Every year in August, the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway invites some of the best monster trucks in the country to do battle in one of the most challenging and grueling monster truck events around. The now-notorious Circle K Back to School Monster Truck Bash Presented by Polar Pop® has become one of the most highly anticipated events on the calendar. With a history of great racing, creative track designs, and some incredible freestyles, the event has built up a legacy over the years. This year, with some new faces in the field, returning champions, and the return of the crossover racing course, we look ahead at what to expect when the trucks hit the track.
With one of the largest performance areas in monster truck racing, it should come as no surprise that the tracks in Charlotte have featured some of the longest racing courses and biggest jumps ever. For the past four years, the racing layout featured the now infamous crossover course. The sprawling track has pushed trucks to the limit, with long straightaways, sweeping turns, and of course the crossover. The track has brought some of the closest and most exciting races in recent memory, from the incredible final round race between Mike Hawkins (Equalizer) and Carl VanHorn (Stone Crusher) in 2009, to Steve Sims (Stone Crusher) and Dan Patrick’s (Samson) epic battle in 2012. Without a doubt, the 2012 racing course was the best so far, after tweaks made by Monster Truck Challenge’s Rich Schaefer saw trucks jumps over one another at the crossover nearly every round. With those refinements in mind, the event has been turned over by Schaefer into the hands of Brian Manson with MTX Event Productions. Manson worked before with Schaefer and the Monster Truck Challenge crew and was a great fit for the role of keeping this great event up to expectations. We spoke with Brian Manson about the upcoming event.
Dustin Hart: The racing courses in Charlotte have been known for being some of the most unique in the sport. What can fans and drivers alike expect for this year’s event?
Brian Manson: We’re sticking with the over/under circuit style course one more year due to popular demand. Rich (Schaefer) made some tweaks last year and really had it dialed in. We don’t want to wear it out though, so you’ll likely see something new next year. We have some veterans and some wild cards in the stack this year. With the track being one of the longest (if not the longest) in the sport, it really comes down to driver ability rather than raw horsepower or tires. I think that’s why people are really drawn to it.
DH: What are your expectations going into Charlotte?
BM: I’ve done the event about 6 or 7 times under the Monster Truck Challenge banner, so I’m completely familiar with the facility and the great operations staff at Charlotte. I’m looking forward to seeing how the two rookies adapt to such a large course, meaning Jamey Garner in Over Bored and Maxie Broaddus in Walking Tall. I took Maxie to Virginia Beach this year where he made a final round racing appearance and finished 5th overall against a stellar field. These guys both have top notch machinery, the question is how hard will they push it?
Now let’s take a look at the field of trucks for the event:
Avenger – Jim Koehler: Jim Koehler and the Avenger are no strangers to the Back to School Bash. Team Scream’s Mr. Excitement has had many incredible moments in Charlotte over the years. The 2011 Freestyle winner was strong in last year’s event, qualifying 4th in racing, making it into the semi-finals against Steve Sims and Stone Crusher before steering problems took him out of contention in the race. Koehler was on his way to an incredible freestyle, opening up with a spectacular one-wheeled slap wheelie, as the truck pitched over to the right leading to a great save. Moments later Koehler had one of the wow moments of the night, as he soared the Avenger over the bus stack sideways with a gigantic leap. The truck swayed so far over to the right it looked like the truck would land on the side of the rims. Incredibly the truck leveled out in time, landing safely but the run would be cut short a couple jumps later by an early rollover. The two-time World Finals Freestyle Champion has to be a favorite to win in freestyle, but certainly don’t doubt Koehler in racing either.
Brutus – Chris Bergeron: In 2010, Chris Bergeron and Brutus pulled off one of their biggest upsets when he stole the racing victory in impressive fashion. Despite being behind most of the race, Bergeron never gave up, and as he rounded the final corner gave it everything he had. Bergeron came from behind on the backstretch to catch, and then pass Mark Hall and the Raminator over the final jump to take the win. While he has a racing victory in Charlotte to his record, Bergeron is a notorious wild man in freestyle and has turned in many great freestyle runs over the years, including a couple marathon performances in 2009 and 2011.
Equalizer – Mike Hawkins: Charlotte is one of Mad Mike Hawkins’ favorite events every year. Why is that? Because Hawkins and Equalizer swept the event in 2008 and 2009 in dominating fashion. One of the most memorable moments in recent history was Hawkins’ insane rollover save in 2009. The truck bicycled coming down the banking in turn 1. As Hawkins turned into it the roll, the truck rolled over, but with all his momentum Hawkins hit the throttle at the right time as the left front tire spun the truck back over onto all four tires. Since then though, luck hasn’t quite been on his side. Last year Hawkins wasn’t able compete due to injury, but he’s been running hard throughout the year since his return to the driver’s seat. With a number of wins on the Toughest Monster Truck Tour and Monster Nation events this winter, and multiple backflips completed over the summer, it should be interesting to see what Hawkins and Equalizer bring to the table when they get to Charlotte.
Gun Slinger – Scott Hartsock: For the first time since 2005, Scott Hartsock and the Gun Slinger will be in the Back to School Bash field. The pair of Hartsock and Gun Slinger have always been known as strong racers, especially on long outdoor courses. Hartsock picked up two out of four racing victories in Virginia Beach earlier this year on a straight line course. However, the crossover course in Charlotte is far from straight. Hartsock is a long time veteran though and should be quick to adapt. He loves a good challenge, so there’s no doubt he’ll be cocked, locked and ready to rock when he pulls to the starting line. As for freestyle, Hartsock can bring it with the best of them and has turned in his fair share of great performances over the years.
Hooked – Steven Sims: As a rookie last year, Steven Sims and Hooked were very impressive. As we’ve pointed out before, Sims was no ordinary rookie. Last year Sims qualified third in racing before falling to Bergeron and Brutus during round one in one of the closest races ever in Charlotte. Sims was impressive in freestyle, putting together a strong run with plenty of big air and momentum in last year’s event. Now with over a full year of driving under his belt, Sims continues to look stronger week by week. The key for Sims could simply be finding consistency. He’s shown flashes of brilliance as a racer with great speed, but is often on the ragged edge. As a freestyler Sims is already a strong performer, winning against top level competition earlier this year in Virginia Beach. If there’s any knock on Sims in freestyle, it’s that he sometimes goes too big, too early. As a result this has led to some breakage-shortened runs. That being said, we’re looking forward to what Sims has in store for this year’s event.
Over Bored – Jamey Garner: Newcomer Jamey Garner has been around monster trucks for some time. As a good friend of Team Scream’s Jim Koehler and Chris Bergeron, he’s familiar with the ins and outs of monster truck racing. This year he made the leap of becoming a driver and owner purchasing the former High Maintenance truck from Jeff and Jocelyn Perrin. Initially there were some growing pains with breakage in the first few tests of the truck for Garner, but he’s come on strong over the summer with some solid performances on the Monster Truck Throwdown tour, including a final round appearance on the figure-eight course in Illania, Illinois. Garner continues to improve each time out, but the track in Charlotte is a totally different from anything he’s experienced before.
Red Solo Truck – Brandon Budd: The Equalizer Racing camp has had good luck in finding great drivers, with Brandon Budd being yet another find for the team. Budd was strong behind the wheel of Hot Tamale in last year’s Back to School Bash, and looked unfazed by the difficult racing course, putting the truck into the semi-finals before falling to Dan Patrick and Samson. While Budd was impressive in racing, it was his freestyle performance that left the crowd in awe last year. Budd flew Hot Tamale all over the course with some big air over the freestyle stacks. After a donut on the frontstretch, the truck shut off leading many to believe he was done, but he still had one last jump. The truck refired and Budd lined up for the crossover landing ramp, and went sky high with a massive vertical leap on what appeared to be a backflip attempt. Since then Budd has continued to be a strong performer, picking up some wins in Red Solo Truck over the winter. Budd will be one to keep an eye on, as he very well could be a dark horse to win in either racing or freestyle.
Samson – Dan Patrick: For the past two years Dan Patrick and Samson have arguably been the strongest in the racing field, however, the racing victory has escaped the fists of the mighty Samson by narrow margins two years in a row. 2011 saw Troy Rose and Hot Tamale take the racing win by just a tire length in an upset victory. In 2012 it looked like it would be Dan’s night until Steve Sims and the Stone Crusher put together a flawless race and eked out the victory over Samson by just over a tire length. There’s no doubt that Samson is one of the best pieces of equipment in the industry, and Dan is one of the best racers in the sport. The question is, can they pull it off the victory this year?
Stone Crusher – Steve Sims: Last year Steve Sims put together an incredible night behind the wheel of the Stone Crusher, as he swept the Back to School Bash, winning both racing and freestyle. After qualifying second, Sims worked his way through the bracket and into the final round where he put together his best race of the night to defeat Patrick and Samson. Sims then rode that momentum into freestyle, where he let it all hang out with a great performance. Sims pushed the truck to its limits with a run packed full of big air, highlighted by a spectacular save on a cross thread over the crossover jump, wrapping up the freestyle win and the sweep. The sweep came as no surprise to many, as Sims and Stone Crusher are among the sport’s top performers. Sims has shown consistency at all levels, performing well in arenas and stadiums alike, including one of the highest average freestyle scores in the Monster Jam World Finals. The pressure will be on Sims and the Stone Crusher heading into Charlotte, but with a great team behind them there’s no doubt the duo will giving it their all come Saturday night.
Walking Tall – Maxie Broaddus: Just over a year ago, Maxie Broaddus and Walking Tall made their debut in Virginia Beach. Since then both Broaddus and Walking Tall have been impressive over the last year. The truck is a top notch piece of equipment, getting a seal of approval from long time friend Dennis Anderson of the Grave Digger. Both Dennis and Adam Anderson tested the truck upon it’s completion in 2012, speaking highly of the quality of the truck. Despite a limited amount of appearances, Broaddus has performed well as driver, showing he’s no slouch behind the wheel. As Brian Manson mentioned earlier, Broaddus had a final round appearance in Virginia Beach and a fifth place overall finish in the weekend points. As Broaddus has gotten more seat time and experience, he’s grown more comfortable in freestyle as well. Broaddus showed no hesitation in getting some big air over the bus stacks in Virginia Beach. They’ll be a pairing to keep an eye on heading into this weekend, and well into the future.
For more info on the event click here. We’ll be covering the event Saturday so be sure to follow us on social media for all the latest updates. Like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with everything happening in Charlotte. Also, be sure to check out some of our past photo galleries from the event: 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009.