There’s no question that summer has not just come, it has arrived in full force. Beaches are packed with visitors wanting to take in the sun and the water. Pools have kids taking turns hitting the high dive to cool off on those hot days, and families all are looking to decide on the vacation to take during the time away from school.
Many of those families designate the weekend following Independence Day as a great opportunity to go out and enjoy a weekend away. Those that live in the northern tier around Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and even Delaware, decide to take a trip to the eastern part of Pennsylvania, just south of the Pocono Mountains, to a famed fairground that has been a mecca for 4×4 enthusiasts for over 30 years.
It is the start of the second stop of the 4-Wheel Jamboree Series, as the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds was set to welcome thousands of trucks, jeeps and SUV’s, plus tens of thousands of fans, ready to celebrate the off-road vehicle.
Many of those fans came out to witness the General Tire Monster Truck Thunder Drags, and they were in for a treat as the points were still tight, but the main focus was on one driver.
When Lima came to a close last month, Michael Vaters Jr. was riding high, as he swept the second and third days of action in Overkill Evolution, something no one expected from the first-time participant. Hot on his heels was Mark Hall in the Raminator, and when the two rolled into Bloomsburg, each was wanting to get into victory lane. Hall himself returned to Bloomsburg after a year hiatus, and was hoping to get back to victory lane. The lead man of Hall Brothers Racing went winless through the entire 2016 race season, and has not won at Bloomsburg since the final event in 2014.
Meanwhile, after being away for 10 years, Vater Jr. was competing alongside his dad, as the Safety Kleen Black Stallion was ready to roll. Christian Norman brought out the golden and gorgeous Lucas Oil Bigfoot to compete for his first time in Bloomsburg.
The new blood spilled into a pair of others making their Bloomsburg debuts, as Kurt Kraehmer again piloted the title-sponsored General Tire Ram machine, while making his first, and only, appearance on the jamboree tour this year was Tim Mente in the square-bodied Storm Damage machine. Originally it was to be Mat Dishman in the Rammunition at this event, however when the truck lineup was announced, the Rammunition team was slated for another event. Not wanting an odd-numbered field, Mente and his team were brought in, as the Storm Damage machine made it’s return after being on display at Bloomsburg eight years ago. The truck that was carrying the name that year had a famous beginning, and has now a new permanent home, as the chassis itself was the original Taurus Racer, a truck that has been restored and now sits at the International Monster Truck Hall of Fame and Museum in Auburn, Indiana.
What fans, drivers, and teams had to deal with for the Friday night festivities was a lot different than Lima. No rain was anywhere in sight, but the big problem was the heat. A high of 86 with moderate humidity was cooking the infield, as the water truck was working extra hard to try and keep the dust to a minimum. Sadly, by the time the evening show was set to begin, the water had evaporated away, and the dust clouds were beginning to come up.
It didn’t stop the fans, as they packed the grandstands in the heat to witness the first of three racing programs, and four overall events, in the weekend. What they got was some surprises.
In the opening round, Vaters easily worked his way past Mente on the Penda-style track, while Hall managed to take out his teammate. But, the final race of the first round saw a major hit to a big contender.
Vaters Jr. did make it to the finish line, taking down Norman. However, something seemed to not be sitting well with the 2014 Ford Super Duty. During a small break in tough truck action, fans saw the Overkill Evolution machine roll around the horse track and back into what is considered the garage area of the fairgrounds for the monster. At the time, no one knew what was happening, not even lead track official Lee Collins. However, when he saw the truck roll to the garage, it was clear he was not coming back for the semi-finals.
It turned out, as Vaters Jr. said after the show, his truck lost the rear end, as he only had front-wheel drive when he finished the race. The break meant a lot of repairs to get set for Saturday.
Norman, due to Vaters Jr. being unable to make the bracket, was then brought back in his place for the semi-finals. That also meant a new fast loser would return to make up the final four, and this time it was Kraehmer getting another crack at the Bigfoot machine.
It woud not be enough as he would go down to the gold Raptor. The other semi-final, however, caused a little bit of controversy.
Vaters lined up against Hall, and caught the hole shot on the HEMI-powered beast, but Hall began reeling him in between the jumps. Both trucks hit the final stack, although Hall was a bit askew as he leaned hard to the left on the final hill. From one angle, it looked as though the left front tire did not hit the ramp, as per MTRA rules, both front tires must hit the obstacle to be considered a legal pass. Video showed he was off course, but officials reviewed and deemed he hit the ramp enough to be able to move on. Some fans were not sure if the call was right, but it was the choice they made on this night.
This meant a guaranteed first-time winner this season, and both Norman and Hall were poised to go after the win on this night.
Both left the line hard, but it was Norman who found the grip a bit quicker, and he cruised to the final jump, realizing he was finally at the top of the podium, earning his first 4-Wheel Jamboree victory of his career. It was a monumental moment for the rookie driver, and it possibly was a prelude to what teams had to watch for this weekend.
- Round 1: Black Stallion def. Storm Damage; Raminator def. General Tire; Overkill Evolution def. Lucas Oil Bigfoot
- Semi-Finals: Raminator def. Black Stallion; Lucas Oil Bigfoot def. General Tire (Fast Loser)
- Finals: Lucas Oil Bigfoot def. Raminator
Freestyle was left to run on the night, and drivers had a full infield, and even the front stretch, to work with. A “pod” was built in the second turn with different hills of height, and angle, for the drivers to attack. But, one of the most challenging parts of the infield had no obstacles at all. Historically, the Bloomsburg infield of the race track had a deep pit between turns 3 and 4, and when it rained, a makeshift pond developed. It seemed as though long before the jamboree came to town, something was done about it.
The infield had a huge channel of sorts that ran across the grass from turn 3 almost to the stage area. It’s part of why the monsters had their racing course changed from it’s normal spot going directly across the track to now going parallel to the channel.
It didn’t seem to effect any truck because every machine hit the track with purpose, but Hall’s came at a cost.
After his first hit on the pod area, his truck was cutting to the left with each hit, but it still had a lot of power to get the thrill of the fans. He even cut a set of donuts to the delight of the crowd. But, it turned out the left rear was not getting any power thanks to a broken axle. It was not of much concern, as the team was ready to get things fixed when the trucks returned to the garage area.
However, the last truck out was the one that made it count. Norman took the #18 chassis and put on a clinic, reminiscent of former Bigfoot driver Josh Gibson, as he was full-throttle, almost drifting the truck, and kept his truck in control at every hit. He was also the first driver to make an attempt and the wheelie hill on the front stretch, almost picking the nose up to the sky.
The run thrilled the crowd to the point where Collins decided his freestyle was enough to earn the double down for the day. Quite the accomplishment for the young man.
Saturday’s weather for the monsters has a similar look, with the sun shining high in the sky, but the temperatures hitting 90, and moderate humidity. No race vehicle likes high heat, but the methanol engines these trucks run are a bit different, as the more heat they get, the more power they make. But, hopefully they do not overheat, and that means a lot more parts to buy.
It’s a two-show day with the racing and freestyle event set for shortly after Noon, and the monsters will close out the day with an 8:30 p.m. all-freestyle spectacular that will end with one of the biggest fireworks displays outside of July 4. Get your tickets at the gate, and enjoy what the jamboree has to offer.
40 Points for each round, 40 for victory. Racing wins in brackets, freestyle wins in italics.
- Overkill Evolution – 440  3
- Raminator – 440 1
- Lucas Oil Bigfoot – 400  1
- Rammunition – 320 
- Black Stallion – 240
- General Tire – 200
- Storm Damage – 40