February 11, 2006
In the realm of monster trucks, size does matter. Big engines powering big-bodied trucks sitting on big tires; monster trucks are BIG in every way and in everything they do. Big air, big speed and big excitement in big venues all over the world. Wait, big venues? In Champaign, monster trucks still fit the rest of those big facts, but a big venue? Forget about it.
Assembly Hall, on the University of Illinois campus, is one of the smallest arenas to host monster trucks in this modern era of racing and freestyle. Yet, the confined structures have not been able to hold down the drivers and their trucks. The challenges the building presents are just another obstacle to be conquered, and we all know what happens to obstacles in the path of monster trucks. Year after year the stars of the Monster Nationals tour push themselves and their equipment to the limit, inventing new ways to thrill, amaze, and succeed inside Assembly Hall.
On second thought, maybe size doesn't matter.
The evening kicked off with the Champaign Automotive Superstore Party-in-the-Pits and with about 3,000 people, 5 monster trucks, 8 cars and other vehicles, it was a slow-moving mosh pit. The fans in Champaign continue to support this event year after year with excellent crowds. The outdoor Champaign Monster Nationals at the fairgrounds in the summer is also catching on and generating big interest and support.
2006 was a year of change for the Monster Nationals, starting right at the top with the lineup. Bigfoot out, Lil' Miss Dangerous in. Jocelyn Perrin brought her flashy style and immense popularity to the Monster Nationals circuit, but had some mighty shoes to fill with the absence of Bigfoot. The other four trucks remained the same, except for the fact nearly all of them looked different!
Hometown hero's Hall Bros. Racing unveiled their new-look Raminator and Rammunition looks at the beginning of the year and they definitely are a change from the old, basic text-heavy designs. These new bodies are more eye-popping and visually striking for sure.
Nitemare also had some fresh skin to go with a whole new truck! Andy Hoffman ran his new piece back at the summer Monster Nationals to so-so results, but spent much of the off season fine tuning and working the bugs out of Nitemare to have it ready for the grueling winter tour.
Doug Noelke's Big Dawg returned for its third year on the Monster Nationals tour and was the only truck without any major changes to it. But, why change what works? Noelke is a threat to win every event in every town and one of the most consistent performers and racers you'll ever find. The Big Dawg theme has also become one of most popular on the tour.
Thanks to George Eisenhart, I once again had the great opportunity to present awards on behalf of the World Monster Truck Racing League to two of the drivers. Last year, I gave Mark Hall his Top Ten plaque for finishing 8th in the world. This year, he not only improved his standing up to #4, but was replaced in the #8 spot by Doug Noelke!
The WMTRL is an independent ranking and record-keeping group that gathers monster truck racing results from around the world and compiles the data into one global point standings. We are slowly building up notoriety and our following and being able to present these awards in front of the live crowd is great publicity for us and excellent recognition for the driver's efforts.
Out of over 800 events reported to us in 2005, Doug Noelke raced in 38 of them, winning 12 times, and earned a total of 2236 points with an average of 58.84 per event.
Mark Hall raced in 44 events, winning 20 times, and earned 2978 points with an average of 67.68 per event.
From the small, indoor tracks of the Monster Nationals, to the wide open 4-Wheel Jamborees and everything in between, these two drivers are among the toughest to beat in the world and the stats prove it. Huge thanks again to George Eisenhart for the time to talk and for his excellent comments on the mic as well. Also, big thanks to Brenda Noelke for grabbing my camera for the photos. For more info on the World Monster Truck Racing League, visit wmtrl.com and follow the points chase throughout 2007 and beyond.
With all the pre-show needs out of the way, it was finally show time and the driver introductions!
Rammunition-- Dale Benear
Big Dawg--Doug Noelke
(sorry Andy, I accidentally deleted your pic!)
Lil' Miss Dangerous--Jocelyn Perrin
This year's event structure would be a bit different compared to last year, but was very similar to two years ago. 2 trucks would compete in the Wheelie Contest, 2 others in the Donut Contest, 1 truck would sit out and then all 5 would compete in Freestyle and Racing. The Wheelie Contest was first up with Big Dawg vs. Raminator.
Big Dawg-- Noelke was the first driver to hit the track and would set the pace for the night. Noelke has pulled off some beautiful rolling wheelies in the past and also has gone totally the opposite style and stood the truck straight up and planted the back end into the cars numerous times. Which would we see this time? Noelke rolled to the near set of cars and then hit the throttle hard, sending the front up at a nice 45 degree angle and got the rear tires up onto the cars. He burped the throttle very quickly and punched the gas hard again and rode the wheelie all the way across the four cars! Sweeeet.
Raminator-- Hall immediately had a stiff challenge ahead of him to top the excellent rolling wheelie from Noelke. In 2005, Hall won the Wheelie Contest, but fell victim to a hometown curse and busted a rear axle pinion during Freestyle. Hall lined up the fresh far side cars for his wheelie attempt. He got a little momentum built up in the roll towards the cars and punched the throttle at the perfect moment to shoot Raminator completely straight up and down, dragged the wheelie bar across the roof of the first car before spiking it into the trunk of car #2 and letting the truck fall forward back to Earth! A near perfect vertical launch and an excellent wheel stand to counter the rolling style of Noelke.
Two totally different styles and the crowd definitely had their favorite and chose Raminator as the winner. Depending on which style you like, it was a tough decision. I'm a long time fan of the rolling wheelies and have to give credit to Noelke for another great one. But, Hall's wheelie was more visually striking and that earned the win.
Lil' Miss Dangerous faced off against Rammunition.
Lil' Miss Dangerous-- Jocelyn Perrin was up first to try and lay down some rubber on the slick concrete. She circled around a couple times, punching the gas, trying to get the wheels to break loose and spin. On her third time around, the rear end kicked into action and she whipped the truck quickly around for the the first revolution, but the speed did not keep up. She got almost 3 full spins before the momentum was gone. Good effort, but plenty of space for Rammunition to top it.
Rammunition-- Dale Benear wasted no time getting Rammunition to kick into high gear. He gunned the truck into a full-throttle donut spinning fury! The truck whipped around perfectly from the corner of the floor all the way out to the middle with at least 6 full spins. Plenty of smoking rubber remained on the floor after that set. Excellent job.
Innovation and creativity were the keys to winning freestyle in Assembly Hall. Very small floor, only two sets of 4 cars to jump and then some open concrete for donuts. It never looks like much, but every year someone steps up to the challenge and blows everyone else away.
Lil' Miss Dangerous-- Perrin had a very fresh course to attack and looked for redemption from the donut contest. She went for the near cars first and hit a small wheel stand, but really needed more speed to produce any results. The improvement was instant as she uncorked a huge rolling wheel stand across the far set! Perfect height under the front wheels and the rear wheels stayed planted to the cars as she cruised all the way over the four cars. Maybe she should've pushed for an entry in the Wheelie Contest instead! She followed up with a near identical big hit but couldn't get the truck to roll across again. Perrin rounded out her run with another jump on the near side. Not much momentum to the run, but that is a tall order in this place for anyone. Two very nice jumps out of the four. Score: 5.
Nitemare-- Hoffman was tired of sitting on the sidelines and ready for his first crack at the track. Hoffman roared out of the pits at attacked the near set with a great jump, dragging the rear wheels along the top of the cars. He quickly went for the far side and did not get the rear wheels properly lined up before he hit. Nitemare still shot well into the air, but started drifting off to the right. The truck bounced hard onto the cars, then bounced completely off onto the concrete and Hoffman stabbed the gas and brought Nitemare up into a slap wheelie!! Are you kidding?! Hoffman tried to pull a slap wheelie in Assembly Hall?! Unreal but awesome. He followed with another towering hit on the far side, but chose not to defy logic twice with another wheelie attempt. Back to the near side for another solid hit. Hoffman spun Nitemare around and rolled the truck back across the near set from the opposite direction, setting up his reverse jump! Hoffman launched Nitemare's rear end up into the air, but did not get enough kick off the cars from the front end to really carry the truck. He got all four tires in the air, but was unable to clear the set. Still a nice hit and they all can't be perfect! Hoffman slung Nitemare around for a quick donut and then waived to the crowd to end the run. Good momentum, nice air and mixture of maneuvers. Score: 7.
Rammunition-- Dale Benear has stamped his name in the minds of Assembly Hall fans since his first appearance in 2003. Benear faced off against Hall in the Finals of Racing in 2003, and while he lost the race, did so in style as he tore off the line so hard one of the four-link bars snapped off:
In 2004, Benear again lost a race, this time against Dave Harkey and Bigfoot in Round 1, but provided the most stunning jump of the night:
Last year, Benear vanquished all others and picked up the Freestyle win with a fast and powerful run:
But he didn't stop there! Benear knocked around Nitemare in the first round of racing and in doing so, landed on Nitemare's left front tire and driver's side door!
Then capped the night with an incredible final round launch against Bigfoot to take the racing victory!
What did Benear have in store for Champaign in 2006? Let's find out! Benear started with a towering blast off the far set, smashed the rear tires into the third car. He whipped Rammunition right back around for another crack at the same set and again grabbed some great air. Benear went for the near set, but did not get the same results as the front car on the near set was far more flat than the other side. Benear focused back on the far set and unloaded the largest hit of the night and nearly cleared the set, just barely smashing the end of the truck down across the last car. Another final launch over the far set and Benear parked Rammunition on the near set to waive to the crowd. Big, BIG air and great momentum. Score: 8.
Big Dawg-- Noelke was up next and sought revenge for the loss to Hall in the Wheelie Contest and for a bitter defeat last year to Benear in Freestyle. Noelke started with a good leap on the far side but it was going to take more to match the big air of Benear. Noelke was hard on the gas to get the truck back to the cars without wasting time. He nailed two good jumps on the near set and then charged to the open floor space. Noelke immediately had Big Dawg spinning...and spinning....and spinning! He put a charge into the donuts and whipped the truck around in the fastest revolutions of the night. The left front tire began to pick up off the floor, but Noelke kept the power up and slid the truck from the middle of the floor all the way to right up against a parked Rammunition! They came within inches of hitting, but Noelke hit the brakes and shot back out towards the cars. Awesome donuts and the crowd was fully behind him now. Noelke hit one more jump on each set and then parked to salute the crowd. Easily the run of the night so far. Excellent momentum throughout. Score: 10.
Raminator-- Hall rounded out the Freestyle portion and needed to top the excellent run put down by Noelke. Hall's 2005 Freestyle fell victim to a broken rear axle and perhaps the "hometown jinx" was in effect. So far, 2006 was trouble-free and Hall was shooting to tame the Big Dawg twice in one night. Hall hit a small jump on the far set to start the run, then came back with a bigger hit on the near side. Hall found the open floor and sent Raminator into a spinning fury much like Noelke did with Big Dawg. The crowd got louder and louder as the truck went faster and faster before smacking the side of the cars and skidding to a stop. Hall was back on the gas and hit a good long jump on the far set, then followed with some more air on the near side. He popped Raminator up on the cars and ended the run with a waive to the crowd. Another very good run! Fast-paced, great donuts and plenty of momentum. Score: 10.
The very even runs of Big Dawg and Raminator created a very split crowd on whom they thought won Freestyle. George Eisenhart had to do the vote a couple times before there was enough difference to award Big Dawg with the win! Now there's a hometown jinx.
Speaking of George Eisenhart, this man is nuts and will do anything for his customers. After crowning Doug Noelke the Freestyle champ, Eisenhart and Noelke grabbed some t-shirts and looked for a rowdy group of fans to toss them at. Not content with just appealing to the fans in the lower sections, both guys headed into the stands and started climbing the very steep Assembly Hall stairs. Eisenhart did nearly a full lap around the entire stadium tossing out shirts to people. Noelke made an exhausting sprint all the way up to a top section and hurled a shirt to some screaming fans as well.
While they caught their breath, we were about to have ours taken away by Mike West and the American Thunder Jet Jeep!
Assembly Hall certainly is not the best place to unleash the top-speed power of American Thunder, but West treated us to plenty of hot laps around the arena. Yes, pun very much intended.
After showing the speed and maneuvering capabilities, West hit the afterburners and lit the place up!
Monster Truck Qualifying
Out of intermission, it was time for the monsters to qualify to set up the racing brackets. I had jumped to the other side of the arena and talked to Jeff Perrin during intermission, so I decided to just stay there for Qualifying, which is why the trucks are now jumping the other direction in the photos.
Jocelyn Perrin was up first and had a decent run, but it probably was not going to hold up.
Andy Hoffman had the wildest run with a huge vertical launch, which spiked the rear tires into the last car and sent the front end into a nasty concrete nose dive! Andy and truck were fine.
Dale Benear took over the top spot with a quick and level pass.
Benear's time did not stay on top long though. Doug Noelke smoked the course with a very quick pass to take quick time with only 1 truck to go!
Mark Hall vs. Doug Noelke Round 3 and this time it went to Hall. Mark blasted Raminator over the cars to nip Noelke's time by 3 one-hundredths of a second.
The monsters took a break, but another type of monster rumbled out to snack on a car. Transaurus was hungry and munched the little import much to the delight of kids and adults alike.
From the biggest monster in the building...to the smallest monsters.
The Monster Nationals crew guys are also avid R/C monster truck specialists and enthusiasts and brought a bunch of their high dollar toys out for some mini monster jumping. Only problem was, after so many weeks on the road and not much time for upkeep, their ramp was in dire straits. After one it, it came tumbling down:
George Eisenhart was left playing the role of "ramp holder" while the guys tried to launch the trucks off it. Needless to say, it wasn't working. So...if one guy holding it doesn't work, how about one guy holding it from underneath!?
The ramp had completely collapsed and was now just a piece of plywood being held in the air. But it worked!
Great effort by all the R/C and Monster Nationals crew to turn a bad situation into a hilarious, fun and enjoyable one!
Monster Truck Racing
Time for the main event! The 4-car racing setup is nothing fancy, nothing exceptionally challenging, nothing that upon looking at it will make you jump back and say "wow!" Yet, those measly 8 cars have provided some wild racing moments over the past several years. Big air, close finishes and crazy landings are not probable, they are definite! #1 Qualifier Mark Hall in Raminator would get a free pass into Round 2 to take on the Fast Loser from Round 1.
Lil' Miss Dangerous vs. Rammunition-- The defending Assembly Hall champ, Dale Benear, already topped Perrin in the donut contest and needed to get past her again to move one step closer to the repeat win. Perrin was not going down without a fight and beat Benear off the line and into the cars! Perrin kept LMD low over the cars and darted towards the finish while Benear went a completely different route and pulled some huge, vertical air, completely clearing the 4 cars and crossing the finish line with the front end a good 15-20 feet in the air! Incredibly close race and I had no idea who won. The win was awarded to Benear who must've crossed the finish inches before Perrin did. Winner: Rammunition.
Big Dawg vs. Nitemare-- Noelke: The Racer. Hoffman: The Freestyler. Logic says Noelke is the favorite in this match. Outside of Mark Hall, he's won more racing events than anyone on the Monster Nationals tour and on this night had some very quick and smooth runs across both sets. Hoffman has not won many racing events with most of his victories coming in Freestyle. A lot of his hits this night were ones that normally wouldn't win a race; big air, off balance, etc. Yet, we just saw Benear win a race with a banzai run. Maybe Hoffman has this course down more than we think. Hoffman nailed a hole shot on Noelke and took a short lead into the air. Noelke did not look like he got a very good launch and was very low over the cars. Hoffman was flyin' high and made the early lead stick to the finish for a 1/4 truck length win! Winner: Nitemare.
Lil' Miss Dangerous vs. Raminator-- Perrin gets back in as the Fast Loser and pairs up against the reigning Monster Nationals Champion. Perrin was not intimidated by one big Ram in the first round, I doubt she was worried about the other one. Perrin again nailed a perfect light and beat Hall off the line! Hall mashed the Hemi for all it had and burst forward with a huge amount of force to pull even with Perrin in the air and then pass her a split second later. In a matter of 4 car widths, Hall went from behind to a 1/2 truck in the lead. Another great race. Winner: Raminator.
Nitemare vs. Rammunition-- A win for Benear would setup an all Dodge final and make him a win away from the repeat. As we've seen already, the trucks and drivers maybe not known so much for their racing ability have stepped up and made things very interesting. Hoffman put immediate pressure on Benear and grabbed a tire length hole shot. Nitemare went up in the air in the far lane much like his Qualifying pass, while Benear used that slight loss of time to make up his time. True to his Qualifying form, Benear stayed low and fast and out muscled Nitemare at the end to take a tire length win! Winner: Rammunition.
Rammunition vs. Raminator-- Far lane: Dale Benear/Rammunition, the impact player of Assembly Hall and reigning Racing champion. Near lane: Mark Hall/Raminator, one of the greatest racers of our time on any track and the reigning Monster Nationals Champion. Both with plenty of motivation to win from past years and the hometown hype. Pick your pony, red or black, Hall or Benear, it's show time!
Again the hole shot belonged to the truck in the far lane as Benear had a slight lead as they hit the cars. Benear went high, but Hall went even higher in his launch. Benear had a perfect jump, clearing the set with the front tires and landed them right on the finish. Hall had more air, but also had more power behind his leap and nearly cleared the 4 cars with all four tires. Hall's extra mid-air boost propelled Raminator past a diving Rammunition to score the win by less than a tire. Awesome race.
Hall brought Raminator back around and grabbed some air on the near set to celebrate the victory.
The teammates congratulated each other on a great night and a hard run in the Finals.
With that, another Champaign Monster Nationals came to a close. These drivers once again proved that the size of the arena doesn't matter for monster trucks to put on a great show. Big thanks to George Eisenhart and the entire Monster Nationals crew! If you haven't been to a Monster Nationals event, you're seriously missing out, no matter where they're running. Check their schedule to see when they're hitting a town near you!
Also, thanks to all the drivers and crews for their hospitality; to Brenda Noelke for snapping the award ceremony pictures; to George again for the sweet Monster Nationals hat because "you're not wearing Tim Bush's stuff out on my floor!" :-) And of course, thanks to you for stopping by once again!