The first night of the inaugural World Finals in Orlando still had people talking about what they witnessed. As the sun rose over Camping World Stadium, the drivers and crews were still a buzz after witnessing one of the most innovative and deserving guys in the industry finally win the championship that has eluded him for almost two decades.
A new day still meant a lot of work being done, especially by the dirt crew inside the stadium.
When the competition concluded in the late hours of Friday, and the trucks were moved to the pit area, the track builders immediately went to work, moving some of the mounds and obstacles that made the racing tunnels into a completely different look for Saturday. The reason this happens is for Saturday, the competitions are completely different. The fast race course was becoming a freestyle fun house for 24 trucks, with obstacles ranging from a tire bump, drain pipes, telephone poles, and even a fire truck. But, the racing lanes weren’t just left all plain and alone either.
One was kept simple, leading to the floor, but the other was given a treatment that one may see more of in the Olympics, at least when it came to winter. The left lane got an added “ski jump” at the bottom of the floor, meaning it was either big air or big calamity for whomever hit it.
Also added to the floor was a k-rail, but only for a short period. Starting the night, eight drivers were going to take on a new skill challenge to determine a world champion: the high jump.
Similar to what is seen at the X-Games in the skateboard big-air competition where they measure the height from the half-pipe, the trucks will back into the k-rail to get an even start and hit a reinforced metal ramp. The officials had a laser measurement to determine the height of the jump from the top of the ramp to the nose of the truck. Most height meant a championship.
Fans entered the day enjoying the sun, and feeling right at home. Every team worked extra time in order to have the machines ready for the evening festivities, and after an over 70-truck parade through the infield and into Camping World Stadium, the Saturday night showdown was on, with the high jump competition kicking things off.
The eight-truck field then got reduced to seven, as Rosalee Ramer was not making the call in the Wild Flower, so it was Scott Buetow in his beautiful El Toro Loco Ice machine starting the night off with an impressive jump of 45.124 feet, despite the hard landing that caused him to roll to the side.
Two trucks later, Todd Leduc launched the Monster Energy Cadillac to the skies, landing so hard he rolled down the hill and back onto his BKT’s with a jump of 45.385 feet to overtake the lead. The launch held up till Camden Murphy came out in Bakugan Dragonoid, but not as in taking over. Murphy held enough height to only tie Leduc in height, but it meant that he would be in second since Leduc set the mark first.
With one truck left, Leduc was sitting pretty, until a pretty blue puppy came on the floor with Cynthia Gauthier at the wheel. The Monster Mutt Dalmatian Ice machine launched hard and soared to the skies, going so high that the rear tires traveled further than the front, and the blonde driver had to endure a landing on the downside of the ramp before getting back on the wheels. When the measurement came up, Gauthier began to dance with excitement because she reached a mark of 45.472 feet, just barely passing Leduc and Murphy, meaning she was officially the inaugural Monster Jam High Jump world champion.
This was the first championship by a female driver in the sport since Debra “Madusa” Misceli in 2005, so she was excited beyond words.
HIGH JUMP RESULTS (Measured in Feet):
- El Toro Loco Ice: 45.124
- Max-D Fire: 42.954
- Monster Energy: 45.385
- Megalodon Fire: 43.885
- Avenger: 43.475
- Bakugan Dragonoid: 45.385
- Monster Mutt Dalmatian Ice: 45.472
- High Jump Champion: Cynthia Gauthier, Monster Mutt Dalmatian Ice
Once the track crew cleared the k-rail out of the way, and smoothed over the uneven dirt, it was time for the title that everyone came to see be battled out. A field of 24 trucks came out ready for action, as it was time to crown a world champion in freestyle.
The first truck out the gate was the biggest name, with the newest driver to take the wheel. Triple Threat Central champion Brandon Vinson came out hard on the fresh track, and went big really fast on one of the hillsides. The landing, however, was catastrophic as the entire front axle on the right side snapped from the housing, almost folding under itself as if a chef was folding dough to put in a pasta roller. The store to start the night off, which was determined by the average score the fans gave via the mobile app, 7.237 on a scale of 10.
The wreckage crew came out and had to work extra hard to move Vinson’s truck to the side of the track, and once they were clear, rolling down the racing ramp to the floor was the previous night’s surprise winner, Showdown champion Linsey Read in Scooby Doo.
Her run was fast, intense, and seemed like she took all her arena efforts and finally let loose in a big venue. But it almost went wrong off a jump in the center of the track, yet instead she gave the fans something to really remember. Her crime fighting dog grabbed a rut on the left rear on a wheelie, sending the truck in a full cartwheel as though it was on a gymnastics mat. Read brought the truck back on all four tires, and immediately proceeded to pull off a backflip in the Florida sunset.
The score came down from the fans, and she immediately got excited as her score of 9.371 put her solidly in the seat, and she began enjoying the view as many of her fellow competitors began falling short.
Newly crowned racing world champion, Jimmy Creten in Bounty Hunter, came up short, and even the second Digger driver to hit the track, Morgan Kane, didn’t have enough to get the lead. The first real “wow factor” came from the third Digger driver, Randy Brown, and it only took one move to do so.
Brown lined up first at the new ski jump, the first driver to do so, and soared completely over the landing pad, hitting hard on the front nose, and rolling forward back onto the tires. He tried to continue, but officials hit the remote shut-off as he flattened a tire, and also bent a four-link bar and blew out a steering ram. His score of 7.480 was enough to get into the top-five, but far from being a leader.
After Brown was Bryce Kenny in the Great Clips Mohawk Warrior marking the halfway point in the field with a run that saw him pull off a wheelstand and a save that saw the truck land on all corners and still continue to ride on.
Despite the solid run, the score of 8.350 was not enough to take the lead, and finally the show hit intermission.
Read got a chance to relax, but also worry, since the second half of the field was loaded with former world champions, and many of the toughest competitors on the season.
It was Murphy, however, that provided the next big run of the night when his dragon-themed truck had such a run that was filled with big air, lots of momentum, and one hit that just like Vinson earlier in the night tore the entire front axle out from under the truck. Yet despite all that, the score was only enough for 9.250, which put him solidly in second between Read and Whiplash driver Brianna Mahon.
Three trucks later, one of the trucks that has seen a few different drivers came out with a much different sound. The BroDozer diesel came charging out with Heavy D at the wheel, and he was taking no prisoners with his run. Each hit was getting height, and distance, until one hit put the truck on the side and into a barrel roll. Yet, driven to not give in, he stayed on the throttle and saw the modified Super Duty go down off the dirt pad, onto the nose, and with one hit of the loud pedal, it came back onto the wheels.
The crowd was in a frenzy as he continued on and pulled a backflip, only to shatter the rear suspension on the landing. There was still a lot of time on the clock, but with the truck unable to continue, the BroDozer came in with only an 8.987 score, meaning Read was still in the lead with five trucks remaining.
Those five trucks had to wait a bit, because another intermission was coming, although this one was not exactly in the plans.
Florida has always been a bit unpredictable in some instances this year with the World Finals, but this one was completely out of officials and driver control. The skies opened up just a bit with rain, but the biggest thing that came across the radios of the track crew was lightning in the area. The hosts then got on the microphone and told the fans what was going on, and everyone in the stadium took shelter under the grandstands just in case lightning would strike. Drivers got out of their trucks and hit the stairwells to get away from the skies, as for the first time in history, the World Finals was under a weather delay.
It’s not the first time the World Finals saw rain, as the 2005 show had rain throughout the first half of the show, and it continued to fall into freestyle.
At about 20 minutes after nine, the fans were instructed to wait, and as is protocol for Camping World Stadium, a lightning strike in the area required a 30 minute delay.
It turns out, the delay went just beyond an hour, as the track crew went to work trying to get the floor back to what it was pre-storm, but it appeared any post-show encore idea seemed to be out the window with the slick surface. However, by 10:20 p.m., fans made their way back to their seats and it was time to get back to the action. Five trucks remained, including four former freestyle champions, and all were hoping to get the better of Read. However, they were on a much different track than any previous driver, so they had to adjust as needed.
Surprisingly, the track was in better shape than expected, as Neil Elliott in Max-D figured out as he made his run. He, however, fell short with a run scored at 7.196.
Adam Anderson tried to get the final Grave Digger to the top of the list, but he could not get his truck to adjust to the conditions. Then, Leduc seemed ready to go in his Monster Energy machine, even without the front nose piece.
How did he start…the same way he did when he won his title in 2014, roaring down the entrance ramp and going head-long into the first hill he saw, soaring the black and green SUV to the second-level grandstand across the floor, and not letting the truck break under him.
The “Leduc Leap” as it has been called stood true in a new venue, yet it still couldn’t get him to the lead, reaching a score of 9.052.
Two drivers were left, as Tom Meents rolled his Max-D Fire truck out and put on a classic run from the over 20-year veteran champion, but he too fell short with only an 8.203 score. Read’s emotions were causing her to shake, her nerves were at their breaking point. The only truck standing between her and the most unprecedented upset in World Finals history was last year’s champion, opting to go last like he normally does, Ryan Anderson and his classic Willy’s, Son-uva Digger.
The two-time champion, son of the Hall of Fame Grave Digger driver Dennis Anderson, made his own name in his creation and was putting on a run that he felt would win. But, the conditions got the best of him, and time ran out. Fans judged his performance at an 8.337, and at that moment, a historic weekend in Orlando suddenly became the most unprecedented and unpredictable night in World Finals history.
In her first official World Finals, having earned the opportunity one night earlier with the Showdown victory, Read was overcome with emotion as she took home the World Freestyle Championship in her first crack at the championship.
It was the first world championship won by a female driver since Madusa shared that title in 2014 alongside Meents and Lupe Soza, and it also is the first time two female drivers placed in the top three of freestyle in the World Finals, as Mahon held on to earn third place with Murphy staying in second. Finally, ensuring this historic night for the female drivers was set in granite, it’s the first time that women swept the two main competitions.
On this night, the women ruled, and “Girl Power” reached its peak.
Freestyle World Championship:
- Grave Digger-Brandon Vinson: 7.237
- Scooby Doo: 9.371
- Zombie Fire: 6.013
- Bounty Hunter: 7.978
- Megalodon: 8.436
- Grave Digger-Morgan Kane: 6.221
- Earth Shaker: 3.025
- Whiplash: 9.183
- Lucas Oil Crusader: 8.907
- El Toro Loco: 7.637
- Grave Digger-Randy Brown: 7.480
- Great Clips Mohawk Warrior: 8.350
- Wild Flower: 5.865
- Avenger: 6.399
- Grave Digger-Tyler Menninga: 7.244
- Bakugan Dragonoid: 9.250
- Monster Mutt Dalmatian Ice: 7.817
- Dragon Ice: 5.237
- BroDozer: 8.987
- Max-D: 7.196
- Grave Digger-Adam Anderson: 6.656
- Monster Energy: 9.052
- Max-D Fire: 8.203
- Son-uva Digger: 8.337
- Freestyle World Champion: Linsey Read, Scooby Doo
The rain almost ended the night, but it was not the World Finals with one last moment to remember. It looked as though the 2019 freestyle encore had to be shelved because of the track. However, the dirt crew pulled off all the sludge that was built up from the sudden rain storm, and officials then declared the encore was on to close out the monumental night.
A field of seven trucks hit the track and lined up side-by-side at the center of the stadium, right by the biggest ramp built for distance and height.
To close out this year’s World Finals, the encore was a record-breaking attempt to clear seven trucks in a stadium setting. From the tunnel rolled the specially prepared Monster Jam truck, set on the Max-D stunt chassis that has front flipped, double backflipped, and a year ago launched higher than possibly Gauthier’s winning performance on the night. At the wheel this time, however, was Colton Eichelberger, the stepson of Meents.
After a few test runs, he pulled the belts as tight as he could, keyed the radio to his dad as he coached him on what he needed to do. After ensuring the truck was ready, and he was ready, the crowd got their cameras out as Eichelberger launched forward.
The speed was right, and the launch was right where he wanted it. The truck went slightly sideways in the air, but with the speed and the height, Eichelberger cleared the entire line with ease. He came down hard on the dirt and slid into one of the containers, breaking a planetary hub in the process, but the jump was so successful he could have cleared at least eight trucks.
With fireworks going off, Eichelberger showed his appreciation to the crowd, and with that the 2019 World Finals drew to a close.
The successful move to a new city and new venue was officially a success, and Monster Jam capitalized as next year’s big event will return to Camping World Stadium on the same weekend. The ticket and ordering info will be available soon on MonsterJam.com, so keep your eyes open, because there’s nowhere to go but up for the sport’s biggest event.