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Tom Meents Adds 14th World Championship in Maximum Fashion

It was a maximum night for the Max-D team in Orlando.

One night earlier, the heavens decided to literally, in every sense of the word, rain on the Monster Jam World Finals.  Rain started the night, delaying the opening festivities, and moving the encore to a precursor.  Yet, the weather decided to wait until the very end of the evening to deliver one of, if not the, most defining World Finals race of all-time.

A race that ended with fans cheering, while crew chiefs were hustling to get out of the elements.  But, it was a celebration night for the entire Grave Digger camp, as Brandon Vinson took home his first world title in the most insane way possible.

What was even more insane is the event concluded shortly before 10 p.m. and the track crew had to wait to do their job.

The Orlando weather was so severe, the dirt crew and designers had to wait to get their equipment on the floor.  Ever since 2014, the World Finals has expanded to have two separate days of competition, meaning the intense crossover track that fans saw one night earlier had to be transformed overnight into a freestyle setup for day two.  Not to mention, the track had to be ready for three separate competitions.

Because of the intense rain, it was clear the Saturday night show was ending without having the skills competition.  So, that part of the weekend got moved to Sunday.

The track crew was on a time crunch, as Sunday’s festivities didn’t start at 7 p.m. as the prior night.  Instead, it was three hours earlier, so with the elements not in their favor, but a goal in mind.  With all the weather that passed, the track crew should have been given awards because by mid-morning, the track was reset to include a pair of pods, a bus stack with five different ways to attack, and a center jump that would be utilized to a great extent.

The skies, although cloudy, were not showing as much signs of rain, but were giving peeks of sun.  It was going to be a much different track, and much different feeling, as fans filed into Camping World Stadium, ready to see what the second day of action had to offer.

It started with the two-wheel skills challenge, as eight different drivers got the opportunity to show what they have done all year, the ability to maneuver and control their truck on two wheels whether it’s balancing on the nose, the tail, or spinning into a sidewall cyclone.

Every driver brought their best, from Armando Castro blowing smoke out the snout of El Toro Loco on a moonwalk, to Tyler Menninga balancing his Grave Digger on a sidewall ride as he tried to get it into a cartwheel to balance on the nose.  Even Ryan Anderson, who just weeks earlier pulled off one of the most sinister and near eye-popping sidewall cyclones ever in a truck, had trouble as he tried the same move.  Unfortunately, the truck hooked too hard, rolling over, but he would pull it back onto the wheels much to the delight of the crowd.

However, the victor goes to the spoiler, or in this case the spikes.

Tom Meents rolled out Max-D, and backed right on top of the container in the far endzone, then managed to walk it off and nose wheelie halfway across the stadium.  He shifted to reverse, and moved right back to where he was, and suddenly as the rear end was coming down he hit the gas.  All the momentum he could get pushed the front tires up the container, hammering a reverse flip that saw the truck land back on the front tires.

Meents grabbed forward gears to pull the truck around, and in doing so won his second consecutive Two-Wheel Skills World championship.

The dirt crew continued to do some work on the track, but the focus then came to the big hill in the center, however more because of the backside instead of the launch.

The second title up for grabs would be the one introduced back in 2019, the High Jump.  Officials would have each truck back up to a center mound of dirt, giving each an equal opportunity to run to the step-up hill and soar to the skies.  The measurement of height would be from the ground to the highest point that the rear tires would reach at it’s peak, with distance measured to the thousandth of an inch or more if needed.

It was clear the hill would be a challenge, as Jim Koehler in Avenger would prove right away.  Koehler brought three different trucks to Orlando, and brought out his old chassis for this competition, wearing the 2017 emerald green S10 look.

Unfortunately for him, his hit caused the truck to rotate backwards, landing on the upper hill just like a turtle.

Other drivers struggled with the hill, including 2019 High Jump champion, Cynthia Gauthier in the Lucas Stabilizer Kenworth, and even world record holder Krysten Anderson in Grave Digger, who finished last due to having truck issues.

Luckily for the Anderson family, Ryan Anderson would soar to the skies nearly 40 feet in his Son-uva Digger machine to secure another Digger win on the weekend, joining Vinson as a champion.

It was then that the track crew would do the final prep for the afternoon, because the crews were getting a field of 24 drivers ready to make their quest a reality, as the Freestyle World Championship was now the one on the line.

Coty Saucier started the competition with his Dragon machine, filling the clock with a solid outing.  Much like all freestyle competitions this season, the fans would be the ones voting on it from 1-10, with the average score being the official one for the run.  However, added into the scoring this year would be three expert judges who also voted on every run in the same way.

The judges, the first freestyle world champion back in 2000, hall of famer Dennis Anderson.  The next, the true “Voice of Monster Jam,” Scott Douglass.  The last, the 2019 freestyle champion, Linsey Read.

Saucier would get a strong score of 7.373, and would hold that lead until first-time World Finals competitor Jamey Garner laid down a fantastic performance in his Over Board Chevy, taking the lead by exactly one-tenth of a point.  He would be followed by Vinson, trying to become the first driver since Meents to actually sweep both racing and freestyle at one show.

But, it would not be as Vinson made one hit in his Grave Digger, and saw a wheel snap off.  Because he did not complete a minimum of 30 seconds in his two-minute run, he would not receive any score for his effort.

Garner’s time in the lead did not last long, because two runs later a mutt came on the floor, a Monster Mutt piloted by Charlie Pauken.  The former world champion driver would put on a clinic in his pooch, including doing a sideways leap over the bus that caused a side-slap on the right side, forcing the truck onto the nose, but back onto the wheels.  The fans roared to life as Pauken continued on and filled his complete time.

As he exited the truck, he gave everyone in the stadium his historic “Chuckie Dance” and watched his run take the lead with a score of 8.343.

With two-thirds of the field remaining, staying in that lead would be a challenge.

But, every run that followed for the most part would fill the clock, but not be enough.  Koehler tried to keep his word as being the king of air, launching full speed into one of the pods and soaring so high the upper deck could look him in the helmet.  But his landing snapped off a wheel, and the silver Bel-Air only mustered enough for a 6.835.

Run after run would still not be enough, including some tough runners like Adam Anderson in his Grave Digger, or Cole Venard in Black Pearl, and even Todd Leduc in Blue Thunder still didn’t put up a number close enough to challenge the lead.

Pauken was sitting proud as it came down to the final two trucks on the night, but both already had titles in hand.

Meents first rolled out as the 23rd truck to perform, getting the crowd worked up before he put his Max-D machine through it’s paces.  The traditional big air launches were seen by the 13-time champion, and the crossovers, plus a backflip.  But it wasn’t until the latter part of his run where he would cross the entire way across the track, suddenly putting the truck on the right side tires.

The truck took a hop, going directly into a cartwheel, but somehow the man at the wheel pulled the truck out of the predicament, and with the fans in a frenzy he would go into another backflip, and spin the truck into another century.

A solid performance was enough to score an 8.615, taking Pauken out of the seat and taking over the lead with one truck left to run.

That truck has been so dominant in freestyle the last several years, but in this building has struggled with World Finals performances.  The Son-uva Digger machine won the final world freestyle title in Las Vegas in 2018, then took the final freestyle performance as part of the 2019 All-Star Challenge in the same venue.  Already having performed in every category for a world title up to that point, the only driver to do so, Ryan Anderson was ready to conclude this night in a big way.

Alas, this night was not to be.  Right off the bat, it seemed all the wear and tear from the weekend was shown, as the transmission was not running well.  Still, the battle was on as Anderson still put on a run that would be considered a classic by his standards.  Yet on this night, it was only enough for third.

With one truck left, Meents showed why he is known as the “Professor” of Monster Jam, as in one day he took home two championships, becoming a 14-time champion.  No other driver is anywhere near double digits in titles, and it is not even known how many more Meents could win as the years go on.

World Freestyle Championship scores in order of performance (Winner in BOLD)

  • Dragon:  7.373
  • Grave Digger-Weston:  7.176
  • Kraken:  DNF, breakage before needed time
  • Whiplash:  6.320
  • Over Board:  7.473
  • Grave Digger-Brandon:  DNF, breakage before needed time
  • Great Clips Mohawk Warrior:  6.727
  • Monster Mutt:  8.343
  • Earth Shaker:  4.437
  • Zombie:  7.934
  • Grave Digger-Krysten:  6.515
  • Bad Company:  8.174
  • Soldier Fortune:  7.226
  • El Toro Loco:  8.070
  • Avenger:  6.835
  • Grave Digger-Adam:  6.358
  • Black Pearl:  7.967
  • Lucas Stabilizer:  6.004
  • Megalodon:  DNF, breakage before needed time
  • Blue Thunder:  7.981
  • Bakugan Dragonoid:  7.052
  • Grave Digger-Tyler:  7.788
  • Max-D:  8.615
  • Son-uva Digger:  8.297

As part of the closing festivities for the afternoon, and now evening, Monster Jam was set to honor the truck and team that has been at the pinnacle of on-the-edge driving and performance for 40 years.  Starting in 1982, the Grave Digger name showed why they weren’t bad, but the bad didn’t mess with them.

First onto the track, honoring that first truck that made a name in the mud, a red primer Digger, complete with yellow rims.  Out second, the first look for the panel van in the mid-1980’s wearing the grey and blue colors, the Legend returned.  Following the timeline, that same panel van got a makeover in 1987, donning a paint scheme that has now become infamous.

To match the original truck that is currently being restored back at the Digger Dungeon, out rolled a competition truck wearing the first spooky paint scheme, nicknamed “Grandma.”  The fourth Digger, a more traditional look, but had the added decals to honor the 25th Anniversary back in 2007.

Last to roll out, a very iconic look that honored 30 years of the Digger in 2012, the 3D purple Digger.  Then, making a special appearance, the newest Digger in the fleet, the Grave Digger XL ride truck, saw Dennis Anderson at the wheel, and picked up all the current and even former Digger drivers from their trucks, driving them to the sidelines to witness what was coming.

Out of the tunnel, the last Digger, carrying the current 40th Anniversary look, with Adam Anderson as the pilot.

The oldest Anderson boy made a lap around the track, before rolling up to the biggest hill, where all five prior trucks parked nose-to-tail.  Anderson then let the truck roll slowly down the hill, and shifted to reverse, backing directly out of the stadium.

Cameras at the ready, drivers watching on, the 40th Anniversary would be honored in a big way as Anderson pushed the loud pedal and entered the stadium full-tilt, launching over all five trucks, landing on the tires.  The truck stopped just prior to the wall as fans celebrated, and Anderson launched into a cyclone.

To end it, Anderson crawled up the backside of the last Digger in the line, showing the lineage of the most iconic truck in Monster Jam, and closing out the second World Finals in Florida, concluding a show that was two years in the making after the pandemic stole it away in 2020.

Next year’s World Finals will not be in Orlando, however, as Feld Entertainment will return to their rotating schedule of venues for their biggest event.  In 2023, the World Finals heads north to a town where it’s all about honoring legends of a different type, ones that may wear cowboy hats, cowboy boots, and strum a few strings on a guitar.

The 2023 World Finals will take place at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.

Info on the event will be released later in the year, but one thing will be for certain, Monster Jam will be looking to make it’s own mark in Music City, and might have to enjoy a night at the Grand Old Opry to make it complete.

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