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Decade of Monster Moments: Closing Out 2019

Alas, another 2019 campaign of monster tires, destroyed junk automobiles, broken parts and aggravating repairs has come to a close.  More importantly, an entire decade of destruction and broken parts has come and gone.  From the beginning of the season back in 2010 until now, the entire concept of the monster industry has changed.

Even the thought behind what makes a competitive truck has changed.  At the beginning of the decade, the idea of a truck that had similar ideas to that of a stock car seemed to be barely getting going, with only a few machines built as such.  Now, the idea of a truck that is heavier, but tougher, is a normal design.

We have gone from the long-designated “Stage 3″ design that was introduced late in 1989 and have machines that have become a newer concept, which we will get into in a short bit.

Normally, my idea of closing out a season is about looking back on the big stories of the last year, ones that we continue to talk about to this day.  Instead, this time it is about going farther back, to when the decade had just begun, and things seemed to be simpler, but instead seem to have become more complicated, or more “controlled” in some ways.

So, how about we sit back and look at the way the last ten years have gone, and the biggest stories to come from the monster industry.

 

Friday Pits 2STAGE 4 MONSTERS ARE HERE

For the last 30 years, at least for the most part, fans and teams alike have been running what has been mostly considered a “Stage 3″ monster truck.  Back in 1989, when Bigfoot VIII first hit the scene, the tubular chassis and gas-charged shocks changed the game.

Everyone came up with their own ideas, and soon some teams went into the business of building chassis for other teams.  This meant instead of going with a new design with trial-and-error times, instead teams could buy a guaranteed-strong chassis, or even turn-key operation.

But, by the mid-2000’s, some new ideas on chassis design began popping up, not so much because the previous concept was bad, but wanted to improve on it.  Mid-engine designs remained, but the engines were lowered, wheelbases lengthened, and sometimes even adding weight to make it handle better.  But the trucks in a sense were still the original “Stage 3″ idea, with improvements in shock design and even how a truck was built in materials.

Now, some companies are making chassis with all these concepts in bulk, with the engine sitting lower, a wider stance, and heavier.  The nitrogen shocks are more detailed, with bypass valves and safety shields.  Companies like CRD and Concussion are building chassis that are among the toughest in the business, and have taken what was a consistent 10,000-pound weight of a truck and have since increased it by another ton.  At the same time, the way the chassis are built has improved, with thicker-wall tubing, a more sturdy cradle area for the four-links, and many new safety measures with the stunts and maneuvers that these trucks do today.

In the new book titled “Monster Truck Technology,” written by Hall of Fame inductee, former driver and current team owner, Marty Garza, the industry has gone from the previous design into what could be considered a “Stage 4″ progression.

The progression in designs prior was gradual, from stages 1 through 2, and then the giant leap into the previous tubular “Stage 3″ concept happened quickly.  But, to see the newer idea of a “Stage 4″ truck, one that has become the norm over the last 15 or so years, has been intense, especially with all the stunts and moves many of these drivers are doing in today’s era.

Certainly begs the question…is a Stage 5 in the future?

With all the chassis and suspension improvements, the first real suspension on any monster sits 66-inches tall.
With all the chassis and suspension improvements, the first real suspension on any monster sits 66-inches tall.

TIRES…TIRES…TIRES

Even with all the improvements to a truck’s engine, suspension, chassis, and safety, the one consistent has been the fact these trucks sit on tires 66 inches tall, 43 inches wide, and get mounted on a 25-inch diameter rim.  But, in the last decade, one of the biggest subjects has been the tires on these trucks, for many reasons.

It’s no secret these tires were originally made to go on big agricultural spreaders to put feed and water on farmland, but these flotation tires even today sometimes are hard to find because they aren’t made as much.  Unless a team is sponsored by a brand of tires, drivers and teams are looking around to find what could work.  The problem is a lot of times, these tires are found used, or forgotten.

In the early part of the decade, the introduction to tires made specifically for the industry began coming out, but it wasn’t until 2012 when some teams began seeing a tire that appeared to have everything one could ask for.  Short cleats, but curled at the edges for better cornering, deep tread for grip, and strong sidewalls.  By 2014, these were still the norm, but many had to cut the edges because as good as grip as they had, the dirt being slung was excessive.

So, the “EcoWork” design continued, but then in 2016, the newest brand to venture into the monster world became available, BKT.  The shorter tread meant no cutting or shaving, and the square sidewall cuts meant when a truck got in trouble, the driver had grip to pull the machine back down.  The tires did what the company wanted, although with a softer compound.

However, many were and still are hesitant to use these tires, so they stick with the Goodyear, Firestone, Michelin and even EcoWork.  But, finding these tires new are a challenge, so most find them used or leftover, unsure of the condition.  That condition, sadly, became a frightening reality this past spring.

Driver Scott Bryant, along with teammate Roger Gauger, both suffered injuries when airing a tire up at the team shop.  Gauger was lucky, not so much with Bryant.  He suffered broken ribs, brain damage, nearly lost a hand, and suffers from seizures to this day because of the tire failing while being aired up, and blasting him into the side of a vehicle.  In his own words, his doctors said his injuries were “similar to an I.E.D. without the shrapnel.”  Bryant is still with us today, by the grace of God, but his incident has brought to light the importance of teams to inspect their tires, both before mounting on their rims, and even currently being run.

Tires were the big story when these trucks first came out, and still are.  However, the hope is the story is more about innovation, rather than the loss of individuals.

A new location presented many challenges for Monster Jam's marque event.
A new location presented many challenges for Monster Jam’s marque event.  PHOTO CREDIT:  John Igras

WORLD FINALS MOVES EAST

Although the glamour of being in Las Vegas has it’s perks, sometimes a change of scenery could be best.  Plus, logistically, having to move a lot of equipment across the country in a short period of time can be a challenge.  This year, Monster Jam decided it’s biggest event was getting a change of venue, city, and design for it’s 20th installment.

The newest edition of the World Finals moved to Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, a short distance from the home base of Feld Motorsports.  The venue meant doing a new design of the race course, and the track layout.  In doing so, the design meant for the first time, the Monster Jam competitors would be starting at a starting point that was higher than the finish.

Camping World Stadium became the home of the first elevated start, meaning the trucks would leave the line and head downhill into the venue, rather than start outside the stadium and roar in like they did in Vegas.

Unfortunately for Monster Jam, this did create one problem that they didn’t expect.  The track design meant the venue needed seating roped off, then covered with tarps, and dirt packed down in order to make the racing lanes.  That didn’t exactly go to plan, as the dirt would pack down, but would not hold the weight of the trucks since there was no consistent solid ground to pack the dirt on.  So, after trying every way to get it secured, track officials and the actual build crew had to balk, and the racing lanes went from being dirt…to asphalt over concrete.

At the same time, the idea of having the entrance ramp being outside the stadium and the trucks ride up to the platform had to be scrapped for the same reason, since it was not structurally sound.  The 24-truck field would enter the stadium in packs of eight, and all the trucks would be on the platform in each round.

All of these changes still made for a very interesting, and rewarding, night of racing, then a surprising night of freestyle.  In racing, the man that tried his entire career to win the one championship he wanted for nearly two decades, finally got it in an unexpected manner.  Jimmy Creten lined up beside Bari Musawwir in the final round, and a simple trip of the light handed the win to Creten.  When Musawwir suddenly went from being staged and rolled slightly backwards, the lights changed and it triggered an automatic false start.  Not that it made a difference, because Creten made it to the finish line first, and finally took home the title he craved for so long.

One night later, the newest competitor in the field of competition, Linsey Read, went out early in freestyle one night after earning her place in the field as the Double Down Showdown champion.  Her run, in the end, outlasted some insane runs by the likes of Ryan Anderson, Todd Leduc, and even a rain delay.  Her first stadium event, and Read took home the biggest win of her entire career.

Orlando is once again hosting the World Finals in 2020, but after that the showcase heads to a new venue in the new rotating format.  Still, the challenge for Monster Jam next year won’t be the course, but how to top what they all witnessed this season.

HOF 41HALL OF FAME FINALLY IS REAL

This one hits me on a personal level since I can’t understand why it took me so long to experience this event.  In 2010, the mere concept of having the monster truck industry actually having a way to honor the then-35 year history seemed unimaginable.

But, as luck, fate, and unfortunate circumstances as well, would have it, things came together to make it a reality.  A museum in northern Indiana, not far from South Bend, suddenly became a go-to event for teams, drivers, and past members of the industry.  Year after year, more come out to experience and remember where the sport began, how far it’s come, and to even have a few surprises come out of the woodwork.

This year, for me personally, it was beyond any words I could even describe.

Standing there among men, and women, who were my heroes back when I was six, eight, even up to my early teens suddenly know me on a personal level because of what I do on here, and behind a camera.  To then have an up-close experience of seeing a retro-body Black Stallion be revealed from under the tarp, to the experience of seeing the retro Bear Foot Racer of Scott Hess roar into the museum, with Bear Foot creator Fred Shafer surprising every person in that room, it just is something that words cannot match.

Even the fun afterwards, sitting at Steak & Shake with friends, former drivers, and laughing into the early hours of the morning cannot be put into words.

As the weekend drew to a close that final night, seeing the likes of Aaron Polburn, Dan Runte, Cliff Starbird, and Jesse Burgy get their rightful induction into the Hall of Fame, it was a reflective moment to realize how far the industry has come, how long it took to have a Hall of Fame, and also the desire to have a building all it’s own to preserve, honor, and continue to build on reliving those moments of all the years past.

Although the monster truck industry now has a Hall of Fame, the need for a venue all to itself is something that is still wanted.  That, with the help of many in the industry, hopefully will come sooner rather than later.  Until then, I, along with many others, will continue to make the drive to Auburn, Indiana, to see great friends, past heroes, and reflect on how far this industry has come in now going on 45 years.

 

And now, we enter into a new decade of action, one that marks 45 years of this industry existing, and with no glass ceiling anywhere.  So, here’s to the next infinite amount of years of monster memories ahead.

 

About Dustin Parks

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