Only one week removed from the some-what sunny and very warm climate of central Florida, I headed North and to the extreme cold winter reality of Auburn Hills, Michigan for the Extreme Monster Truck Nationals. Thanksgiving weekend temperatures in Florida were ranging in the high-80s, while western Michigan was being wind whipped by a sub-20 degree winter cold front.
I was not the only cross-country trekker though, as both Mike Hawkins and Kreg Christensen had been in Florida a week prior for the Shafer Motorsports World Finals. Neither team left with a Championship after being heavily favored to do so and looked to get back on the winning track at the Palace. But, there were 6 more monsters ready to keep them in a deep freeze.
After an unexpected rollover down in Florida, Equalizer had been re-skinned with some new flames and colors as well as a new roof design. With the frigid conditions outsides, all the trucks had to cram into the tight back stage quarters of the Palace. Several large cement pillars, narrow walkways and office space required the drivers to brush up on their rear steering and parallel parking skills.
Ron & Shelly Kujat helped in supplying the crush cars for the event and also brought Ace's High along for display during the pit parties. Historically known as the second monster truck ever created, Ace's High still looks incredible after 30 years and the Kujat's have done an excellent job in the upkeep.
Project X--Kevin Poore
Jurassic Attack--Nathan Weenk
Lil' Miss Dangerous Too--Jocelyn Perrin
Dragon Slayer--Kreg Christensen
Hawkins, Christensen and myself weren't the only people with long hauls on the way to Auburn Hills. Don Frankish and Nathan Weenk drove nearly 24 hours total from western Canada just for this 1-day, 2-show event.
Jeff Hoy filled in for Paul Jensen behind the wheel of Spiderman because Jensen had to return home and to school for Finals week.
Jocelyn Perrin is always a fan-favorite during the pit party and as if she didn't need anymore attention, I was doing a photojournalism project on her and the events surrounding this day. Jocelyn was more than willing to let me snap extra photos of her throughout the day and you will see several of them in this coverage.
The format for both of Saturday's events would be broken up into Wheelie Contest followed by Racing and capped off with Freestyle. The EMTN crew pushed the limits of the building and laid out a 2-jump straight line track when I and a lot of other people figured it would be a simple 5-car track. Instead it was a sharp 2-car jump with no backside ramp then a short 45-foot run to the final jump of 3 cars. The drivers were going to be hard on the brakes to get the trucks stopped within 70 foot shutdown area too.
Don Frankish kicked off the Wheelie Contest with a good wheel stand and teammate Nathan Weenk (Linsey's younger brother) followed with a near identical hit on the near set. Andy Hoffman tried to top them but couldn't get Nitemare past a 45 degree angle.
Jocelyn Perrin lined up LMDToo next and took charge with a huge vertical wheel stand, spiking the rear end of truck into the cars as the front fell back down to the ground. Excellent jump and the crowd went wild.
Mike Hawkins hit the cars faster than anyone had yet and cleared the 3 cars easily with some great air but not very vertical. The man who has won maybe more Wheelie Contests than anyone in recent years, Kevin Poore, brought out Project X for his attempt. Poore rolled up to the car and punched the throttle hard which shot the truck straight up towards the roof! The rear wheels passed up the front ones and the only thing that kept the truck from flipping over backwards was the extension of the roll cage that dragged across the cars and whipped Project X back down on all 4s. Crazy and totally insane wheelie!
Kreg Christensen had the ominous task of topping that and there was not much hope. Christensen put the front in the air and carried the rear tires across the cars but no verticality. His teammate for the night, Jeff Hoy, could do no better on his jump but did clear the three cars. But, when Spiderman landed, the engine began smoking and flames shot out behind the cab. Hoy jumped out in a hurry and track crew quickly had the small fire extinguished. I hoped we had not lost a truck for the day already. Also, I hope Jeff Hoy decides against wearing tennis shoes while driving from now on.
Racing Round 1
Without much delay the show moved right into the first round of racing. This track might have looked relatively simple to the fans in attendance; it was anything but that. No ramps on the back of the first jump meant a rough landing and probably a misdirected bounce towards the final jump. If a driver is able to clear the first set, it should give them a smoother landing and and better line to the finish.
Lil' Miss Dangerous Too vs. Maniac-- Both drivers had a strong launch from the line with a slight lead going to Frankish. Perrin did not get a smooth landing off the jump while Frankish did and he poured it on to the finish and took the win by a wide margin. Winner: Maniac.
Project X vs. Jurassic Attack-- The young rookie in Jurassic Attack took off smooth and made a clean pass to take the easy win because Poore was stuck on the start line. Project X moved about 5 feet before losing power. Poore got it re-fired and completed his run and its a shame the truck could not get off the line because he had a blistering run once it was running. Winner: Jurassic Attack.
Equalizer vs. Nitemare-- Our first real battle in racing thus far. Hawkins drilled the start and shot over the first set with a 1/2 truck lead on Hoffman. Hawkins cleared nearly 1/2 the track with his hit and the time in the air gave Hoffman time to catch up. They both cleared the final jump and dove towards the finish and by the slightest of margins, Hawkins hung on for the win. Excellent race. Winner: Equalizer.
**Spiderman did not race due to damage from the engine fire and Dragon Slayer also did not race due to brake failure after the Wheelie Contest.**
The Super Truck Challenge guys caravanned from Florida up to Detroit for their final event of the year. Originally they were suppose to finish up in New York I believe but that event was cancelled and they needed somewhere to run. They were able to squeeze in a very tricky, tight and demanding course that provided some good racing, skillful driving and of course some smashing.
Racing Round 2
Equalizer vs. Maniac-- The two strongest winners from Round 1 faced-off for a spot in the Finals. Hawkins again was right on target and took a holeshot but Frankish stuck right with him. Hawkins got a smooth landing this time and held off Frankish for a 1/2 truck length win. Winner: Equalizer.
Jurassic Attack vs. Lil Miss Dangerous Too-- Perrin comes back as the Fast Loser even though she did not have a very quick run but with breakage to every other truck, she was able to sneak back in. Weenk cut her no slack and tore out of the block with a big rolling wheelie over the first jump. Perrin was on the gas hard and stayed right with Weenk. They charged towards the finish and the result was yet another incredibly close battle. No way to call that one by the eye and my picture did not get them exactly crossing the line but the slim advantage went to Weenk as he edged out Perrin by a horn! Winner: Jurassic Attack.
Jurassic Attack vs. Equalizer-- Hawkins continued the starting line dominance and nailed Weenk to the wall with a huge leap over the 2 cars. Jurassic Attack immediately fell behind and then took a bad bounce to add to the deficit but it was not going to matter. Hawkins took one bounce in no-mans-land and stabbed the gas up the final ramp with an out of control flight which took Equalizer across the line sailing near the wall of the Palace. Hawkins sent the dino back to the tar pits with a truck length win. Consistent power off the start and some big top-end speed were Hawkins' keys to victory. We'll see if he can sweep the racing portion of the shows in night cap. By that time, Dragon Slayer might be waiting to challenge him. First event winner: Equalizer.
Monster Truck Freestyle
After some more Super Truck action, the show moved into Freestyle. There was nothing else extra brought out for the trucks to hit which meant they needed to be creative with the limited space and smashed down cars to put together an exciting run. The only jump besides the 4 sets of cars was a hill down the center of the track for the Super Trucks.
SPIDERMAN-- Jeff Hoy sorted out whatever problems literally fired up Spiderman during the Wheelie Contest and kept the Hummer out of racing. Hoy hit two small jumps on the near set and a wobbly jump on the far side. The engine still did not sound at full strength and was very similar to the problems that plagued Jensen a week prior. Not much out of Spiderman but the cars did not help his cause either as they were flat. Score: 2.
DRAGON SLAYER -- Christensen had his brake problems fixed and, actually, it really should not have kept him from freestyle since he hardly touched the brakes during the run. Christensen used every inch of the floor to whip Dragon Slayer quickly from jump to jump. He grabbed some big air off the near set and nailed several smooth jumps on the far set. The tacky dirt kicked the truck up on two wheels in the corners but it was nothing that slowed Kreg down. Very solid freestyle. Score: 7
MANIAC-- Frankish had been consistent in the day so far and kept the streak going with a strong freestyle. Big wheel stands off far set despite not much left to get air off of. Frankish mixed things up and went for the center hill and also attacked the near set at a diagonal. Good run but not enough to top Dragon Slayer. Score: 6.
NITEMARE-- Hoffman tore onto the track and grabbed everyone's attention with the biggest hit of the night on the far set. Hoffman went for the near side 2-car set very strong and played with fire as he tried for a slap wheelie in between the sets! That had to raise eyebrows and send some people scurrying in the pits. Hoffman hit the cars a couple more times then hit one of his infamous reverse jumps on the far side and easily cleared the cars and ramp. Another very solid freestyle with a mixture of maneuvers. Score: 6.
PROJECT X-- Poore started the night with a HUGE vertical leap to take the Wheelie Contest but it was only problems after that. The truck wouldn't stay running in racing and now was laboring horribly as he came out for freestyle. Poore got a decent hit off the near set but could not get the truck straight for either 2-car set and slowly rolled the truck to the pits with obvious mechanical trouble. Score: 1.
LIL' MISS DANGEROUS TOO-- One of the home state drivers and an obvious crowd favorite, Perrin made a freestyle run that would put her in contention for the win. The cars were not allowing her to get much air but she was able to get some good distance and took a lot of hits from all directions. Perrin threw in a jump off the center hill and then tore the tacky dirt up with some donuts! The crowd went nuts as she ripped up layer after layer and nearly spun down to the concrete. A long freestyle highlighted by the donut and the crowd really enjoyed it. Score: 6.
JURASSIC ATTACK-- Weenk was impressive in the first two events and continued to astound and turn heads. Weenk pulled Jurassic Attack out of the tunnel, revved up the engine and threw it into gear which yanked the front wheels off the ground into a power wheelie! Weenk carried the front in the air across the floor and dropped the wheels right as he hit the center hill and shot the truck over. Excellent opening combination. Weenk put the horns to the sky with some good wheel stands over each of the sets then went for a slap wheelie off the center hill and got it! The drivers did not seem afraid to push the boundaries of the building. Weenk came around for another hit on the near set and launched the truck straight up and spiked it into the third car, pogoing off the back end and then slammed the front to the ground. He finished up with a long jump off the ramps on the far side and jumped out to salute the crowd. Nathan Weenk shocked the veterans and definitely wowed the crowed with that run. Easily the best so far. Score: 9.
EQUALIZER-- Only one guy remained to knock off Weenk's freestyle masterpiece and no lead was safe when Mike Hawkins is yet to run. Hawkins has become a known mad man in freestyle and will show no mercy to the obstacles nor his equipment. Hawkins sped out of the tunnel and nailed the near set with with a huge hit that cleared the cars, ramp and most of no-mans-land. The truck landed incredibly hard which sent pieces flying off the front end. Parts of the sway bar, shocks and stabilizers busted on impact and unfortunately ended his run before it even began. Score: 1.
My choice for the freestyle win was hands down Nathan Weenk in Jurassic Attack but the crowd was the deciding factor for the "official" win. It was narrowed down to Nitemare, Jurassic Attack and Lil' Miss Dangerous. In the cheer-off it was the Lil' Miss Dangerous fans out cheering the rest to crown her the Freestyle Champion of the first show.
Jocelyn and the other drivers headed up to the lobby to sign autographs while Equalizer crew chief Isaiah Morales went to work putting Equalizer back together.
The first show is in the books and there was plenty to be done to get ready for the night cap. Several trucks needed repairs including Spiderman, Project X and Equalizer. Would they all make it back for the second show? Two of those trucks were winners in the first show and would have their work cut out to go for a sweep of the day.
Big air, intense battles and shocking performances all laid ahead! More Extreme Monster Truck Nationals action from frozen Auburn Hills is just a click away!