The Young Guns Shootout has become one of the most highly anticipated aspects of the Monster Jam World Finals and this year would be no different as sixteen of the sport’s up and coming drivers would compete for the 32nd and final spot in the Monster Jam World Finals XVII field. The field was a mixed bag of tricks with many new faces and a few drivers returning as veterans of the Young Guns Shootout it would be a night of drama to see who would rise to the top and claim the coveted Monster Jam World Finals XVII berth. As the action unfolded one surprising name came through in the clutch to take the title.
Wednesday evening the Young Guns Shootout drivers got their first chance to take to the track for practice. Several of the new names to the event struggled to get a handle on the tricky high speed racing course while some of the more experienced were hitting the tops of the time sheet among the Young Guns Shootout field. Steven Sims Jr. was clearly the class of the field on Wednesday as he was head and shoulders faster than the field turning in times better than a majority of the main field competitors, muchless the Young Guns Shootout drivers. Sims Jr. managed to keep himself and Pirate’s Curse composed and turned in quick times of 16.190 and 16.637, but the question would be whether or not that quick pace would continue into Thursday during racing. The next fastest driver would be Scott Liddycoat and Dragon who were solid in qualifying, but didn’t have the pace to match Sims Jr. and Pirate’s Curse on Wednesday. Liddycoat’s quickest time was a 16.989 which was .799 off from the top time of practice. The third quickest would be Becky McDonough and El Toro Loco turning in some solid passes but at the low 17’s would be nearly an entire second off the mark set by Sims Jr. New comers Buddy Tompkins and Tyler Menninga both showed some promise with smooth passes of their own, however both trucks were plauged by motor issues. The Razin Kane camp would eventually do a motor swap on Tompkins’ truck while the Blue Thunder camp made a number of changes to their motor to get ready for Thursday. Jared Eichelberger and the yellow Max-D were able to put together one low 17-second pass with a 17.275 for his fastest of the session. The next two quickest times came from some of the ladies in the field as Cynthia Gauthier put up a 17.472, while Rosalee Ramer and Wild Flower clocked in with a 17.587. The big takeaway from practice was simply making a clean pass down the track would be a crucial part to making it through the competition as several drivers struggled to hit their marks in practice. The drivers who could make the least mistakes and keep their trucks under control would be the ones advancing rounds.
Thursday night would be race night for the Young Guns Shootout and the evening’s action would start off with two qualifying sessions, with the fastest time of either session setting each drivers spot in the bracket for round one of racing. Once again Steven Sims Jr. and Pirate’s Curse were at the top of the time sheet with a 16.663 in his first pass. Eichelberger and Max-D put in a solid time of 17.236 which was good enough for second fastest of the session but it was already over half a second slower than the quickest time. After struggling to find consistency and reliability Wednesday, Tyler Groth and Zombie put together a 17.434 run for third quickest of the session. Liddycoat and Dragon followed up their practice performance with a solid 17.642 good enough for fourth. After the motor swap overnight Tompkins and the Razin Kane team were relived to see their efforts paid off as Tompkins’ 17.687 would be good enough for fifth quickest of the session. After having their share of motor troubles on Wednesday, the Blue Thunder team also saw some encouragement as Menninga put up the final 17 second pass of the session with a 17.864. Unfortunately for the rest of the field they struggled to find pace or even make the starting block in session one. Ramer’s Wild Flower was not up to par with the field as some engine troubles creeped up on the team overnight and it was obvious the truck was not 100% in their first pass. Ryan Disharoon and the Saigon Shaker battled electrical problems that had been plaguing the truck the past two days which caused the truck to temporarily shut off coming down the straightaway. The end result would be a slow time of 21.070. Gauthier and Dalmatian also struggled as a slick Thunder Alley in the right lane caused issues for her leading to a 23.146. Both Bailey Shea and Eric Swanson would DNF if session one while Travis Groth wouldn’t make it down the track after issues in introductions.
Session two would see many improvements throughout the field as drivers shook off some of the nerves and got into the groove for their second trip down the track. Once again Sims Jr. and Pirate’s Curse was at the top with a slight improvement over his first pass with a 16.628 to seal the fastest qualifier spot and top seed in the bracket. Menninga and Blue Thunder found some much needed speed in his second pass as he got a shot in the coveted right lane putting up a 16.750 which would be good enough for second place overall. McDonough also would find her groove in the right lane as she delivered a 16.995 which would be quick enough for third place overall in her El Toro Loco. Eichelberger and Max-D lost a little pace in the right lane with a 17.251, but his first qualifying pass would place him fourth overall. Once again Liddycoat had a solid pass in Dragon at 17.300, good enough for fifth quickest overall. Tyler Groth and Zombie would also improve on their first session as they put up a 17.306 at just six one-thousandths off from Liddycoat for sixth place overall. Tompkins and Razin Kane would pick up their pace and improve to a 17.326 for seventh place. The other Groth twin, Travis, would take New Earth Authority to eighth place overall with a 17.606 in their only qualifying pass.
Round one of racing got underway with the first match up of Pirate’s Curse taking on Saigon Shaker. Sims Jr would turn in his fastest pass so far on the night with a 16.327 while Disharoon still battled electrical issues, handing the victory to Sims Jr. The next pair saw Gauthier and Dalmatian knock out Groth and New Earth Authority by over two tenths of a second to advance into round two against Sims Jr. with lane choice going to the Pirate’s Curse team. The third pairing saw a close battle but it would be Liddycoat and Dragon taking the victory over Kayla Blood and the orange El Toro Loco. Eichelberger and Max-D would make a considerable improvement on his pace with a time of 16.642 in his round one victory over Scooby Doo giving him lane choice over Dragon in the second round. While one El Toro Loco was already out of the running, McDonough kept her’s in the hunt as the yellow El Toro Loco would defeat Obsessed. It would be a relatively close race between Zombie and Hurricane Force in the next pairing, but Zombie would take the victory. McDonough would have lane choice over Tyler Groth though in the next round as her 16.562 was faster than Groth’s 17.453. The second to last pairing saw another relatively close race as Tompkins and Razin Kane would pick up the win over Tony Ochs and Soldier Fortune Black Ops. The final pair saw another quick time from Menninga and Blue Thunder as they put up a time of 16.723 in their victory over Wild Flower. That time would give Menninga lane choice over Tompkins in round two.
Round two saw drama develop right away as the first pair saw one of the favorites to win fall early. Unfortunately for Sims Jr. his race was over before it even started, as he staged too deep and red lighted leading to an automatic disqualification. To add insult to injury, he would roll Pirate’s Curse in the turn to end his Young Guns Shootout campaign. In the other lane Gauthier and Monster Mutt Dalmatian had a solid pass with a time of 17.701 and would move on into the semi-finals. The next race would be a bit of a wild one as Eichelberger and Max-D were all over the track with a squirrely pass in the right lane, nearly spinning out coming out of Thunder Alley before eventually rolling over in the turn after hitting the turning cars. Eichelberger would make it back onto all four’s and complete a legal pass. In the other lane Liddycaot and Dragon looked strong with a time of 16.840 which would give him lane choice over Gauthier in the semi-finals. McDonough and El Toro Loco kept their Young Guns Shootout hopes alive with a second round win over Groth and Zombie with a time of 17.172. The final pair of the round would also be the quickest in a good race between Blue Thunder and Razin Kane. Menninga would get the better of Tompkins as he put of the quickest time of the competition so far with a 16.278 pass in the win giving him lane choice over McDonough in the semi-finals.
With a spot in the finals on the line the pressure was on in the semi-finals. The first match up saw Liddcoat and Gauthier face off to see who would be the first driver in the finals. The two were even coming out of Thunder Alley and close together coming to the turn. Unfortuately for Gauthier the Dalmatian lost rear steering sending her well wide, while the Dragon had no troubles as Liddycoat sailed victory with a time of 17.276 to advance into the finals. On the other side of the bracket it would be McDonough and Menninga squaring off. The early lead went to Menninga as he was quick through Thunder Alley with a two truck lead coming into the turn. McDonough tried to make up the difference in the turn but her El Toro Loco bicycled and eventually rolled over, while Menninga stayed composed and took Blue Thunder to the win. Once again Menninga turned in a quick time and his 16.303 would give him lane choice in the final round over Liddycoat.
With the pair set and the final spot in the Monster Jam World Finals XVII field up for grabs the two drivers pulled to the start boxes. Both drivers would be in their preferred lanes with Menninga in the right lane and Liddycoat in the left lane. The early advantage went to Menninga and Blue Thunder as they had a slight lead coming out of Thunder Alley. Down the straightaway it would be Liddycoat braking deep, making up the distance and the two drivers were even coming to the turn. When it mattered most Liddycoat made his best turn of the weekend driving off the corner and getting back to the throttle first with a slight advantage coming to the final jump. Menninga put his foot to the floor but just didn’t have enough to come from behind as Liddycoat and Dragon took the victory and the Young Guns Shootout championship by a nose in one of the closest races of the night.
It would be a clutch performance from Liddycoat with his fastest time of the weekend coming in the finals at 16.179 in his victory. That time would also be used for seeding him into the Monster Jam World Finals XVII bracket and good enough for eighth place overall among those competitors. With the Young Guns Shootout champion now crowned the focus turns to the main field and the next two nights of competition where 32 trucks are set to battle for the racing and freestyle championships.