As the calendar strikes August and the anticipation of a new school year draws near, the annual Back to School Monster Truck Bash is one last summer hurrah for many Charlotte area kids, but for the monster truck industry it’s one of the most unique events on the circuit. This year would be no different, as eight of the best monster trucks were set to do battle on an even tougher version of the infamous crossover course seen over the last six years in Charlotte. The expectations were high for a great event, and the Back To School Monster Truck Bash delivered with a spectacular night of action.
One of the most interesting elements of this year’s event was the addition of buses to the racing course to add an extra element of difficulty to an already treacherous course. The buses didn’t see an easy dirt roller either; instead, the starting line side saw a freestyle-like approach, with a small dirt lead-in and a set of stacked cars as the face of the jump. This would make for many exciting moments as the night unfolded. Returning to the line up were several annual favorites and previous winners, with the likes of Dan Runte (Bigfoot), Steve Sims (Stone Crusher), Steven Sims (Hooked), Jim Koehler (Avenger), Steve Koehler (Wrecking Crew), and Scott Hartsock (Gun Slinger). Newcomers to the event Derick Anson (Heavy Hitter) and Vern House (River Rat) would take to the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway for their first time.
When it came to racing, the odds on favorite was reigning event winner Dan Runte and Bigfoot. The seasoned veteran is known for being calm under pressure and finding the fastest way around a track where the rest of the field struggles. While others are riding the ragged edge, Runte manages to be smooth and calculated to tackle the challenges ahead. Qualifying saw that very storyline play out, as the field battled to figure out the fastest way around the track. “Mr. Excitement” Jim Koehler was on pace for a good qualifying time, but coming around the final turn in the right lane, the Avenger kicked over hard to the left coming over the bus and onto the sidewalls of the tires. Koehler managed to make the save but it cost him time quite a bit of time.
Derick Anson and Heavy Hitter had a strong pass in their first ever lap on the Charlotte course, but Anson came up short over the front stretch double, nearly endoing the truck. With the front bumper scraping the dirt Anson managed to keep the front wheels pulling forward and out of what would’ve been a hard rollover. Despite the scare Anson managed to regain his composure and push onward through the second half of the racing course to put up the early quick time of 1:17.
Steven Sims and Hooked got off to a rough start after discovering a rear steering issue during introductions. After some quick work by crew chief for the weekend and former teammate Bryan Wright, Hooked was repaired and ready to go for qualifying. The always aggressive Sims was on the ragged edge and found himself in trouble a few times with a spin out before the front stretch double, as well as a bad launch over the right lane bus, much like Avenger earlier. Sims wouldn’t be quite as lucky as Koehler though. Despite saving the truck, the left rear tire was cut and Hooked limped back to the pits.
The likes of Wrecking Crew, Stone Crusher, and Gun Slinger would turn in solid efforts but didn’t have the pace to unseat Heavy Hitter from the top qualifier spot. As the last driver out, Dan Runte and Bigfoot would make the smoothest pass of qualifying, showing why he is one of the all time greats. As the clock stopped, it would be Bigfoot at the top of the leaderboard by five seconds over Heavy Hitter.
Round one started off with a match up between River Rat and Wrecking Crew. Unfortunately for Steve Koehler, a mechanical issue after just the second jump left Wrecking Crew dead in the water, giving an easy victory to River Rat.
The following race was the race of the night, perhaps even of the year as Bigfoot and Hooked would put on a spectacular battle. Sims would get the hole shot and early lead over the backstretch and into the first turn. As Runte took the under, Sims and Hooked sailed overhead with a smooth jump. For Runte, he found himself a little out of shape coming over the double with a short jump, but Bigfoot soaked up the landing and kept charging into the turn. As the trucks took to the backstretch, Sims took the higher flying approach over the bus with a decent leap, while Runte went with a shallower jump and got the power to the ground quicker. As they approached the crossover, Sims nailed the under section with a smooth pair of turns and relatively clean jump over the double. The usually smooth Runte was just offline on the over, drifting to the left of the landing ramp breaking momentum briefly. At the final turn the two were neck and neck coming to the backstretch, but Sims suddenly found himself in trouble coming over a small ski-jump on the turn exit. Sims cut the corner a little too sharp, drifting towards Runte’s lane. In doing so, Sims clipped the lane divider of tractor tires, pitching the truck over to the right onto two wheels just before the bus jump. A determined Sims wouldn’t surrender or back down as he cut the wheel hard to the right and put his foot to the floor. As he did the truck hit the buses right in the middle, pitching the truck into a massive nosedive. As the front of the chassis bounced off the ground somehow it didn’t go end over end and Sims throttled out of the impending roll into a slap wheelie and across the line. Meanwhile an alert Runte checked up coming to the bus, narrowly avoiding a collision with Sims. While the save and finish was spectacular, unfortunately for Sims he would be disqualified for crossing lanes, handing the win to Runte.
The next pair saw another great round one race as the elder Sims in Stone Crusher took out Jim Koehler and Avenger but just a truck length. The track would take it’s toll on the Stone Crusher though, as brake issues would prevent them from moving into the semi-finals. The final pair of round one saw Heavy Hitter against Gun Slinger. Anson had a strong pass and looked good against Hartsock but the Heavy Hitter suffered a cut tire in his winning effort and wouldn’t be able to make the next round.
The semi-finals started off with a shortened race between Bigfoot and Avenger. Runte would have an easy victory after Koehler rolled the Avenger over before the halfway point of the race. The other pair put the Gun Slinger against River Rat. House and the River Rat would take the early lead going into the crossover, but would stumble going through the under section as they clipped a turn pole and eventually cased the double on the frontstretch. Those miscues were all the advantage Hartsock needed as he sailed the Gun Slinger to a relatively easy victory.
With a final round match up between two long time veterans, strong racers, and big Ford motors it was a toss up as to who would come out on top between Bigfoot and Gun Slinger. Runte would pull through in the clutch with a great pass in the final round not putting a wheel wrong throughout the race. It appeared Hartsock may have had the advantage heading into the final turn, but Runte nailed the inside line while Hartsock got out of shape on the outside line. From there it was smooth sailing for Runte as he flew over the finish line to victory for the second straight year.
The grueling racing track can do a number to even the best equipment and it certainly claimed a few victims on this night. As the luck of the draw would have it, Gun Slinger would be the first out for freestyle following racing. Hartsock’s truck lost a seal in the transmission during the finals but tried to put on a show for the Charlotte fans. His efforts would be short-lived, as the transmission gave out early. Runte and Bigfoot suffered a similar fate, as Runte pulled the truck back to the pits after just one jump with an apparent mechanical issue.
Vern House and River Rat would take one for the team in freestyle, giving up their spot in the field along with a tire to teammate Derick Anson and Heavy Hitter. After a cut tire ended his racing efforts early, Anson took out some of his frustrations in freestyle with a strong run featuring some nice big air leaps over the buses and FMX landing ramp as well as taking out an RV to take the early lead at 24. Steve Koehler and Wrecking Crew were next up and put in a good performance of their own with a few nice leaps over the bus and a great slap wheelie down the front stretch to take the lead with a 25.
2012 freestyle winner Steve Sims and the Stone Crusher came out with a bang, as Sims nailed the backside of the FMX hill with a massive sky wheelie. The back end of the chassis slammed into the ground with a hard hit for both driver and truck, but they showed no intention of stopping. Sims battled on with a battered truck giving it his all with some more big air hits and several cross threads as the truck shredded its body in the process. His efforts would pay off as he took the lead with a score of 28.
Last year’s freestyle winner Steven Sims and Hooked took the track set on knocking his father from the top spot with a great freestyle run of his own. The younger Sims went all out with a frenzied pace and big air but they found himself upside-down relatively early after trying to crossthread the FMX hill. His title defense may have been cut short, but the Charlotte audience certainly will remember Sims and Hooked for their thrilling performance in both racing and freestyle on this night.
Last out would be multi-time freestyle winner Jim Koehler and the Avenger. They were off to a good start with some big air, but issues with the rear steering and rear axle hindered their efforts early. The always determined Koehler wasn’t going to give up and kept pushing to put on a show and try to take the win. He battled valiantly, but much like Hooked, Avenger would roll over trying to crossthread the FMX hill. While a good run it wasn’t enough to take the victory as the top honors would belong to Sims and the Stone Crusher.
Once again the Back To School Monster Truck Bash delivered a night of thrilling action, showing why it has the reputation as one of the premier monster truck events in the country. Thanks to Brian Manson and the MTX Event Productions staff for their continued hospitality as well as the folks at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Be sure to check back to AllMonster.com soon for a full gallery from the Back To School Monster Truck Bash. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube account where you can see some awesome videos like this on board footage with Steven Sims and Hooked in Charlotte: