 16 trucks, approximately four managed to finish out the entire run, and with intermission looming, it seemed as though Sipes had found himself in a strong spot to possibly win.

That seemed to be the case…until a former champion took to the floor.

Charlie Pauken rolled out in his Grave Digger, knowing that he had the chance to get back the title he won in 2010, and he did everything he could to do so.  A back flip, extreme air, and combos that filled the entire clock culminated in a run where Pauken rode the sidewalls of his BKT tires across the track before coming to rest on his side right by the container wall.  His score of 8.778 took over the lead, and left little trucks to make the run to overtake him.

The last eight trucks all consisted of former champions, with none having more pressure than Anderson himself.

He came roaring out the tunnel ready to go, and attacked the first hill he saw.  The landing, unfortunately, ended the run as the right-rear tire snapped, and track officials hit the kill switch, ending his performance long before it began.

Pauken held on as Neil Elliott put on a strong run in Max-D, but his 8.145 score was just short of the lead.

The final two trucks remaining were a former freestyle champion that wanted his title back, and one that is a freestyle beast that holds the record for the highest score ever earned since fan judging began.

Todd Leduc rolled out in his Mutant Cadillac, and he went on a clinic on the track.  With so many trucks struggling to complete the time, Leduc decided to go big, but consistent in his first 45 seconds, but then began tearing it up with massive air and also brought out a 360-degree spin over the bus, which took place as his right-rear planetary locked up but still managed to leave the truck on all four tires.  He completed the run without a roll, without destroying the body, and achieving a score of 8.995.

Under normal circumstances, that run would be enough to achieve the trophy.  The problem was, that performance was number 31 of 32, and one truck was left waiting in the tunnel with a chance to close out not only the night, but the World Finals in Las Vegas, with a performance of a lifetime.

That truck was Ryan Anderson, the 2017 racing champion, and his Son-uva Digger machine.  The young man has seen triumph here on many occasions, but also seen himself struggle, and even scared, at his time in Las Vegas.  But, if anyone could take the victory, this young man was capable, and the fans inside the stadium knew it.

He rolled out the tunnel slow, and pulled to a stop in the right lane.  He backed up, knowing his time wouldn’t begin until he made his first move, and he did that by catching the left tires on the pod and riding out a bicycle to the center of the track.  He tried to work it into a moonwalk, but the rear tires came down quickly.  Immediately, he hammered the accelerator and went into chaos on the floor of Sam Boyd Stadium.

He cross-threaded the track, hit massive air at every jump, balanced the truck in the air to ensure a strong landing that wouldn’t break the truck.  But with about 45 seconds left, he went into a state of mind that no one else could match.

Anderson hammered the container wall under the big screen, pulling off a backflip, but the rear tires landed first and caused a big rebound in the suspension.  Anderson sensing this decided to let the truck settle, and he worked it immediately into a short moonwalk before bringing the truck back to the ground.  Every fan at that moment was roaring.  It was the same reaction they gave Anderson when he debuted the truck in 2011 at the same stadium, but the young driver was not done.

He continues to blast the track, pulling off another backflip with time still remaining.  He culminated the run while the fans were securing their votes in with a massive launch over the center hill, landing into a wheelie and tumbling onto his side, where he almost pulled off the save to the wheels, but the truck slid down to rest.

Every fan was on their feet, roaring the approval for the young man who tried for years to get his first world title, but after he won the racing title a season ago, he wanted the freestyle title to complete his set.

Leduc himself had a feeling he knew what was coming, and sat down to watch the scoreboard while cheering on his fellow competitor and friend, and when he watched the screen, he showed no sadness, but jubilation…for Anderson.

With a run scored at 9.182 on the final performance of the night, the young Anderson did something that only his father, Dennis, and Tom Meents had done in World Finals.  He and his dad have the distinction of being the only three drivers to win the World Freestyle Championship on the final run of the night.

While Anderson celebrated in the pits, the track crew set up some surprising obstacles to prepare for the final part of the night…the encore.

On the big screen, images of a movie release began showing.  A huge ape, and destruction, all came together to promote the new Rampage movie coming out in April.  Suddenly, Dwayne Johnson, who everyone knows more as “The Rock” appeared to help promote the movie, and give the fans a taste of the encore that was to come.

In between the trailer, out rolled Tom Meents in the Max-D stunt truck, carrying the body of the ape in the movie named George.  Moments later, another truck rolled out after a second part of the trailer, showcasing a wolf.  Then, another truck showcasing an alligator.  The trucks went into a performance of destruction, tearing down the makeshift buildings and tearing up the cars that remained.  The movie trailer continued as Meents rolled off the track, as if he was switching sides.

He returned to the track alongside Chad Fortune in his Soldier Fortune machine, plus Tony Ochs in the Black Ops beast, as they tore into a chase scene to get the “evil creatures” off the track, or contained.  Then, Meents rolled back out and set up at the container wall, focused on the center part that originally had a car obstacle set up in front.

As the movie trailer concluded, Meents hit the accelerator and blasted the container, once again trying to get the perfect double backflip landed.  This time, he got close, but landed on the nose and on the side.  Suddenly the other creature trucks joined him on the track, concluding the encore…to an extent.

Coming from the tunnel suddenly saw every truck that was at the pit party the last two days roll into the stadium, parking along the wall, or on the hills.  Drivers exited their trucks, many holding cell phones or cameras to showcase the experience.

It was Monster Jam’s way of saying thanks to the fans who for 19 years came out to Las Vegas to see the stars of the sport perform on the biggest stage in the industry, and also say a bittersweet farewell as it was the final time Sam Boyd Stadium would host the event.

Beginning in 2019, the World Finals will begin a rotational schedule, coming to different venues in the country to showcase the biggest event they provide.  Las Vegas will still host a big show every March, as Monster Jam will introduce the first-ever All-Star Challenge for a 20-truck field that will include racing, two-wheel skills, and freestyle.

More info on the All-Star Challenge and the World Finals for next year will be released in due time.

Monster Jam now sees a relaxation in it’s schedule, but major stadiums will still get some big action during the second quarter.  Places like Syracuse, New York, will play host to events.  Come June, the “Summer of Destruction” tour will include a stop in Philadelphia, the home of the Super Bowl champion Eagles, and East Rutherford, New Jersey.  Also included will be appearances in Foxboro, Massachusetts, plus Santa Clara, California, and Nashville, Tennessee, along with many arena events.

Visit MonsterJam.com to get the latest event schedule, along with all the newest releases from the sport.

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