The Back To School Monster Truck Bash returned Saturday to The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway as eight monster trucks were set to take on one of the most challenging tracks in all of monster truck racing and freestyle, with a top notch field of drivers and trucks alike. As if the course wasn’t challenging enough, heavy rains before the start of qualifying complicated matters further, but two drivers rose to the occasion and claimed victory.
For the sixth straight year the treacherous crossover course returned to the infield of The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. As one of the longest and most challenging tracks it’s gained a reputation for some of the best and wildest racing in recent memory. The field included the likes of former event racing winners Steve Sims (Stone Crusher), Mike Hawkins (Equalizer), Dan Runte (Bigfoot), and the reigning champion Brandon Budd (Red Solo Truck). Steve Koehler and Wrecking Crew returned to Charlotte for the first time since a wicked end-over-end crash during racing in 2012. The freestyle course also has it’s own set of unique challenges as well, with many former event winners as well including last year’s winner Jim Koehler and Avenger. One favorite for freestyle would be Steven Sims and Hooked coming off a strong performance the week before in Eldora, along with a freestyle victory in Bristol just weeks ago.
As the pit party got underway yesterday afternoon, the skies opened up a the rains came pouring down. Showers doused the track with heavy rain for close to an hour, adding another test to the tricky track. The wet clay was as slick as ice and the speeds necessary for some of the track elements demanded as much traction as possible. As the rains cleared the MTX Event Production staff started tilling the dirt and back dragging the ramps to combat the slippery conditions. Steve Koehler and Brandon Budd came down to inspect the process themselves to get a better idea of just what to expect when they hit the track for their qualifying passes. The hard work would pay off as the crews got race-able track conditions on short notice.
After a short delay qualifying was set to get underway as Jim Koehler and Avenger would be the first to see the track. Starting in the right lane Koehler would be seeing the crossover ramp following the first turn. As he rounded the turn he hammered the throttle and built up speed before sailing over the ramp with ease. The following corner wasn’t so friendly, as the Avenger broke loose and spun around, costing him time. Koehler would gather it back up and continue on, but struggled to find the grip. With the Koehler showing the track could be done, Brandon Budd and the Red Solo Truck fired up next and delivered a surprisingly strong time that was good enough for second place. Several drivers struggled to find the right approach to the under of the crossover in qualifying. Steve Koehler broke traction, losing valuable time. Maxie Broaddus and Walking Tall came in too hot and had to back up and go through. Mike Hawkins clipped the rear end of the truck on the bus buried in the landing ramp, which spun the Equalizer around. The always smooth Dan Runte had Bigfoot 18 under control and turned in a clean pass that would challenge for the top qualifier spot. Steve Sims and the Stone Crusher were next out and looked strong from the start, and landed themselves the fastest time in qualifying. The last qualifying run would be the most interesting, as Steven Sims and Hooked were aggressive on the track, but that would bite him as he slid over a ski jump in the corners and onto his roof. The roll would drop him to the bottom of the time sheet, matching him up against his father and Stone Crusher in round one.
The father versus son match up would start off round one action, as the Sims’ looked to defeat one another. The younger Sims in Hooked found trouble early, as he tagged the bus in the landing ramp, spinning the truck out while Stone Crusher flew overhead. Steven tried to make up for lost time, but once again slid out over a ski jump in the corner and rolled over, similar to his roll in qualifying. That would hand the win over to his dad in Stone Crusher and advance him into the semi-finals. In the next race it would be Brandon Budd delivering a smooth pass in Red Solo Truck to defeat the Avenger. The wildest race of round one was between Wrecking Crew and the Equalizer as both trucks found issues during the race. Equalizer lost power in the first corner as Hawkins struggled to get the truck to re-fire. It looked like it would be an easy win for Steve Koehler and Wrecking Crew who built up a massive lead by the halfway point. As Koehler lined up for his attempt at the crossover jump, he lost traction and wisely slowed down to drive around the inside of the ramp. In doing so he had to yield to Equalizer who was taking the under lane of the jump. Hawkins took full advantage and managed to come from behind and win the race. Dan Runte and Bigfoot were smooth and consistent in their round one race and picked up the win against Walking Tall. A strong pass from Walking Tall would allow Broaddus to advance as the fast loser after a broken transmission would sideline Equalizer.
Steve Sims opened up the semi-finals with a strong victory over Budd and Red Solo truck, but the Stone Crusher suffered a flat tire in the process. Tommy Powers and the Stone Crusher team fought tooth and nail to get the situation remedied so they could make the finals. Once again the pair of Dan Runte and Bigfoot looked good in another smooth pass as he would defeat Broaddus and Walking Tall for the second race in a row and advance into the final round. The Stone Crusher crew would get the truck ready and be able to make the call for the final round.
The final round came down to the two strongest trucks all night in racing as Stone Crusher and Bigfoot would battle it out for the Back To School Monster Truck Bash racing trophy. Neither driver had made a mistake all night long, putting extra pressure on both drivers to not put a wheel wrong. Off the line it would be Sims and Stone Crusher with the hole-shot down the back straightaway and into the corner. Sims would take the over, Runte the under, with neither driver slipping up. Sims had the early advantage as the trucks made their way back to the backstretch, as this time Sims would face the under of the crossover, while Runte would take the over. For the first time all night Sims came in too hot to the over, slamming the left rear into the bus on the landing ramp, spinning the Stone Crusher around. Sims tried to gather it up but wound up bouncing off the side of the take off ramp while Runte and Bigfoot soared by. With yet another mistake free run it would be Runte taking the racing victory and the trophy.
Following a tough defeat in the final round Steve Sims and the Stone Crusher would be the first to take to the track for freestyle. Sims got off to a strong start with his run, getting some nice air over the bus stacks and van stack, while carrying some good momentum After a good launch over the back of an FMX landing ramp, Sims pointed the truck at a van stack, but a crooked launch pitched the truck over onto its side ending his run. Steve Koehler came out with a bang to start his freestyle, as he went sky high over a bus stack, and walked the rebound from the landing into a slap wheelie to get underway. From there Koehler hit the other bus stack, the van stack, and the racing double for a great start to his run. The run took an unexpected turn after Koehler came in hot to the backside of the double jump used in racing. Koehler had expected the ramp to have enough angle to clear the other side with the speed he carried, but instead the truck slammed wheels first into the backside of the first jump in the double. The truck launched skyward, started to rotate backwards, and slammed tail first into the ground. The jump was reminiscent of Jill Canuso’s famous crash in Wrenchead.com at World Finals II. While it was a scary looking crash, Koehler emerged from the truck unscathed to salute the fans. Amazingly the truck was able to drive off the track under its own power and back to the trailer.
Brandon Budd would be the next to take to the track in Red Solo Truck for freestyle. Budd started off well and got some good air over the bus stacks, but one final hit spelled the end of his freestyle run as the left front wheel ripped off upon landing. The impact did significant damage to the front axle housing of Red Solo Truck, making a long week even longer for the Equalizer Racing team after doing a motor swap prior to Charlotte. Racing winner Dan Runte and Bigfoot turned in an impressive freestyle performance. Runte more known for his racing pedigree certainly wasn’t shy about letting Bigfoot fly and as he got some great air multiple times over the FMX ramp and the buses. Runte closed out his performance with a set of donuts on the front-stretch and took the freestyle lead with two trucks remaining.
Next out was Steven Sims and Hooked. After a frustrating night in racing, Steven worked out some aggression on the track and it made for one wild freestyle. The young gun was relentless in his pursuit of victory as he ran the truck on the ragged edge throughout his run, getting plenty of big air while combo’ing up hits between obstacles. Sims turned in the two biggest jumps of the night over the bus stacks, with the final being a massive jump that had the crowd in awe. The left rear slammed into the ground on the landing, and the impact ripped the wheel off clean. Sims didn’t want to stop until the truck couldn’t go any further, as he tried to ride the truck on three wheels before turning it on its side at the FMX ramp. It was an impressive run and would take the lead with one truck to go.
Reigning freestyle winner Jim Koehler and Avenger would be the last to take a shot at the Back To School Monster Truck Bash freestyle trophy and made a valiant effort to unseat Steven Sims from the top spot. Koehler had a great open to his run with a nice leap over the pink bus stack, leading into a big sky wheelie over the back of the FMX ramp. From there he hit the blue bus stack before lining up for a wheelie bump to try a slap wheelie. The bounce didn’t go his way so Koehler lined up for the FMX ramp and got some huge air in the process. The landing broke a front steering ram and would leave him without front steering. Not wasting a second Koehler whipped into a wicked donut that got the crowd on their feet. Unfortunately for Koehler, he struggled to get the truck to steer with only having the rear steering to work with, but he still managed to hit a few more obstacles and work in another great donut. The performance wasn’t enough for the win but it was a great effort by Koehler.
With Koehler coming up short in points it would be Steven Sims and Hooked claiming the freestyle victory. An excited Sims took to the stage to accept his trophy and thank the fans for coming out and urging them to come back next year to see him and his fellow competitors do battle once again. After all was said and done, the event lived up to it’s legacy of being one of the most exciting events all year, despite the heavy rains trying to put a damper on the event before it started. The night saw plenty of jaw dropping moments and two drastically different drivers rise to the top in their disciplines with the wise 25 year veteran Dan Runte driving smart to take a racing victory, and the aggressive rising star Steven Sims laying it all out for the freestyle win. It was an awesome night at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway and we look forward to returning for next year’s Back To School Monster Truck Bash.