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Jamey and Zack Garner Steal the Show at Monster Jam World Finals

Over the last two decades when it comes to the biggest event every year for Monster Jam, normally the moments that are recalled involve a lot of destruction, hang time, big moments and hyped crowds.  That comes at the part of the event that has one truck getting the chance to hit the track and do whatever they want in order to leave the crowd in awe.

Little did everyone that made the trip to Los Angeles, California, expect that the highlight of the grandest event on the schedule would be the part that many were skeptical with when it was first announced.

In addition, no one ever expected to see one name provide the biggest highlights of the entire day at the same venue.

The one-day affair for Monster Jam at Sofi Stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, began with the massive pit party prior to the show where fans got to get close to the drivers, the trucks, and also see some surprise unveilings as part of the event.  Anything from the unique reverse-color ThunderROARus that Colt Stephens was running for the weekend, to the unveiling of the new Sparkle Smash unicorn-based machine that was being driven for the pre-show stunt by Kayla Blood.  Some even saw the unveiling of the Fortnite display, and also got an RC show as they waited for the main event.

The driver stage allowed many to hear from the competitors, see some insight, but at one point, long-time Monster Jam media personality Leslie Mears sat on stage with Max-D driver Tom Meents.

The two discussed Tom’s final year at the wheel of a truck, a year that got cut short due to an injury, and his move towards being a teacher and coach at the Monster Jam training facility.  During the interview, the discussion moved to seeing some faces that he helped train in the early years up to today.  At that point, one of the drivers of El Toro Loco came to the stage, Jamey Garner.  Although he himself had not worked alongside Meents, he competed with him over several years.  His wife and son, both drivers themselves, got to do some training with Meents to advance them into the competitors they are now.

Garner discussed, or roasted, how he was not given a chance to learn from Meents at the university, but also said at the least he owed him all the dinners throughout the season for training two other drivers on the team.

But, no one ever anticipated the surprise that was coming.

Hiding in the background behind the curtain was Meents’ daughter, Hannah, who was also in on the surprise.  On the stage as Meents looked at Garner, the El Toro Loco driver explained what was happening.

Tom Meents literally shook in disbelief at the gift he received from Jamey Garner. Photo Credit: Coty Saucier.

“Between me, your daughter, Mark Cole, and all the Paxton (Illinois) people, I came up with something special with your daughter,” Garner said, “And buddy, right there it is!”

Meents turned to his left to look at a side-by-side rolling up with a tow rope.  In an instant, the man that always had words for every fan that he spoke to and every question ever asked of him, was left in awe, with no words to speak.  Emotion and tears began rolling across his face.

What he saw in front of himself, the fans, and his peers, was the fully restored original machine that first introduced Meents to the motorsports world, his mud racer, Shake Me.

The chassis repaired to the specs when it was last ran, from the Ford 9-inch rear to the big block Chevrolet engine, the paint scheme and the cut tires, everything was exactly as it was when he ran it.  Everyone, both on the stage and in the crowd, could not believe their eyes at what they were seeing.  Garner somehow was able to keep secret a project that took just over two months to complete.  Even Hannah had to keep things a secret from her father, something she likely hated to do until the moment arrived.

Cole, who had been a long-time crew member and even crew chief to Meents, lives mere minutes from Meents, had the machine in his home garage being worked on and he even had to figure out how to keep the surprise from being exposed.  The man that many know as “Beaver” felt as though he had some extra help from an external source.

Last year, Meents lost his biggest supporter, his father, Bill.  Cole knew the Meents family and just as Tom had done when he lost his grandmother, he offered to be there for him.  Cole almost felt as if Bill was right there helping him put it back together, since he initially had no idea where any of the pieces to the puzzle went.

In the end, everyone kept their word, and Meents, aside from a lot of thank you’s to the crew, and his family, literally had no other words to give.

Garner managed to pull off the first surprise, but his night was not done as far as being emotional.

One of the biggest discussion points leading into the World Finals in L.A. was the actual race course.  From 2000 through 2018, the course for the big event in Monster Jam was in Las Vegas at Sam Boyd Stadium and the same layout every year was used.  A start outside the venue that led to a corner, then a blast into the venue to the opposite end at a fast pace.  It then caused drivers to slow down, cut a hard corner, and fly over the finish line.  In 2019, Orlando hosted the event, and elected for a layout that had drivers actually drive into the stadium from an elevated spot.

The return to Orlando in 2022, after the pandemic halted the big event for two seasons, saw a much different layout.  A tail-to-tail start that led into a crossover setup provided a lot of interesting races, but the final round between Ryan Anderson and Brandon Vinson is still talked about.

It is still because the race happened in a full-on downpour that even included a flash of lightning.  Even now it’s a wonder the two could see through the entire race.

Last season, the setup in Nashville had another elevated start, but instead went into a two-turn course that felt similar to the St. Louis-style that some stadiums used during the season.

For Los Angeles, the track designers decided to do something that Monster Jam had not done for the World Finals.  The layout would include the entire floor, making the racing championship one that is in the hands of the drivers more than ever before.  An S-shaped track that began with a roller and led into a step up then had the drivers have two different corners to face.  The left lane entered a tight left that had drivers deciding to stay on the flat surface, or try to use the embankment.  The right lane had to sweep around to flat track into the center portion.  Each lane had the same obstacle coming, in the form of a sky jump with a sloped landing.

Each lane would make a right turn, but have the opposite setup as the left lane now had the sweep, with the right heading into a tight fit.  The last stretch, aside from a small roller to scrub off some outside speed to keep the trucks from flying into the wall led into the finish line launch.

Online, and even in some podcasts, some were skeptical on if the layout would be a decent setup because many were already trying to figure out how it would work for a freestyle track with 24 trucks.  No one was really looking at the racing potential.

By the time the opening two rounds of racing were over, many found themselves eating their words, and then having to eat more as a dessert.

No one, whether a fan, a driver, a crew chief, announcer, or icon in the monster truck industry ever anticipated what was going to come.  The S-course proved to provide some of the absolute best racing that the World Finals has ever produced, but in doing so it also produced some of the biggest and most unexpected moments anyone could think of.

The first round alone put together some of the early upsets, anywhere from a last-chance qualifier taking down a name-brand sponsored truck, it was the beginning of one of the biggest busted brackets for even the most seasoned of odds-making individuals.

What ultimately stole the show was the same name that presented Meents with his mud racer, but the next generation.  Zack Garner would earn the opportunity to his first World Finals in Wild Side, qualifying in the middle of the field for racing, but eager to prove that he belonged on the big stage.

Garner himself had to make it from the opening round, beating the Avenger of Jim Koehler, but no bigger upset came than in the next round when he took out a two-time racing champion in Adam Anderson with Grave Digger.  That round alone would see all the Digger trucks, three Grave Diggers (Tyler Menninga, Adam Anderson and Weston Anderson) plus the Son-Uva Digger of Ryan Anderson go down in defeat.  The other Digger, driven by Krysten Anderson, lost in the opening round.

For the first time, the round of 8 would not include the most popular truck on the circuit, and the upsets kept going as Garner kept going round by round, making it to the finals in his first-ever appearance at the event.

The final round came down to him, and the defending racing champion, of Tristan England in the JCB Digatron backhoe.

Both had their favored lanes, as Garner took the left lane, then England in the right.

This final round, and the entire racing bracket, stole the show from the World Finals.

Both left the line hard, kept smooth, and hit the first corner in what could be considered an even run.  Garner took the advantage with the inside corner, and England keeping pace on the outside corner.  When the two swapped, Garner just kept the pedal down over the roller while England kept things tight out of the inner banking.

With the entire crowd standing, Garner blasted across the line and all of a sudden it felt like the Rams had won the Super Bowl again because the audience went electric with excitement.  Jamey was in tears as crews from all around were embracing him, including Meents, as the emotion began rolling out.  His son, in his first appearance, made an impact with the most unpredictable championship victory.

MONSTER JAM WORLD FINALS RACING
Note:  24-truck bracket had fastest 8 trucks seeded into second round.  They will be listed in CAPS for Round 2.

  • Round 1:  JCB Digatron (Tristan England) def. Great Clips Mohawk Warrior (Bryce Kenny), Dragon (Coty Saucier) def. Soldier Fortune (Kayla Blood), Velociraptor (David Olfert) def. Lucas Stabilizer (Linsey Read), Monster Mutt Dalmatian (Jamie Sullivan) def. Megalodon Fire (Cory Rummel), Jurassic Attack (Dalton Widner) automatic advance as Black Pearl (Cole Venard) unable to make call, Wild Side (Zack Garner) def. Avenger (Jim Koehler), El Toro Loco (Armando Castro) def. Scooby Doo (Brianna Mahon), ThunderROARus (Colt Stephens) def. Grave Digger Pink (Krysten Anderson).
  • Round 2:  JCB Digatron (Tristan England) def. GRAVE DIGGER PURPLE (Tyler Menninga), Scooby Doo (Brianna Mahon) def. Dragon (Coty Saucier)-MAX D (Blake Granger) would not shut off on RII test and was not able to run, Velociraptor (David Olfert) def. SON-UVA DIGGER (Ryan Anderson), Monster Mutt Dalmatian (Jamie Sullivan) def. GRAVE DIGGER ORANGE (Weston Anderson), Jurassic Attack (Dalton Widner) def. MEGALODON (Todd Leduc), Wild Side (Zack Garner) def. GRAVE DIGGER (Adam Anderson), BAKUGAN DRAGONOID (Camden Murphy) def. El Toro Loco (Armando Castro), ZOMBIE (Bari Musawwir) def. ThunderROARus (Colt Stephens).
  • Round 3:  Velociraptor (David Olfert) def. Monster Mutt Dalmatian (Jamie Sullivan), JCB Digatron (Tristan England) def. Scooby Doo (Brianna Mahon), Wild Side (Zack Garner) def. Jurassic Attack (Dalton Widner), Zombie (Bari Musawwir) def. El Toro Loco (Armando Castro)-Bakugan Dragonoid unable to continue due to breakage.
  • Semi-Finals:  JCB Digatron (Tristan England) def. Velociraptor (David Olfert), Wild Side (Zack Garner) def. Zombie (Bari Musaswwir).
  • Third-Place Race:  Velociraptor (David Olfert) def. Zombie (Bari Musawwir)
  • Championship:  Wild Side (Zack Garner) def. JCB Digatron (Tristan England)

Even as he came from the track to the stage, drivers and crews were stopping him to give their embrace.  Guys like Cory Rummel of Team Scream, all the Andersons, some in tears after being on tour with him all year, Murphy returning while the crew repaired his broken truck, to the biggest-sponsored independent team at the event, the Hall Brothers.  The crew of Nathan Smith, fellow driver Daniel “Cheech” Agosh, stopped him to show how much it meant to the independent teams, funding the passion for the sport out of their pockets with or without a big sponsor, that one of their own was a champion.

At that point, it did not matter what happened for the rest of the night.  Even with a great night of freestyle that saw Menninga take his world championship, the talk of the entire Monster Jam community was the racing…THE RACING!

For the first time since a monsoon-soaked final round, the side-by-side competition has become the biggest discussion in the monster truck industry.  That is a moment that possibly may never happen again.

The next World Finals happens next May, and is moving a few states east as the biggest event of the year for Monster Jam now moves to Salt Lake City, Utah.

But, for one day, the Garner family can say they stole the show.  A gift for an icon in the entire monster truck industry started it, and a gift from son to father capped it off.

Family headlined the Monster Jam World Finals, and one family ultimately stole the show.

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