What to watch for in 2006

As the 2005 season in monster trucks winds down, I found it appropriate to reflect on all that has happened in our sport since I last posted a column here with a focus on the summer season.

The first stop for me was Quincy, Illinois for two days of Monster Jam. There were a couple of interesting storylines to look for in the winter season happening already at this event. Carl VanHorn was handed the keys to Dennis Anderson’s Grave Digger 19 and dominated the racing and freestyle both days. In his first hit on the van stack in freestyle, VanHorn did something even Anderson rarely does in 19–a slap wheelie, his trademark in Grave Digger 14. Rumors abound about which Grave Digger truck he will drive next year, but on this weekend and the following one in Baxter, Tennessee, VanHorn proved he will be a force in the season to come no matter what he is driving.

     Chad Tingler, VanHorn’s teammate and another up and coming star on the Monster Jam circuit, also impressed me in Quincy. He was in either the semifinals or finals at every show, and pulled off a 29 on night two in freestyle that included two long slap wheelies and a fury of donuts. Only VanHorn’s incredible body-dragging slap wheelie at the end of his run beat him. Tingler has been crewing for VanHorn and Charlie Pauken on Monster Jam’s Europe tour lately, but I would not be surprised to see he and VanHorn battling each other for wins at every stop this winter.

Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois brought back an old-school figure-eight course for racing on fourth of July weekend, and I got a chance to see a varied field of up-and-coming trucks, as well as some established ones. What impressed me at the event was freestyle. Andy Slifko and Mike Hawkins may be two of the most underrated freestyle drivers in the business. It seems that Slifko is routinely sent onto the track at the beginning of the night in freestyle. Joliet was no different. Slifko went second in the field and put down a great freestyle run that included demolishing a fresh motor home, a slap wheelie on a single car, and plenty of air on a treacherous double van stack. After an up-and-down 2005, things look good for Slifko entering 2006.

Hawkins was last in the field and had to best runs from Slifko and Mark Hall’s Raminator, and turned in a long freestyle that left me wondering who would have won had the contest been judged. A side surf and save, great momentum, and unique hits and cross ups on the cars were Hawkins’ calling card, and he pushed his equipment hard even after a strong finish in the racing portion of the event. It appears that both drivers are fresh and ready for 2006, especially in freestyle.

     My next stop was Columbus, Nebraska for a Monster Nationals event. Red-hot rookie Shane Blair quickly made a name for himself and lived up to the hype I’d been hearing about him, navigating a bumpy straight-line racing course to victory. It was not without a bit of advice, however. After he had been beaten in the first round (he returned as fast loser), Jim Kramer was seen talking things over with Blair. Whatever Kramer told him after each run, it was helping, because Blair got better and better as the night went on. Freestyle was equally impressive, and Blair should have no problem there. He aired Bigfoot out and took on a difficult car-car-bus stack to take the freestyle victory and a clean sweep of the event. If Blair continues to improve in the seat and gets advice from people like Kramer, he will be racing for a long time to come.

     Mark Schroeder had Devastator running well in Columbus also, making the semifinals in racing and keeping some great momentum in freestyle. Most importantly, he has a new 460-cubic inch engine that makes the horsepower he had before his old engine blew up in Indianapolis. 2006 may see him step his racing program up even more.

     The first part of the summer experience is done, but events from Birch Run and Houghton, Michigan, Lacrosse, Wisconsin, Moline, Illinois, and Indianapolis, Indiana are still to come in this special two-part Starting Line!

About Robert Haught

Robert Haught has been a fan of monster trucks since age 3 and now works with them in nearly every capacity possible, from designing web sites to crew work to photography and more. Always available to help any team in the industry; he can be reached at 513-383-9293.

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