The gap and definition between what a classic monster truck fan and a modern monster truck fan has changed over the course of years. Much like how trucks have changed how they are built, so have the drivers and what they can do. The modern fan for the most part only sees what they witness on television, least when it comes to one promoter. They see the high speeds, the skills, the carnage; it’s all they know.
Fans that were the transitional fans, that saw the shift from being focused on racing on many styles of track to the idea of showing off, jumping buses, riding wheelies, and slinging dirt, they have admiration for where the sport began, but may not have been around when it was just starting.
And then there’s the fan that understands, appreciates, respects, and sometimes was around when the industry began. They saw how humble a start they had, and the modern marvels they are now.
The problem is, not every fan understands what the old-school generation felt in those early shows. Worse yet, some do not recognize or know who some of the old school drivers are. Some may recognize the names like Anderson, or Chandler, from what they’ve read or seen. But the modern fan never got a chance to see them race, live, at the wheel. These drivers aren’t getting any younger, and opportunities are slimmer these days to see them even at an event.
But, what if there was a way to bridge the gap, bring old school and new school fans together? Is there a chance to make that fan who now is in his 50’s, 60’s, or more feel like a kid? Is there a way so that same fan can watch their son, daughter, or grandkid have the same reaction, at the same time?
That was the idea of Michael Harper, owner and operator of Monster Truck Wars. A driver himself, he campaigned some classic names, but over two years earlier, an idea came to his mind.
Could fans want to see an event with modern trucks, but a classic vibe. Would a venue want to have such a show?
All the work, all the effort, came to a head when revealed on November 13, 2021, an event to honor and relive an era that started the monster truck racing industry. After much anticipation, Harper, and announcer Ryan LaCosse announced the special one-time event: TNT-Unfinished Business.
The concept, take the entire idea of a TNT event, ran between 1987 and 1990, and give it a modern feel. At the same time, it wasn’t about a modern-era driver at the wheel. This is when the idea of taking those modern trucks, run the classic names, AND match them with the same drivers that made the names famous. The track, the same 400-foot drag race as in years past, and put it on at a venue that at one time hosted a TNT event in the day.
Where was this happening: The NC State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The reveal came at the International Monster Truck Museum and Hall of Fame, and with it came the reveal of the first of six drivers that will get back behind the wheel for one final ride…Mike Wine, of The Outlaw.
As the months passed, the anticipation of who would race got revealed, all classic names, and some surprises. Hearing drivers like Gary Porter, who just stepped away from driving a few years ago, didn’t surprise many. Others like Dave Wieczorek were recognized, but had not raced in nearly three decades. And then, there’s someone that showed up for one year, took the industry by storm, and vanished. A kid that at one time was 19-years-old, but put in a truck that was a champion, and proven. Making his return to drive for the first time in 30 years was Greg Holbrook, in Equalizer.
Along with Kid Rarig in the Thunder Chicken, plus John Kwasniewski in Buffalo Tremor, it was becoming an event that no matter one’s age, was going to be must-see.
Months passed, anticipation grew, teams collaborated to make this an event that everyone would talk about and remember for years down the line. It ultimately became a two-day event, with a very limited amount of individuals getting an exclusive chance to get to witness practice. The hardened North Carolina clay was watered down, with one lane completely built, but another just barely put together. This would be the lane every driver would run to get an understanding of the trucks they were piloting.
Harper brought two trucks to use for his show, as Wine stepped into the truck Harper usually campaigned, ironically called Outlaw. Holbrook, meanwhile, got in the other Outlaw chassis to get a feel for a modern truck.
Johnny K, as he was nicknamed, got to utilize a chassis from Roger Gauger, normally outfitted with the Bootlegger body. Rarig had a truck campaigned by hall of fame inductee Terry Woodcock. Wieczorek had the duty of utilizing the Iron Warrior chassis, with his son-in-law, Aaron Basl, as crew chief. Porter got the duty of using the Hurricane Force truck, the first time and considering he was familiar with the type of truck it was, many seemed to believe he had the advantage.
The importance of practice was just to get each driver comfortable with their chassis, and as each pass went on, they seemed to feel better, gaining confidence. There were no special seats made for each returning man in the seat, but each got eager with each pass to get to the next day’s activities. The trucks themselves, no bodies, as they did not want to risk them getting damaged just learning how to drive.
No one would see the bodies until the next day, and even then, it was said there could be more surprises coming.
Saturday’s activities began early, as fans were already making their way to the fairgrounds, finding a parking spot, and getting in line to find their seats. At the top of the grandstands, right where fans entered in, they were greeted by two classic TNT vehicles that were restored to near perfection. On one side, the 1989 TNT World Champion Equalizer, with a fresh engine and some improvements to make the beautiful machine mobile. Beside it, the fully restored original Thunder Chicken, redone by mega-fan and friend of Rarig, Chris Mormanis. Fans could walk up, touch the truck, and many began already feeling the amazing vibe surrounding the show.
Once the gates opened, the souvenir stand was already seeing lines. Classic tees, hero cards, even retro caps were all on sale, and going quick.
On the track, a bigger surprise. All the trucks had their new bodies bolted on, and each one made near perfect to what it was back in the day. Well-known monster truck painter Trey Myers put his entire soul into every body, and each were absolutely right. From the maroon and chrome on Night Life II to the yellow and brick lettering on the Carolina Crusher. Donated bodies to help create Equalizer and Thunder Chicken, and finally a perfect look to Buffalo Tremor and Outlaw.
Each driver came out as the track party began, and fans then saw another old-school reveal. Ride truck owner Jeff Brock, after a long four years of dedication, unveiled the newly restored 4 Wheel Crazy Toyota, completely painted, exact same engine as in it’s prior life, and detailed to the nine’s.
Even the track officials went retro, as their crew shirts had the classic Renegade logo that was made famous in years past.
It had an exact old-school vibe, but it was just warming up.
Official announcer, and long-time voice of monster trucks, Scott Douglass, welcomed everyone to the show, getting emotional as some folks that came he had not seen in years. As the fans made their way to their seats, special guests came out and were welcomed with open arms. Out from a stretch limo that drove on the track came Ken Deppe, a former driver himself, got his start in TNT with Whiskey Business, then from the other side came John Breen, the man at the wheel of the old Chevrolet Mad Dog. Finally, coming out with a huge smile, came Heidi Moore, the wife of No Problem! driver John Moore.
Unfortunately, months earlier, John finally succumbed to cancer after a long battle, but Heidi’s tears were turned to joy seeing all the fans welcome her like family.
As one limo left, another came, longer than the other. Suddenly, the door opened, and for all the fans in the sport new and old, they got a treat as for the first time in over 30 years, Douglass would be joined in calling the action by the most recognizable voice in the monster truck industry, Army Armstrong.
And then, the biggest reveal yet. Armstrong had one more individual to welcome, someone no one had really seen at an event since 1989. With the fans on edge, out from the limousine came the first world champion driver, the 1988 driver of USA-1, Rod Litzau. The roar of the fans was loud, pronounced, and deafening.
Finally, after a round of pictures, it was time to get down to business. Unfinished Business was at hand, determining a racing champion, followed by a donut contest, and then freestyle.
The eagerness came to a head as qualifying set up the brackets, and right away in the opening round a pair of upsets came about. Fastest qualifier, Holbrook, got beaten by the slightest of margins by Wieczorek. Two races later, Johnny K stunned Wine to move on into the second round. The stunning upsets continued into the semi-finals, when Wieczorek shocked the favorite of the entire field, Porter, to move into the finals. Holbrook, meanwhile, went up as a fast loser and made his way back into the finals, getting a rematch with Night Life II.
It was then that the fans got a bit of a break, and watched the big screen. A video of the final race at the same fairgrounds was shown, a contest between No Problem! and Mad Dog, one that was victorious by Breen.
Douglass then took to the mic and said, “What if we could do that again?”
Suddenly, in the far corner, out rolled the first reveals of the night. A classic Mad Dog body, sitting on Tim Mente’s Storm Damage chassis, along with the first-ever reveal of a No Problem! tribute, mounted on Mike Vaters’ Black Stallion. As Vaters circled in front of the fans, out the driver’s window came Heidi, one hand on a picture of her husband, the other on her heart, tears in her eyes since not even she knew that the body was going to happen until literally she was taken back to see it.
Looking around, grown men with grey in their hair were in tears, because John was one of those good guys, helping everyone at any time, and not one person had a negative word to say about him. Tears in everyone’s eyes soon turned to anticipation, because that race in 1990 was going to get rerun as a special encore.
This time, Vaters put the No Problem! Bronco in victory late one more, and possibly final, time. Once parked in front of the crowd, after hammering a sky wheelie on the car stack, he pounded on the hood, winning the race with inspiration from above. For one final time, Vaters put his friend in victory lane, much to the delight of every fan in the crowd.
Finally, the time had come to crown the champion of TNT-Unfinished Business. Holbrook took the right lane, and Wieczorek took the left. Each were ready, and after being staged by the original TNT starter, Mike Speller, the lights went green, and only Holbrook launched. Suddenly the Night Life II Chevrolet stopped on the first hill, handing the win to the Equalizer.
In what could be a fitting finish, Holbrook got his championship that 32 years earlier he felt was stolen from him. His crew put the trophy on the roof as he rolled back to the pits, since his night was not done.
All six drivers then got strapped in, ready to sling a bit of dirt, as the donut contest was next. With no real winner, just crowd response, every driver lit up the tires and cycloned their way to the delight of the crowd. On this night, it was the man that certainly knew how to kick up some dirt that ultimately got the win, as Porter put the 1989 Chevrolet in victory much to the delight of the crowd.
As the rest of the field cooled off, from the far pit area came another surprise. Woodcock took his usual Cyclops machine and hit the track in a look dedicated to the machines that couldn’t be there that night. From Grave Digger to Awesome Kong, Pony Express and Clydesdale, the TNT Tribute did a favor to the delight of the fans, giving a preview to what freestyle would be all about.
Unfortunately, Johnny K would see his Buffalo Tremor sidelined for the night with steering issues, leaving five trucks to close out the show. Rarig got things started, and quickly ended, as on his first hit, the truck went up, and backwards, on the roof. First hit, first roll, and the crowd suddenly had the sense of, “This feels familiar.”
The next two trucks, Wieczorek and Holbrook, attacked the track, including taking chances on the van stack and the step-up jump, surprising the crowd for how well they were handling the trucks having not driven for three decades. Then, Wine came out and decided to do his own Tom Meents impression, as he rolled by the crowd, hung his hand out the window and got them pumped up to see the Ford F150 make noise.
He did just that, skying the truck on every hit, and settling down as if it was a pillow. He ran hard, flew high, kicked up dust and got cheered heavily for his effort.
That left one more truck, and it was the home-state boy. Porter fired up, but was instructed to pull out to the track and face the big screen, as a tribute to one of the hardest runners in the TNT era, and the entire monster truck industries, was shown to him for the first time. As he sat there, ready to get his run going, a track official climbed into the truck, instructing him to wait for his signal.
But why? He was ready to go, wasn’t he?
Douglass got back on the microphone and told the crowd that Porter was ready to do what he has done well for so many years, and that was freestyle. He then paused, took a breath, and had one more sentence to add on.
He turned the microphone back on, held it up and said to everyone in attendance, including Porter himself, “But, guess what? He’s not going to do it alone!”
Porter looked out the windshield, confused at what was happening. He didn’t expect to be joined by someone on the track. The other trucks had already ran, so the wonder was real, and the crowd felt it as well. Out from the secret hideout, away from all the fans and hidden where no one could see, rolled one more truck. The neon lights and white beadlocks made it clear that it was long-time driver, chassis builder, and great friend to Porter, Rick Disharoon, rolling out in his new Smokin’ machine. But, as the lights hit the truck, instead it was a surprise that not even Porter knew was coming.
His truck was outfitted with a classic Chevrolet C10 body, similar to what he normally would run, but this time it was clad in the original charcoal grey look for the Carolina Crusher. At that point, the two trucks fired up and put on a tandem freestyle that had every fan roaring loud, trying to keep up, and enjoying every moment.
Disharoon, despite having the front bumper coming loose, gave it his all for part of a run, but left the floor to Porter to finish it out. In the end, both trucks pulled right in front of the crowd to applause and praise. Porter came out with a smile on his face, hugged his friend, and took to the microphone to express his gratitude to Harper and the entire crew for what took place.
“I have tried to keep from crying all night, but I gotta say my eyes are gonna start sweating,” he said. The emotion of being able to have one final ride in his home state, and do so surrounded by his monster family, just overwhelmed at what took place.
All drivers then drove back out onto the track, not just those competing, but also those that were displayed. Every truck on the property came onto the performance area. During that time, Harper was asked to return to the announcer area, because every driver had a surprise for him. Holbrook and his crew took the trophy that was presented to him for his victory, and had every competing driver sign it. He came over and Holbrook then took to the microphone to give one more surprise on the night.
He told Harper that this event was his dream, and it became a reality, so all of the drivers presented Harper with the trophy so that he could take it home as his gift for such a stellar event. Harper tried to say it belonged with Holbrook and his family, but the Unfinished Business champion said that his trophy was being able to compete in front of the crowd, and that the trophy belonged to him.
Harper, clearly emotional, couldn’t believe that he in return would get a surprise after such an event.
Each truck got parked on the track, and at that point the post-show track party had fans come back down and mingle with their long-time idols. It was a fitting end to a practically perfect event.
It’s been nearly a month since that event took place, and still there’s so much buzz about it. Some attendees were immediately wanting to have another event like it, even a mini tour with different drivers. But in reality, doing so would take away the uniqueness and the special feeling of this show. TNT-Unfinished Business was billed as an event that would never be duplicated, and just the thought of doing so takes away the value of what it brought.
This event was deemed by some as the ultimate “One and Done,” and it should remain that way.
There will never be another event like what was seen in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 16. Not one negative comment has been said about the show, how it went, the surprises, and the feeling of gratification once it was over. For one night, that 60-year-old grandfather got to feel like a kid again, while watching their grandkid have the same smile as they did long ago.
Old school, and new school, joined together with love of monsters.