The long wait, and the anticipation, had reached a fever pitch. Ever since the announcement came last year that the Monster Jam World Finals were making a move from it’s long-time home in Las Vegas to the southern tier of the country, the wonder of whether it would work was a constant question.
A new location, an entirely new track design, a smaller field; all these were new to Monster Jam, but it was clear when the sun came out on Friday morning that fans were ready to see what the new location had to offer.
Immediately, some of the things that the fans could see were the new layout inside Camping World Stadium. The entirely reworked starting line, set up on the second-level of the venue, with a downhill start, quickly grabbed eyes and was a major discussion point among many drivers, and crews, alike. The track from qualifying was still slick, but ready for some action later in the evening.
When the pit party opened, not only were there the 23 locked in trucks for the main event, plus the eight competing in the World Finals Showdown, on display, but an additional over 30 trucks were on hand to just hang out with the fans. Some even came out with all-new looks that debuted for the event, with some being one-off to never run another show.
The one guy that kept a trend going was former two-time freestyle champion, Jim Koehler, and his 1957 Bel-Air named Avenger. Ever since 2004, the World Finals have been an event where he ran a special body, many of which were run just once. Others, such as his famous blue sea body from 2009, get tucked away and ran just on a few occasions. But, for the World Finals, something unique always comes from the hauler of the Team Scream leader, and this year was no exception.
Trying to follow up last year’s look of a 1957 Nomad, Koehler went back to the classic car, but there was no green to be seen on the body. Instead, taking inspiration from the “Avengers-End Game” movie, his truck rolled off a flat bed blazed in glory, capturing a red, white and blue theme with stars on his front rims, stripes on the rear, as if Koehler channeled his inner Captain America.
It caught everyone’s eyes, knowing the potential that it would not look that way by the end of the weekend, but for now, it was shining bright.
Last year’s champions, the Anderson brothers Adam and Ryan, were ready to defend their championships on the entire new layout, but with a 23-truck field, there was one spot remaining to be set. That final spot would be filled by the preliminary event of the evening, the World Finals Showdown.
Fans got in their seats, and strapped in for the parade of trucks in the stadium, and it was officially time to get down to business.
The Showdown began with a few surprises, starting with an upset of sorts when Nick Pagliarulo in his Kragen Cadillac took an easy win over the third Anderson in the field, Krysten, when her Grave Digger failed to start while in the starting gate. At the same time, on the opposite side of the bracket, it was Linsey Read in Scooby Doo making a few surprises as she would make it through the first round over Mark List in El Toro Loco, then stunned everyone in the semi-finals when she took down Blake Granger in Max-D.
Pagliarulo was on point himself as he made it to the finals, but suddenly found himself having trouble in the pits. Read came to the line, but when Pagliarulo could not make the call to return. So, the man he beat in the semi-finals, took his place. That man was Tony Ochs in Soldier Fortune Black Ops.
Both took to the line and each launched hard, heading down the asphalt onto the dirt floor, but in the corner, Ochs spun tire. His truck kept swinging sideways, and Read then launched to by far the biggest moment in her career, becoming the first female driver to win the Showdown in order to make the main field.
A lot of other excellent female drivers have worked their way into the Showdown over the years, from Becky McDonough and Nicole Johnson to the aforementioned Anderson, but Read is officially the one to punch a hole in that glass ceiling, and had to quickly get ready for the biggest event of her life, as the racing bracket was yet to come.
Round 1: Soldier Fortune Black Ops def. Monster Mutt Dalmatian; Kraken def. Grave Digger-Krysten Anderson (DNS); Scooby Doo def. El Toro Loco-Mark List; Max D-Blake Granger def. Alien Invasion.
Semi-Finals: Kraken* def. Soldier Fortune Black Ops; Scooby Doo def. Max D-Blake Granger.
*Kraken unable to make the call for finals, Soldier Fortune Black Ops takes spot.
FINALS: Scooby Doo def. Soldier Fortune Black Ops.
Between the racing brackets of the main event and the Showdown, Monster Jam officially added their two-wheel skills challenge as a championship competition. Unlike the stadium events, drivers had two rounds to make two attempts to stun the crowd. Just like freestyle tomorrow night, the fans themselves would be the ones voting on the winner, the same way they have voted the last three years in such competition.
The highest score from either round would count for the driver, with the highest score overall claiming the title, so everyone was waiting to see what many of these drivers had planned on the night.
Unlike the racing bracket, only eight drivers were making a run at the two-wheel skills, but right away it was a guy that’s had a lot of experience over the years making the first impact. Brandon Vinson won the Triple Threat Central title in his Grave Digger, and part of his talent was setting up the truck to handle such abuse. Being a former crew chief, he watched his former driver, Ryan Anderson, and how he controlled his beast.
His first run on the night set a very early tone, as he popped the truck right onto the nose, and then not only drove off the pad while still being on the front tires, but then made it across the track using just throttle and brake control.
The crowd lost its mind, giving him the high score of the first round, 9.113 out of 10.
But, the second round things got even more exciting, and maybe a bit controversial. Vinson held his lead through a field of eight trucks, but when Tristan England made a second run in the Earth Shaker, his ability to walk across the floor pushed him to the lead with a 9.355.
Then, Tom Meents happened. His now infamous container roll-up and walk was not enough to get the lead in the first round, but in the second round he rolled up to the tallest hill on the floor, and popped the rear of the truck high in the air and waltzed the Max-D Fire machine almost to the tunnel, before hitting reverse and walking the entire way up the hill and back on the tires. His score: 9.548, a new leader.
But, the fans were not expecting what his teammate had to offer, and that became the most controversial decision of the night to that point.
Neil Elliott did a similar setup as he popped the back end in the air, but he utilized one of the long dirt pads to walk his way to the containers. Then, as he went in reverse, the back end began falling slightly. Rather than hit the brakes, Elliott hit the throttle and suddenly the front tires caught the logs at the front of the hillside. His Max-D did a reverse flip, but what stunned everyone is the rear tires never touched the ground. When it landed, the front tires, and the front clip, caught the dirt, and spikes shattered on the ground. Every fan lost their minds, but then got stunned when the scores went up.
Elliott only scored an 8.911, which meant Meents still held the lead, and he stayed there through the end, meaning the veteran driver officially claimed an unmatched 12th world championship.
2-WHEEL SKILLS RESULTS (Highest Score of 2 Rounds):
Grave Digger-Adam Anderson: 5.624
Grave Digger-Brandon Vinson: 9.113
Earth Shaker: 9.355
Max-D Fire: 9.548
Son-uva Digger: 7.895
El Toro Loco-Armando Castro: 7.402
Grave Digger-Tyler Menninga: 6.644
CHAMPION: Tom Meents, Max-D Fire
Finally, with the night skies showing nothing but stars and a crescent moon, the 24-truck field was set to get after its main challenge, the racing championship. All eight trucks that had just competed in the skills challenge got an opportunity to ensure things were tight and right, because it was all about control, speed, and handling on the new track.
Read certainly found her groove as her night started out strong as she took down Jon Zimmer in Dragon Ice. The usual cast of top drivers mainly got a break into round two, as the 24-truck field allowed the top eight to have an automatic bye. It was the second round, however, that saw some of the biggest upsets of the night.
Sadly, Read could see her opportunity of being the first Showdown champion to go on and capture the championship as the crime-fighting monster dog was down for the count, meaning Zimmer was getting a reprieve. He took the opportunity and chilled off Meents, stunning the third-fastest qualifier with a second-round loss.
At the same time, Bari Musawwir, the first-ever Showdown champion, made his way into the quarter finals with a win over Wild Flower, then Megalodon.
At the same time, the one truck that kept staying consistent through the first three rounds was a truck that had yet to win a racing championship, Jimmy Creten in the narrow and nimble Bounty Hunter. After taking out the BroDozer, he moved past England in Earth Shaker, then put a halt to Ryan Anderson’s quest to keep the Anderson name as a racing champion for three straight years.
Creten made that official in the semi-finals when last year’s champion, Adam Anderson in Grave Digger, spun out in the corner, putting the black-and-blue Ford Expedition in the finals.
On the opposite side of the bracket, Musawwir got a slight gift in his semi-final as Camden Murphy, who in his own right stunned the crowd by making it to the semi-finals in Bakugan Dragonoid, suddenly red-lit and handed Musawwir the easiest win of the night.
It came down to one final race. Seven races determined a Showdown champion, and another 22 brought the field down to two. The right lane was filled with the Zombie Fire machine of Musawwir, while the left lane saw the new-look Bounty Hunter, carrying a body in honor of the band Five Finger Death Punch. Creten rolled to the line first, hitting the stage lights quickly. Musawwir then rolled in.
The fireworks went off, and the lights went green. Well, for one truck, they did.
Creten rolled into the lights quickly, seeming to use his racing background to an advantage, as he got Musawwir off his routine and rushed him to the line. That quick stage got the nerves of Musawwir to jump a bit quick, and the red light came on.
After 17 years of trying in Las Vegas, despite one world championship in freestyle, the one that eluded 2Xtreme Racing for so many years had finally become a reality. Jimmy Creten, with tears in his eyes, flanked by his wife, Dawn, and their family finally could say he won the title that mattered the most to him. He is officially the 2019 Monster Jam World Racing Champion.
Round 1: Monster Mutt Dalmatian Ice def. Grave Digger-Brandon Vinson; Zombie Fire def. Wild Flower; Scooby Doo def. Dragon Ice; Bakugan Dragonoid def. Grave Digger-Randy Brown; Lucas Oil Crusader def. El Toro Loco-Becky McDonough; Bounty Hunter def. BroDozer; Grave Digger-Morgan Kane def. Whiplash; Great Clips Mohawk Warrior def. Avenger.
Round 2: Grave Digger-Tyler Menninga def. Monster Mutt Dalmatian Ice; Zombie Fire def. Megalodon; Bakugan Dragonoid def. Max-D; Dragon Ice* def. Max-D Fire; Son-uva Digger def. Lucas Oil Crusader; Bounty Hunter def. Earth Shaker; Grave Digger-Morgan Kane def. Monster Energy; Grave Digger-Adam Anderson def. Great Clips Mohawk Warrior.
*Scooby Doo unable to return due to breakage.
Round 3: Zombie Fire def. Grave Digger-Tyler Menninga; Bakugan Dragonoid def. Dragon Ice (DNF); Bounty Hunter def. Son-uva Digger; Grave Digger-Adam Anderson def. Grave Digger-Morgan Kane (DNF).
Semi-Finals: Bounty Hunter def. Grave Digger-Adam Anderson; Zombie Fire def. Bakugan Dragonoid (Red Light).
FINALS: Bounty Hunter def. Zombie Fire (Red Light).
The night was not over just yet, because when it comes to the World Finals, ever since 2001 the thing that many fans have enjoyed was the encore performance to close out the festivities.
On this night, the way the night ended was with fire and ice…as in Monster Jam’s Fire and Ice. Rolling out the tunnel to stun the crowd first was an ice-themed truck that had never run, but was part of the Spin Master diecast line, Soldier Fortune. From the tunnel shortly after came the ice themed machines of El Toro Loco, Monster Mutt Dalmatian, and Dragon. One leap and the fleet parked on a pad, only to see things get red hot.
From the tunnel, the fire-themed trucks were led by Grave Digger, sporting a black chassis and some hot colors on its famed scheme, followed by the Fire machines of Megalodon, Zombie and Max-D. After an eight-way set of donuts from the field, and stereo leaps in the racing lanes, each truck kept on it’s designated side of color, red or blue, and when the signal was given hammered every container and tire wall for an eight-way backflip to send the crowd home with a thrill.
Even as we speak, the track crew is at work converting the wildest racing course on the season into a fun house for freestyle, because Saturday night is the crowding of another champion…or potentially two champions.
In addition to freestyle, the other championship on the line is the newest one to be introduced, as drivers will literally be reaching new heights. The high-jump competition will happen before freestyle, so get to those seats early, and enjoy the second pit party of the weekend beginning at 11 a.m.