Not having the Monster Jam World Finals in Las Vegas beginning last year had a different feeling to it. Sam Boyd Stadium, already set for demolition later in 2020, was hosting a regular event, and later the All-Star Challenge, but when one thinks of Monster Jam in that city, it thinks of late-March, and a massive gathering of both fans, and trucks.
Over the years, the amount of trucks that actually are there, even just for display, continued to go up to the point of having over 100 in attendance.
But, as is sometimes the case, some are kept hidden for special moments later in the night, or as it turned into nights. Back in 2011, it was one of those moments where one machine not only was unveiled for all to see, but it saved a night of anguish for a family.
Luckily for me, and my father, we were spending our second year in Las Vegas, and we were ready for anything that was coming to us. Or…so we thought.
On this night, the Anderson family was having a rough go at the big show. Dennis Anderson, after having such an amazing and astounding season in racing, suddenly found himself scrambling after the quarter finals. In that race, the engine in his Grave Digger suddenly began having trouble, and when he pulled into the pits, then-crew chief Dustin Brown and the entire fleet of Digger drivers suddenly found themselves with a dire diagnosis. Anderson was not only out of racing, but was potentially out of freestyle, as his truck was finished.
Not wanting to disappoint his fans, the crews thrashed as quick as they could and took out the seat, the pedals, and the steering wheel of Anderson’s chassis. The team had several additional Digger trucks in the pits, from different drivers. Team driver Chad Tingler had his truck there as part of the pit party for fans to sit in the truck. So, the team quickly removed the door and had to make an entire swap so that Anderson could drive his truck for freestyle.
“I don’t like that truck, it doesn’t handle as good, but we’re gonna put on the best show we can,” Anderson said while his team was quickly doing the swap.
Anderson’s freestyle was short, and had it’s moments, but it wasn’t a ragged-edge run that was expected of Anderson.
Meanwhile, his son, Adam, still had not gotten over the Vegas curse that had haunted him years prior when he clipped the curb in racing and rolled cage-first into a tree alongside the racing lane. Since that moment, his luck in Vegas was always snake eyes, and this night was no exception. He fell out early in racing, and then in freestyle despite a wild save off his first hit, his Grave Digger The Legend lost all but right-front drive. His truck was going nowhere, and he suddenly found himself a spectator.
At the end of the night, Jim Koehler was declared the winner after the voting came down to a tie breaker between his run in Avenger, and Cam McQueen’s opening run in Nitro Circus. But, the encore was yet to come. After seeing three Grinders do a tandem run, and three Maximum Destruction pieces crash out, the fans were left waiting to see what was next.
One run…one driver…one debut…and one family got to witness history.
The screen flashed a skull, with bolts going down the face, a purple bandana covering the mouth. The story of the build, the truck that was set to debut in January, suddenly was halted when it’s driver suffered an injury in the off-season. But, the wait, and the desire, still remained, and with his father, and brother, standing in the crowd, it was time to unleash the newest machine to carry the Digger name.
Over the speakers came a sentence that set the course for a legacy.
“Ladies and gentleman, for the first time ever, this is Ryan Anderson…SON UVA DIGGER!”
And with that, out came a 1950 Willy’s Panel Van, with a junkyard of competing trucks that had been destroyed, ready to just put on a show.
And what a show it was.
Every bit of the run was fast, but methodical. The way he controlled the throttle was exactly the same as his father, and the truck even sounded like his father’s truck with the exhaust that was installed. Anderson hit every part of the track, from the step-up stack to the the center pad. From the jammer hill to the box van, every bit of the track was covered. But, his next-to-last hit was the one that put it over the top.
It was already done twice on the night, by McQueen and Debra “Madusa” Miceli, but not without damage. Anderson, he hammered the backside of the semi trailer, and landed the most perfect backflip on the night, and kept on rolling for one more hit before shutting the truck off.
His father and brother…screaming and jumping as if they were kids at what they had seen. Fellow drivers, and even future drivers, went ballistic. The crowd was roaring so loud the grandstands were shaking under our feet. That moment was one that he, and Las Vegas, shall never forget.
So what has Anderson done since then…the same thing at every show. He would burn it down, and has even started the movement of the skills challenge when he debuted the monster moonwalk a few years ago. Anderson’s skills are second to none, and to many he is considered the most naturally talented driver in Monster Jam. Although his chassis has changed a few times since that initial run, how he drives certainly hasn’t.
Anderson even had the opportunity this year to head to the Hoonigan Transmission Burnyard, who he’s been affiliated with for several years, and on a track with no cars, no hills…not even one jump, would lay down a run that even the Hoonigan crew itself said was better than any run they had from vehicles weighing one-tenth the side of Anderson’s truck.
There is no question that as it stands now, Anderson is the most talented driver in not just Monster Jam, but in the entire business. There are some that come close, but in my eyes, there is no one better at the wheel of one of these beasts.
It all started on that night in 2011, and he continues to get better. The sky may not even be the limit for this young man.