Welcome back to Starting Line! It has been a fantastic first month of monster trucks, and we’ve had photographers all over the place getting YOU the best coverage in the sport. What follows are some thoughts on the first month of the 2014 monster truck season:
Opening Night – Houston 1 Thoughts.
Houston 1 would open up the stadium season with a World Finals caliber line up of 24 trucks poised to start off the new season strong. Dennis Anderson won racing in the brand new Grave Digger 30 chassis with no field testing beforehand. In fact, all of the initial testing was done by his opponent in the final round, his son Ryan. While Ryan was quick all night a early bobble in the turn was all the advantage Dennis would need to take the victory. The early freestyle story was Steven Sims as he broke out with a fantastic opening freestyle run in Hooked. The run would be good enough to hold the lead throughout half of the competition. In the end though it was Tom Meents and Max-D who took the freestyle victory with Jim Koehler and Avenger breathing down his neck, something that factors into the next thought…
Jim Koehler is going even crazier
Koehler has always been known to get massive air, but the things he’s been doing, and the abuse the Avenger has been taking without breakage, have been insane even for him. Now teamed up with his brother Steve and Wrecking Crew after Chris Bergeron’s retirement, Koehler seems even wilder and more motivated, ripping off a fantastic freestyle for a no-doubt win in Indianapolis. If his truck continues to hold together like it has, Koehler is an odds-on contender for a freestyle victory in Las Vegas.
Lee O’Donnell is having one of his best seasons
O’Donnell has a great personality (as featured in our Monster Profile) and the skill to back it up, making him a likable star on the Monster Jam circuit. This year so far has been one of his best, with multiple stadium racing victories and a final-round appearance to his credit. Barring major catastrophe, I fully expect O’Donnell in Vegas contending for his first racing world championship in March. What impressed me most watching him recently in Detroit was his ability to adjust to the racing course and get faster as the night went on, something no doubt honed from his days in short-course off road racing. O’Donnell is for real.
It may not be a surprise to see Carl VanHorn and Grave Digger dominate racing, but the runner-up was Kelvin Ramer and Time Flys, normally known for his wheelies in freestyle. Ramer was the second-fastest in time behind VanHorn on the night and made an impressive showing in that portion of the program. Another impressive driver was Travis Groth behind the wheel of Captain USA, who had a spectacular save in racing after a close finish, then bounced back and delivered a very good, albeit perhaps underscored, freestyle.
With huge expectations following two racing victories last year, Donald Epidendio and Titan delivered a strong performance on the night. Epidendio started off as the fastest qualifier, before falling to CVH in the semi-finals in racing. While Epidendio has a reputation of a strong racer, he’s certainly no slouch in freestyle and proved that with a freestyle victory, as he was able to survive and outlast where others had found trouble, while putting on a good performance to take the win.
CVH and Tom Meents were victims of going too big too early. CVH was spectacular early but found trouble when he misjudged a jump, coming up short while stuffing the front end into the face of another jump, which popped the truck nose high into the air and landing hard on the rear of the truck. The impact ripped apart shocks and broke the sway bar putting an end to CVH’s run. After Meents saw CVH nearly get into trouble on a giant leap over the back-side jump in the center of the table top, Meents knew he had to go harder to clear the taller front-side of the jump. Unfortunately for Meents he went way too hard, getting the biggest air of the night, but a harsh landing on the front-end split apart the front end bringing his performance to a close.
New Orleans-Big Times in the Big Easy
Adam Anderson and Grave Digger the Legend continue to look strong. Adam was very fast once again in racing but was defeated by Chad Tingler and Grave Digger in the final round. Anderson then turned in a spectacular freestyle run that was an absolute no-doubter win. While the run was strong, Adam was frustrated afterwards that his experimental move the “Adam Bomb” didn’t work quite as he planned. The idea is to purposely spin the truck 90 degrees while back-flipping, in an effort to make it a seamless move and continue the run without backing up.
Some other thoughts from New Orleans: Coty Saucier (Monster Energy) had a rough night in freestyle after a early rollover, but had an incredible save in round two of racing against Tingler. As far as traditional non-“roll saves” go, it was one of, if not the best of the year so far. Daron Basl and Nitro Hornet impressed with a wheelie-filled opening freestyle. His score held up until about midway through freestyle. Michael Vaters Jr performed well in his first major stadium freestyle in the new Overkill Evolution. The team came back from a broken transmission in qualifying, taking the lead for a short time. Vaters Jr. has the old man’s genes and looks to impress as the year goes on. Devin Jones and Barbarian turned in a great freestyle run. Jones filled the clock, running hard through regulation and bonus time with some big air, and a fantastic walking wheelie down the backside of the bus. He would take the lead and hold on to second place. Jones deserves a shot in the Young Guns Shootout once again, if not a direct invitation to the big show. Chuck Werner was impressive in El Toro Loco. Werner had the strongest opening 60 seconds of the night during his freestyle run with some of the biggest air of the night. Something started to go away in the rear axle as the left rear seemed to be going away with intermittent pulling/not pulling. Still, he battled on for a great run and a 3rd place finish.
Houston 3 – The Cream Rises to the Top
George Balhan in Mohawk Warrior was coming off a win the week before in Anaheim looking poised for two in a row, and started off the night strong with a fast qualifying time. Balhan was able to make it into the finals, where he would face off against someone else coming off a racing victory the week before, Jimmy Creten and the Bounty Hunter. Creten was strong all night, turning in the 3rd fastest time in qualifying and going up from there throughout the bracket. He also had some drama unfold before the finals as he pulled to the back for repairs. Creten came back down a cylinder for the finals with just a moment to spare as the 60 second clock winded down. Despite being down a cylinder in the final round, Creten would knock off Balhan for the racing win. The win would come at a price as the Bounty Hunter would be unable to return for freestyle.
Michael Vaters Jr. had another strong showing on the night. Vaters Jr. was very competitive in racing, but a spin out in round two cost him a chance to advance. He came back with a strong freestyle run and was on his way to a good score before the throttle cable unbolted itself from the pedal after a huge launch over the bus stack.There was a very noticeable improvement in both the truck and Vaters Jr. from the week before. The shocks still need some dialing in, but the pair should be something to watch for as the season continues.
Jon Zimmer in Grave Digger had a tough start to the night, with the truck losing front steering in round one, leading to a rollover. For freestyle though, Zimmer returned to deliver a stellar, ragged edge performance to take the victory in typical Grave Digger fashion. Zimmer has moved through the ranks of monster trucks and as always, is poised for a victory anytime, anywhere. Will he return to Superman once Vegas rolls around?
St. Louis Insanity
I could have made this an article of its own. Ryan Anderson doubled down and had a few insane saves after losing rear steering in freestyle, pulling off one of the most ridiculous, video-game-style saves I’ve ever seen. Carl VanHorn and Grave Digger were right on his heels with a fantastic save of his own, but couldn’t quite match the Anderson run. Other standouts included Devin Jones in Barbarian, and a once-again-fast Lee O’Donnell and Iron Man.
It’s been a huge first month of the 2014 Monster Jam season and we’ve got plenty of photos covering the action including events from two Tampa shows, Orlando, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Toronto with more on the way! We’d like to thank our great photographers for all their hard work to bring us all the great action from across North America. Be sure to check out all of the great photo galleries and relive the biggest moments of the season like Ryan Anderson’s ridiculous roll and “back from the dead” save in St. Louis and many others. It’s all here, and it’s AllMonster!
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