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Sylvester Caps Off Outlaw Drags with Championship Sendoff

It was in early 2020 when the first official Outlaw Monster Truck Drags event was announced.  Set for a holiday celebration, it was billed as a show that would change the idea of what a monster truck show should be.  The pandemic immediately put that idea to a halt, and yet there was still a preview of what was potentially coming.

A pay-per-view event that had only teams, invited guests, photographers and other necessary staff in attendance.  The course was fast, intense, and maybe a bit spooky, but the point was to make actual racing more exciting.

Over the last three years, the race courses have been some of the most intense and fastest that have ever been created.  It has led to some moments that could have led to chaos, and some moments of actual chaos.

The 2023 season for the Outlaws is the first to include points for all competitions, from qualifying to skills, racing and freestyle.  Add in the combination of competing at the 4-Wheel Jamboree, and it made for one of the tightest and most challenging series on the year for any driver.  After a pair of strong showings, the season finale would take place at the venue where the original debut was to be on July 4, 2020, but has in the last two years seen some major moments and some of the best crowds in the sport.

In keeping with the jamboree theme, the Outlaw Drags descended on a historic venue in the history of those events, the Canfield Fairgrounds in Canfield, Ohio.  Alongside the Rooster Rally Car Show, fans would get the chance to look at some hot rods, vintage vehicles, classics and then see all the monsters down in Thunder Alley.  With the points extremely close, all assets in the show would be critical.

Just being able to handle the track is something that each show has seemed to be a challenge for some, and Canfield was not to be any different.  A five-jump setup was put down on a 450-foot distance, using the same spot that weeks earlier the Pro Pulling League and USA East pullers utilized at the Canfield Fair.  An immediate roller would lead into what could be called a “monster motocross” obstacle that had a hill that launched onto a small plateau, which at the end included a k-rail kicker that allowed the trucks to land on the backside of a smaller down ramp.  At the end of the track, the big jump, with a pair of school buses stacked with the rear bumpers touching, launching the trucks either skyward to the finish, or onto the step-up on the opposite side.  In the center, a steeper jump on both sides that would get utilized in freestyle.

A late afternoon start to the festivities gave a great chance to see the competition without having to fight with lights or heavy night time traffic, and once the National Anthem was sang, the fight for a title began.

Right away, the track was proving to be a bit of a battle, as both Joey Sylvester in Bad Habit and Rodney Tweedy in USA-1 each got a bit out of sorts in qualifying.  What came as a big surprise was the driver that was not even expected to be driving the truck he was in.

Usual Monster Patrol driver, Austin Tweedy, was on hiatus from driving as he and his wife welcomed a new addition to their family, so he was spending time at home.  Triple B Motorsports made a phone call to a very seasoned driver that was not intimidated by the famous name, as Buddy Tompkins would travel up to pilot the winged machine, and would put all drivers on notice as he would lay down a solid qualifying pass, hitting the track with a blistering pass and set the tone for the remainder of the field.

It was not until the final pairing when everything changed in both the bracket and the points.  Tommy Varilone lined up the Rampage Ram against Dalton Van Skyock in Stomper, who had the truck back to about 90% after his hard wreck the weekend prior in Indianapolis.

Qualifying was not kind to Rampage’s Tommy Verilone.

The k-rail kicker at the end of the plateau bit Varilone in a big way, kicking him hard to the right off the jump, landing hard on the right-front tire.  The landing was so violent that the crew and even photographers could hear parts break.  When the truck rolled to a stop right by the barrier, it was leaning hard left, and Varilone could see the disappointment.  His day was over, as was his hope of winning the championship.

The landing broke the limiting strap on the left front of the axle, and in doing so pulled the shock shafts right out of the housing.  All the fluid ran down the tire, along with a title opportunity.

The young guns had some fun doing some side-by-side racing before the big boys came back out to show off some skills on the pulling track.  Skyock hammered the backside of the hills, trying to get a wheelie off the k-rails, but could not get the rebound he wanted.  Tompkins then followed with a nose walk and popper that brought the wing to the sky and crowd to their feet.  Tweedy tried to follow that up with a pair of sky wheelies, but sounded to be lagging on power.

On his second attempt, puffs of smoke were coming out the #2 exhaust header, a sign that the engine was not running well, despite the crowd being behind the pearl white Chevrolet.

“Hot Rod’s” other son, Logan, brought out the black Bear Foot to put on a pounce on the track, pulling a nose wheelie on his second hit.  Colton Kiser then roared from the pit in the American Scout, trying to get his machine to bounce, but after the second hit pulled into the pit area, seemingly having issues on the front end with steering.

Despite a strong effort by Sylvester, and a double-popper moment from Preston Perez in Toxic, Tomkins was proving that he still could get the job done at the wheel after being out of the seat for a while.

After a cool down period, the first round of competition began in a bit of chaotic fashion.

Father vs. son would start things off as USA-1 took on Bear Foot, and the k-rails claimed another victim, but in a different way.  Rodney hit the rail as hard as he could to get the leap, but the jump kicked him into the landing, sending the 1972 Chevy skyward and almost into the wall.  Logan would fly to victory, but that was just the beginning of the calamity.

After a bye-run from Perez, Sylvester even cased the left lane rail against Skyock, pulling the 2023 Jeep Gladiator down to the dirt in time to hit the bus jump to move into the semi-finals.  Tomkins got the easy bye-run with Varilone in the garage.

After the BMX team filled a bit of gap, the semi-finals turned out to be another one-sided affair.  Perez was trying to get to the line, as Sylvester was waiting.  But the truck would not come to life, and the clock ran low, giving Sylvester the easy ride to the finals.  On the opposing side, it could be considered a fighter pilot race as Tomkins and Logan Tweedy as both were going opposing ways on the railing.  It was becoming clear that the second half of the motocross hill was going to be a deciding factor in racing, as Tompkins leaned hard right on the landing, with Logan going hard left.

The winged Chevy Monster Patrol managed to get across the line first, as Tompkins seemed to be ready to pull the ultimate upset on the season, especially against a driver who was undefeated in Outlaw competition.

The anticipation began to build, with both coming to the line, and Tompkins electing for the same lane that he was just in that nearly cost him a victory.  The lights went green, and both charged hard over the plateau.  Just as expected, both went to their respective rails and went sideways, but it was at that moment things went beyond chaotic.  Tompkins landed so hard the right-rear bead lock dug into the dirt, while the truck was doing it’s best impression of a cheerleader flexing at the top of an extension.  Sylvester, however, had more to worry about as he went hard right on the landing, landing so hard he actually almost cut across the track into Tompkins, who was gathered up at the bus but not lined up.

Sylvester stopped in time to avoid collision, as Tompkins rolled to a stop.  Sylvester jammed into reverse, while Tompkins was also doing the same…but no power was coming to the engine.  Try as he might, he was hitting the fuel and ignition, with no fire.  Sylvester made it across the line in victory in one of the wildest final rounds seen in quite some time, while Tompkins undid his belts, then tossed the steering wheel out the opening in the windshield lexan in defeat and anger, climbing from the truck to walk to the trailer to calm down.

His crew came out to move the truck back to the pits, but Sylvester even knew the track was

In the pits he walked back visibly frustrated, knowing he had Sylvester covered, only to have the RII be his demise in the end.  It was then discovered that he blew a radiator hose as well and all the coolant had drained out from the engine.  Just salt on a wound, and not how he wanted his fill-in role to come to an end.

OUTLAW MONSTER TRUCK DRAGS

  • Round 1:  Bear Foot def. USA-1; Toxic Bye-Run (American Scout unable to make call); Bad Habit def. Stomper; Monster Patrol Bye-Run (Rampage broken)
  • Semi-Finals:  Bad Habit Bye-Run (Toxic unable to make call); Monster Patrol def. Bear Foot
  • Finals:  Bad Habit def. Monster Patrol

Track officials moved the starting line tree and the finish line flags off the track, because the time had come with a crowd ready for a big finale, as freestyle was now on for the Canfield Outlaw Monster Truck Drags.

Skyock started things off, still trying to get the truck to stand on the wheelie bar, but could not get the rebound he wanted at any point.  Still, he was not afraid to go after the big obstacles at the end of the race lanes, stepping up on both sides of the bus and the center kicker.  The Bear Foot Ram then provided the first “oh my” moment of the night when Logan launched the black bear off the step up and stood the nose straight to the sky

He did it not just once, but twice, bending the flag pole he was flying off the back into a taco shell, finishing off with a popper that put the grille almost to the dirt.  The crowd quickly gave him the lead with still six more trucks in the lineup.

The elder of the bunch, Rodney, came out even with a slightly hurt motor and showed why he was chosen as the latest driver to take the wheel of what has long been considered “America’s Monster Truck.”  Although he did not put the tailgate in the dirt, especially since the body was brand new as of last weekend, he put on a show for the crowd, some that had waited 30 years to see USA-1 run again as the last time it performed in Canfield was in 1993.  Rodney was here last year with USA-1, but failed to perform when the flywheel would not engage on the starter, ending his night literally at introductions.

Perez came out second-to-last and proved exactly why he was chosen to take over the original Toxic machine that Cory Snyder piloted for several years.  His high-momentum run would take over the lead and put him in the running for the overall title on the night and in the season championship battle.

Logan would make a quick pass in Monster Patrol as a thank you to the fans, as Tompkins had already changed out of his firesuit, which left only one individual remaining.

Sylvester paraded his purple and orange Jeep in front of the stands, then pulled right to the end of the track.  He made one final pull on the belts, and laid into the Yokohama “hater cut” Prime X tires.

For almost five minutes, he would not stop hammering on the truck, soaring high enough to where the folks at the back of the grandstands were at eye level with the cab.  The truck kicked up dirt with even the easiest hit of the throttle, soaring with little effort, and landing with no trouble at any point.

When the run came to a close, it was clear that the winner on this night was the hometown boy, a kid that had a crazy idea years ago and made it a reality.

The championship trophy for Joey Sylvester would be the last one he would earn as a driver. The hometown crowd was the first to learn he was retiring as a competitor.

It was after his run ended that Sylvester took to the microphone to make an important announcement for the fans, and everyone involved.

“I’ve had a career of 18 years in professional racing.  I’ve driven monster trucks from here, to Saudi Arabia, to California, Canada, and Mexico.  I love nothing more than entertaining my friends and family here in my hometown,” he said while holding back emotion.  “You all just witnessed the last time I will ever drive a monster truck.  This is my retirement show, and you all are the first to find out about it.

“I’m moving on from it, but I will still be promoting the Outlaw Monster Truck Drags, and we will be coming back to my hometown, and we will continue to push the limits with guys like Logan, with Toxic (Preston).  We will continue to be here, continue to travel the country, and continue to be entertaining.  What you just saw was my last freestyle in Bad Habit.  I’ve had a very grateful career, grateful for the fans I’ve made and friends that I’ve made along the way.  From everyone that’s been behind me racing sprint cars, to off-road trucks, to monster trucks.  I can’t think of a better way to end my career in monster trucks than right here in my hometown.”

With his mom, Kathy, and sister, Krysta, looking on wearing classic and current Bad Habit gear, and his wife, Gabby, trying to hold back the tears welling up in her eyes, the original outlaw monster truck driver closed a career that is unlike any in the sport.

Sylvester retires as a driver that has held three Guinness World Records, two of them being current as he still holds the long jump record of 237 feet and 11 inches.  It was a year ago when Sylvester set a new speed record in a monster, topping over 101 MPH on the drag strip.

He’s accomplished everything he could imagine, making a name for himself all his own that no one can match.

As the Outlaw Drags came to a close, his family, friends and fans, plus competitors alike greeting him with giving thanks and respect, closing out a season with a championship run, allowing the monster truck outlaw to ride off into the sunset.

The Outlaw Drags are not going anywhere, and will be back in 2024.  One new driver will be entering the battle, but will not even try to come close to what Sylvester was able to do on the track when the Drags came to town.

Watch and see where the Outlaws will be coming next year, because they will not only push the limits, but will shatter them every time they hit the track.

About Dustin Parks

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