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Social Distance and Horsepower Highlight the Jamboree’s Return

Some new faces, but familiar surroundings, helped bring some sense of enjoyment to the jamboree faithful.

In an era of uncertainty of what could come tomorrow, the biggest question that gets asked is, “When can we get together?”  With so many different state requirements, regulations, and requests, the idea of when often gets changed to “If we can get together,” as no one had an idea.  Every business has suffered in some way, but the entertainment business has hurt the most.

With social distancing, concerts, banquets, and even weddings suddenly are postponed and rescheduled, or outright cancelled.  So how exactly can someone decide to get everyone together that has a common interest, but also at the same time promote social distancing in this Covid-19 era?

The Bonnier Corporation has given it a try, as their summer schedule that was slated to begin in June, has officially kicked off one month later.

The annual 4-Wheel Jamboree at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, certainly had a much different vibe long before opening day.  Questions of whether the event actually would take place, or get cancelled, had fans, participants, vendors and competitors in limbo.  With days leading up to the show still feeling uncertain, event staff remained steadfast in protocol, and declared this event would happen.

Would there be some that don’t show because of uneasiness, of course, and they knew that.  But, they also knew they had every optional and available safe measure in place, all they could do is wait.  More stations for hand sanitizer were installed through the fairgrounds, and staffing was cleaning out common areas on a more regular basis than last year.  Fans, competitors, vendors and media all had to show that they had masks when entering, or entry would be denied.  Signs were everywhere to promote the six-foot gap between individuals, but that certainly would not be attainable all the time.  So, Bonnier used similar ideas from the recent Carlisle event and maintained that when they couldn’t keep that six-foot distance, wear the masks.  Otherwise, it is their choice.

The wait was over, and on Friday with cloudy skies and peeks of sun, the 33rd annual event opened it’s doors.

A much different feeling was apparent, as some vendors did not make the show out of respect for safety, and on occasion it was clear some participants did not make the trip either because they didn’t feel safe doing so, or possible state regulations.  However, the lifted trucks made their way through the gate, and at that point it was clear that no matter what was happening, everyone that did come wanted to be there, and soon it had a feeling of Bloomsburg events past.

This year, along with the Covid-19 protocol, it had a different feeling for the competition.  The tough truck course had a much different feel, utilizing part short-course, part baja, as the new track crew for 2020 built a track that would encompass a lot of the infield, and tested suspension and driving skill with every corner and jump.

That new infield also meant the mud bogs would get a move from being on the backstretch, to the front, and the bog then got doubled up.  For the first time in several years, the actual mud bog was a flashback to early years at the jamboree, as all seven classes would hit the bog side-by-side.

The mega truck scene hit the jamborees this year, with no name bigger than that of Anderson.
The mega truck scene hit the jamborees this year, with no name bigger than that of Anderson.

Seven classes…isn’t there only six, depending on the tire size, cut and design?

The answer is yes, but the seventh class is the newest, biggest, and the one industry that has boomed thanks to television programs over the last several years…the MEGA TRUCKS.  With close to 2000 horsepower, in a chassis that weighs around 5000 pounds, these machines are evil.  None were more evil than the pair that made the trip all the way from North Carolina, rolling out of a shop of a name that in the world of trucks, has been keeping the “shovel sharp” for a long time.

Due to recovering from surgeries he’s had in recent years, Anderson let good friend and fellow monster truck driver, John Gordon, take the wheel as he’s done a few times in the past.

Gordon himself was here pulling double duty, as an entirely new lineup was ready to rock the house for the General Tire monster truck show for the weekend.  The lineup changed a few times as the event drew closer, but fans seemed to be ready to accept a little different feeling, while also seeing familiar sightings.

As stated, Gordon was in attendance with his team trucks, which were called in weeks earlier after another team had a change in schedule.  Gordon himself had a very clean and sleek black and orange machine, a Chevrolet named Bad Company.  The team truck, Fast Metal, had that hunter orange accent rocking with the brushed metal look.  Piloting the team truck was a former Monster Jam Young Guns champion, and All-Star champion, that has been on the sidelines since the pandemic caught the country and shut down operations.

Coty Saucier, who also is well known behind the scenes for his craftsmanship in building trucks, specifically suspension, got the call to join Gordon for the show.

The familiar feeling was in the air as the Hall Brothers made the return this year with their usual duo of the Raminator and General Tire.  But, Kurt Kraehmer’s General Tire had an aggressive new look with the 2020 Ram Power Wagon body, set with a “snoopy nose” much like the Taurus racer from the early 90’s.  Not only that, but his gunmetal painted rims now had a red accent to match the body, and give the truck a much more bold look.

The Raminator didn’t need much change, just the new Power Wagon nose, but unlike last year when Mat Dishman had the wheel, lead man Mark Hall was given the duty of driving.

The last two machines got their first taste of Bloomsburg as well, as Brandon Budd had his hunter-clad Buckshot Chevrolet ready for battle, while the lone Ford in the lineup was making his own debut at the fairgrounds, Joey Sylvester in his all-new Bad Habit dent-side F150 that was sporting his entirely new Yokohama Prime X tires, cut deep and given an outrageous aggressive stance.

The different feeling in the pits, and in the midway, for the jamboree was apparent, from every aspect.  Fans had their faces covered, while still waving for photographers.  They still shined their tires, while sadly if they needed new ones, no vendor was available.

What seemed to not change at all, pandemic or not, is that Bloomsburg is and always will be a hot and sticky experience, and if the skies get dark, chances are good that they will open up.

And that is exactly what they did.  Friday afternoon was looking decent, but with Tropical Storm Fay creating havoc on the coast, some of the rain that came with it made it’s way inward.  The 4-Wheel Jamboree is an event that whether rain or shine, or as in the case a decade ago in Lima, snow, it takes place.  However, what is not part of that lineup is potential lightning.  The weather got rougher as the afternoon wore on, with windows being rolled up, and many show vehicles getting covers put on.  Event officials ran the first couple classes of mud bog races, but afterwards called it done because the lightning potential was there, and rather than risk drivers becoming human lightning rods, they had to make adjustments to the next two days events.

For someone like the author of this piece, that created a few challenges, but not many problems.  The biggest adaption was getting used to the new setup, and trying to make sense of where I had to be, and at what time.

Add in the next day had the most unpredictable weather, it made things harder.  Bloomsburg has always been an event where it was going to be one thing…hot.  Near 90-degree temperatures, with an oppressive humidity, made wearing masks hard, but that was something one could deal with.

Show and Shine still had a major pressence in Bloomsburg despite the pandemic.
Show and Shine still had a major pressence in Bloomsburg despite the pandemic.

The hardest thing to deal with in the end was the pop-up thunderstorms that hit not once, but twice.  The second sent some folks scurrying through to get under tents.  One individual, someone who I have known as a fellow photographer, actually sprinted into one of the monster truck team haulers in order to escape the rain.  Then once the rain ended, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds, and all that moisture just made it even hotter.

Bloomsburg in a nutshell will forever be the one where everyone roasts.

As the Saturday evening event came into the limelight, it had a different feeling, one of eagerness, excitement, and hope.  The crowd packed into the stands, doing their best to keep apart while being together for one moment.  And in that moment, with the wild rolling introductions of the mega trucks, and the monsters, the fans didn’t mind the wet track, and the fact that the monsters in the end were only doing freestyle.

The fact was many of these teams have not competed in any fashion since the end of February, with some actually on their way to the venue before being told to reverse course and head home.

The fans got exactly what they wanted from freestyle, as Budd opened the night with a strong effort in his new chassis.  That was followed by some dirt-ripping donuts from Kraehmer that made crew chief Daniel Agosh, better known as Cheech, smile from the pit area.  Then Saucier came out in a truck that he had never driven, nor sat in until he loaded it in the hauler this week, and put on a clinic in momentum and aggression.

Hall then came out and realized that even with 2000 horsepower in his HEMI, his buffed BKT’s needed to be spinning hard, much like on Saucier’s machine, to keep things going.  Still, he brought the crowd to it’s feet with a solid outing.

Gordon then took a slow stroll past the grandstands before ripping into his performance with a pair of rebound slap-wheelies in the infield that took him right through the dip in the infield.  Gordon kept on powering forward with not one instance of slowing down.  As the sunset came on, the hunter orange accents stood out nicely as he too brought the crowd to it’s feet.

It was then that the Ford would close out the night with a run that not only had the fans roaring, but also covering their ears.  The long-tube “zoomies” on Sylvester’s engine were loud, and deafening, as he slid the truck through the infield and onto the frontstretch in a solid outing.

Even after that, the judges could not pick a winner, as the teammates of Saucier and Gordon were at the top tied in points.  So, with Anderson assisting, the crowd cheer-off would decide it, and in his first outing in the truck, his first event as a driver since he was sidelined months earlier, Saucier got the nod for the Saturday night victory.

With Sunday now being the main attraction, the hope was that the fans would be ready for a double dose of action in the early afternoon.

Bright sunshine was a welcome sight for all, and made things a bit humid, as is typical for the final day of the show.  But, it appeared every truck was ready to rock the infield for the final day.  But, it came after some nights of repairs.  Gordon had no trouble in his big truck, but after having trouble in racing in King Sling, the transmission and torque converter had to be changed prior to the evening mud bogs.  Everything seemed to be in top form as the truck rolled out for introductions once again on the final day, and hammered the bog with intensity.

However, it was Weston’s Bog Hog taking the win on the afternoon, meaning that on this weekend, it was Anderson that was king of the megas, sweeping racing and the bogs in Bloomsburg.

But, it was the monsters the fans were waiting on, as the tough trucks and bigger classes of mud bogs were just the precursor to what was coming.  Unfortunately for Brandon Budd, his Buckshot suddenly shut down in his first run, which began really quick and had a great pace going.  The truck would restart and run, but was not finishing his first freestyle, so he pulled into the pits.

After a calm, but solid, run by Kraehmer, it was Saucier once again making the Fast Metal machine roar, as he would put the truck through it’s paces to the point one bedside decided to lay over and relax for the remainder of the run.

Hall then came out charging, but decided to keep it easy knowing he still had one run yet to go.  But it was again Gordon that made his Bad Company machine look really good in the Bloomsburg infield as he tore into the dirt with his BKT tires, slinging dirt everywhere and powering a wheelie on one hit off the big jump.  His run moved him into the lead for the victory…until a set of “Hater Cuts” came on the track.

Sylvester was the lone Ford in the field, and he made his classic truck talk, or more like scream with his long-tube headers.  He would push the truck so hard, the dust filling up the infield, that following his victory when he pulled into the pits, his crew discovered he tore one shock out.  The top mount and bottom mounts were still in place, but crew chief Kyle Kunkle ran on the track and pulled the remains of the shock to the pits.

For Sylvester, he was angry, but luckily another team had a shock that was the same as he ran, so during the intermission as the modified tough trucks went on the track, his team along with Cheech and Nathan Smith of the Hall Brothers operation made quick work in putting on the replacement.

As the tough trucks concluded, and began pulling off the track, it was nearly time for the final freestyle of the weekend, which normally means someone is tearing up equipment.

One thing that wasn’t getting torn up…a varmint.  All of a sudden, track officials were on the track and actually chasing a groundhog that somehow had wandered into the infield, or possibly had been there the entire time and finally decided to make it’s presence known.

Joey Sylvester was fueled with both his coffee and methanol in Bloomsburg.
Joey Sylvester was fueled with both his coffee and methanol in Bloomsburg.

It seemed he wanted to see his shadow, much like another famous groundhog from Pennsylvania, but instead with the help of Smith, Kunkle, Gary Bauer, and yours truly, we treated it like a cow being herded by Doc Pol, and it scurried into the barn right by the track.  The smiles and laughs in the pit area were all around, giving everyone a much needed laugh before it was time to get serious and close out the entire show for 2020.

The final event had no scores, no judges, but rather just put on a performance to let the fans go home happy.

With Budd sidelined, it was Kraehmer that got things going, and he came out swinging with a strong performance including a set of donuts right in the center of the infield.  He made the General roar with a few big air hits, and brought the truck home in one piece as he pulled it into the pits.

Fast Metal had a strong run going, until the rear steer suddenly locked and made it hard to move around, especially at certain points on the infield thanks to the deep trench.

But Hall then came powering out, screaming the HEMI and did what he does best in his Raminator, which is sky it, cyclone it, and keep the truck in one piece so it could be driven in the trailer.  Gordon then made one more high-powered, fast and intense performance that got the crowd really riled up.

It came down to one final run, fueled by High Octane Coffee, as Sylvester backed out of his pit stall with a new shock, and crawled into the infield.  He increased the RPM’s, roared the motor, and suddenly the tires lit up the dirt, and Sylvester ran the truck as hard as he could, and every hit he put it through, the truck took it and begged for more.  After potentially missing the day’s action because the engine was running lean, then blowing a shock, he would drive the truck off the track, ready to fight another day.

With everything that the state of Pennsylvania has dealt with the last several months, being locked down, people unable to run businesses, and potentially having their fun moments stolen from them, the jamboree went off as planned.  It was different, it was new, but the fact remains that the event took place, and in one sense, that is an accomplishment.

Now, Bonnier Corporation is preparing for the next jamboree as they have over two months to prepare for their next showcase, this one being the biggest one of the year.  It will be a homecoming for Bonnier Corporation when it comes to the jamborees as they will hit the Indiana State Fairgrounds from September 18-20 for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 39th Annual Fall 4-Wheel Jamboree.

A full lineup for the monsters based on what has happened in the last several months will be updated, but as of this writing the three guaranteed trucks to be there are The General, Raminator, and Bad Habit.

Tickets are on sale, and registration is open.  Come see what this year’s jamboree series is doing different, while also trying to honor where they came from.

About Dustin Parks

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