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Monsoon Monster Champion: Grave Digger’s Brandon Vinson Wins World Title

The 40th Anniversary campaign culminated in one of the craziest ways possible.

It has been over three years since the biggest company that puts on monster truck events got to hold it’s marquee show.  Three years since a world-class field would battle it out for the biggest prizes in the entire industry.  Almost 1000 days since thousands of fans would clamor to see their favorite drivers, trucks, and see the surprises that would come along as time passed.

The Covid-19 pandemic stole away the Monster Jam World Finals in 2020, and nothing was planned for the following year.  Yet, as time went, restrictions eased, fear suppressed, and more importantly, people began returning to a more familiar lifestyle.

With that, the folks at Feld Entertainment felt it was time to give the people what they had been waiting on for a long time.

After a two-year hiatus, the Monster Jam World Finals returned, featuring the 24 best drivers in competition, including five series champions, some familiar faces, and first-time entries into the field.

It returned to the place it was held in 2019, Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, complete with an entirely new over-under crossover track.  Most of all, it returned with fans clamoring to see what was going to happen.

A stacked field saw no team more dominant than the one celebrating 40 years in the business.  With it’s patriarch, Dennis Anderson, surrounded by a full fleet of his namesake machine, Team Grave Digger was out in force with six machines carrying the Digger name.  All four of Anderson’s kids were competing this year in the World Finals, the first time ever they would face each other.  Arena Series East belonged to the youngest man at the wheel of Grave Digger, and the newest, Weston “Teeny Man” Anderson.  His sister, Krysten, took home Arena Series Central.

Big brother Ryan Anderson, piloting the Hoonigan Son-Uva Digger, took victory in Stadium Series Yellow, while former World Racing champion Adam Anderson, the oldest of them all, returned to get his title back.

Add in Arena Series West champion Brandon Vinson, plus Stadium Series Yellow runner-up Tyler Menninga, and 25 percent of the field got filled in some way by a Digger.

The biggest name in Monster Jam didn’t come without celebrating in style, as the Digger compound in the pit party had the honor of celebrating 40 years, doing so in a rather unique way.  One Digger sported a red primer body, nearly exactly like what the first Digger had when Dennis himself first said, “I’ll take this piece of junk and dig you a damn grave.”  Next in line, the first look for when the Digger went to a van, sporting the blue and grey of years past.  Third in line came a Grave Digger looking beat up, but in good shape.  Sporting a replica of the first spooky paint scheme, one machine got to wear the “Grandma” colors.  Two more honored a pair of anniversaries, one with the 25th look from 2007, and the last sporting the chrome purple design for 30 years back in 2012.  With three more trucks hanging overhead via tow trucks, the 40th Anniversary was one the Digger wanted to finish strong.

But, guys like Tom Meents in Max-D, fresh off his own Stadium Series Red title along with being top qualifier, were eager to end the festivities.  Even fresh blood came in, ready to compete, with Cole Venard returning to the big show in Black Pearl, along with a first-time appearance by teammate Jamey Garner in the festive blue Over Board.

Also returning to the World Finals was another anniversary, that being Jim Koehler in his Avenger Bel-Air.  Much like in years past, his truck debuted a special look for the World Finals, this time a beautiful silver look to honor Koehler’s 25 years in the sport along with neon green accents.  Two of his other iconic looks from years past, the emerald green from 2017 plus the ever-popular patina, were on display.

As fans looked on at the near 50 monsters that were brought in for the pit party, the track crew was busy reworking the track from qualifying and a day of non-activity.  Designers decided to do a track not used in the stadium before, and one fans had not seen anywhere for a few years.

With two trucks sitting tail-to-tail on the sidelines, drivers launched and worked around to the end zone to the first jump, before immediately slowing down for the first tight corner.  This is when it got a bit challenging, because on one end a truck is going over a hill that is taller than the opposing truck.  Meanwhile, the other must navigate through a tunnel between the two ramps the other truck is jumping and landing.

The over-under design then swapped after the trucks made another tight corner to go back over the finish line jump, swapping who was navigating the tunnel and the jump before coming to the final corner and pushing across the line.

As the afternoon wore on, and fans began filing in, the track crew stayed busy grooming the track, along with setting up for a special encore performance to close out the night.  However, something else decided to put a little bit of a kink in the plans.

Skies began to get grey, then dark grey, and eventually, the Florida weather changed the course of the night.

What was to begin at 7 p.m. instead had to be delayed because the deluge of a downpour made it unsafe for anyone to be on the track.  Fans were told to seek shelter, keeping away from the rain and potential lightning, and suddenly the biggest event of the season had an entirely different feeling.

Once the rain stopped, the track crew went to work, grooming the top layer of mud off, hoping to find some tackiness underneath.  Already aware this happened a couple years prior, it was as though they understood what to do, and surprisingly got the track in decent condition.  Fans then got to come back into the stadium, and were ready to see the first world champion crowned in nearly three years.

But, that would come later, because instead of an encore, fans got a treat and instead got a precursor.

In the center of the track, a super kicker hill was set up, complete with what almost appeared to be a makeshift pinball wall.  Then, onto the track, Meents drove out the special Monster Jam 30th Anniversary stunt truck, complete with a new body and new design.  But, the tires were put on backwards…why?

Five years earlier, then-teammate Neil Elliott wowed the World Finals crowd in Las Vegas when he performed the first forward-momentum backflip in a monster truck, sticking the landing and driving off.

Meents was going to attempt the same thing, but would do so…blind.

The Max-D driver wasn’t blindfolded, nor losing his sight.  Instead, he was trying to perform the same forward momentum backflip…while driving in reverse.

He would plant the accelerator, and the truck hit the kicker with all the speed the truck had, rotating a full 360 degrees through the wall, and landing.  The truck bounced on the rear tires, and ultimately landed on it’s side.  It wasn’t how Meents planned the stunt, but it sure got the crowd that was eager for some action roaring with gratitude.

At that point, it was time to finally start the racing bracket.  With 24 trucks, the fastest eight automatically were moved into the second round, with No.9 qualifier, Weston, taking on the slowest qualifier due to a rough pass, Kayla Blood in Soldier Fortune.

Not surprisingly, through the first round, all but one higher seed would move on.  The lone exception, Cory Rummell in Megalodon upsetting 15th-fastest qualifier, John Gordon in his newly done neon orange Bad Company.

But, the second round is when things got a bit interesting.  Weston was looking to pull the big upset over Meents, but unfortunately on his trip on the over-under, namely the over, he did not hit the launch ramp straight on, ultimately sliding off the landing ramp and because of the slick track, slid into the outside wall, giving an easy win to the man known as Monster Jam’s “professor.”

However, the surprises came in a big way in this round, as Tristan England stunned No. 8 qualifier, Bari Musawwir in Zombie, to move into the quarterfinals.  Not to be outdone, the surprising 13th-fastest qualifier, Ryan Anderson, moved past Camden Murphy in Bakugan Dragonoid.  Venard then took out another heavy hitter, Todd Leduc in Blue Thunder, and Rummel added another big upset when he beat No. 2 qualifier, Coty Saucier in Dragon.

Vinson then upset Adam in the first battle of the Diggers, leaving only three to move into the round of eight.

That round paid dividends for the Digger team, as Menninga, Vinson and Ryan all moved into the final four, with England stunning Meents to take the fourth spot.  The track was holding up, showing some slick tendencies in the corners, and even on the landing ramp because of the immediate need to make the turn to head to the line.

It did not seem to effect the man with Hoonigan on his helmet and his hood, as Anderson made it to the finals for the third time in his career.  On the opposite side, in another battle of the Diggers, it was Vinson taking the victory over Menninga, setting up a final between two individuals who know each other very well.  For many years, Vinson was the man wrenching on Ryan’s truck, knowing just how to set it up and fixing every broken part just to go break it again.

The two drivers then rolled to the starting line, fans still taking in the site of what was to take place.  But suddenly, had to do so while trying to stay dry.

While both drivers were on the track, some rain began to fall again, immediately changing the track.

No time to waste, each rolled to the line, looked up at the lights, and when they went green hit the throttle, fireworks going off right when they left.  At the same time, the rain began picking up in an intense way, an entire monsoon hitting the track right as the trucks left the line.

There was no way either would let up, and neither cared what the conditions.  Each were going for it, with Anderson holding a slight lead as he hit the over part of the jump, immediately hitting the steering as he came down the ramp, trying to get the right angle to the jump.  Vinson took it easy in the corner, but hammered hard over the finish bump, trying to get his BKT’s to gain traction.

The intense rain caused all the worn-in areas of the dirt to shine, almost reflecting the lights from the stadium.  And still, both were hammering hard into the final two parts of the track, as Vinson made up the time over the hill, and Anderson was still spinning hard to head into the tunnel.

And then, it happened.

Anderson was going so hard into the tunnel, the left-rear tire caught the corner of a container, spinning him out as he came to the final corner.  At the near exact same time, Vinson landed on the down ramp of the over jump and was heading directly towards the wall.  Both drivers were in a bad way, and yet the race was not done.

Vinson somehow held the brake long enough to keep his Grave Digger off the wall, while Anderson had to slide to a stop almost to the opposite wall, having flattened the left-rear tire due to the contact with the container.  Almost going back to his training, and awareness, Vinson realizing where he was during his slide, slammed the transmission into reverse and with the slick track, his truck was suddenly facing the finish line.

He shifted into gear, spinning his tires as hard as they could, and the engine nearly hammering the rev-limiter, crossing the finish line to take home his first World Finals championship in what will without any fathom of a doubt be one of the most memorable, chaotic, unpredictable and unprecedented final rounds in not just World Finals, but monster truck history.

Anderson, meanwhile, crawled to a stop, as the monsoon poured down, and fans headed for shelter.

Vinson, himself got out of the truck, as if he didn’t care and did a rain dance on the roof, almost as if the rain was washing away all the craziness of the final round.  He would go on and say when he landed from the crossover jump and was heading to the wall, he hit reverse and he couldn’t believe he was facing the racing lane.  But then revealed as he was heading to the final jump, he lost second gear, so there was a chance that he could have lost the final round had his counterpart not had his own troubles.

That wild and unprecedented final round would ultimately be the final thing to happen during the Saturday portion of this year’s World Finals.  On the schedule was the World Finals Skills Challenge with eight competitors, but due to the intensity of the rain, there was no way that the track would be suitable for any other competition.

ROUND BY ROUND COMPETITION RESULTS:

  • ROUND 1:  Grave Digger-Weston Anderson def. Over Board, Earth Shaker def. Soldier Fortune, Son-uva Digger def. Kraken, Black Pearl def. Avenger, Megalodon def. Bad Company, Grave Digger-Brandon Vinson def. Lucas Stabilizer, Monster Mutt def. Whiplash, Great Clips Mohawk Warrior def. Grave Digger-Krysten Anderson.
  • ROUND 2:  Max-D def. Grave Digger-Weston Anderson, Earth Shaker def. Zombie, Son-uva Digger def. Bakugan Dragonoid, Black Pearl def. Blue Thunder, Megalodon def. Dragon, Grave Digger-Brandon Vinson def. Grave Digger-Adam Anderson, Grave Digger-Tyler Menninga def. Monster Mutt, El Toro Loco def. Great Clips Mohawk Warrior.
  • QUARTERFINALS:  Earth Shaker def. Max-D (Penalized), Son-uva Digger def. Black Pearl, Grave Digger-Brandon Vinson def. Megalodon, Grave Digger-Tyler Menninga def. El Toro Loco.
  • SEMI-FINALS:  Son-uva Digger def. Earth Shaker, Grave Digger-Brandon Vinson def. Grave Digger-Tyler Menninga.
  • FINALS:  Grave Digger-Brandon Vinson def. Son-uva Digger.

Now, the biggest challenge on this night was now in the hands of the track crew.  One day’s competition is done, but yet one more remains.  The track crew now has a task of hoping the rain stops long enough for them to get to work, and do a complete transformation of the racing surface into a stadium for freestyle.

On Sunday, the second part of the 2022 Monster Jam World Finals begins in the mid-afternoon, 4 p.m.  On the docket, the high jump competition along with freestyle.  It has not been determined whether the skills competition will be added, but even then the biggest question is not whether Vinson could double up and take the two biggest titles in the sport.

The biggest question is…will the weather cause more chaos like it did when determining the racing world champion?

Day two activities begin at 11 a.m. for the pit party, with doors to Camping World Stadium opening up at 2 p.m. for the main event.  The high jump and freestyle competitions will be followed with a very special Grave Digger 40th Anniversary encore, complete with the many looks of Grave Digger over the years, from the Legend look to Grandma, the first green chassis look with stacked lettering, and even the special 2006 “Green Ghost” edition Grave Digger.

World Finals 21 has already been one that will be talked about for years.  What is next?

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