One week removed from the Rolling Thunder Monster Truck Tour in Grand Rapids, MI, it was down to the other corner of the Midwest to Cape Girardeau, Mo for the Checkered Flag Productions' Winter Nationals. In each of my two past trips to Cape, the lineups and track in the small arena have been greatly different. For a third time, change would again take place. A whole new line up of trucks, a new track layout but the same great monster truck action we come to expect from CFP.
I met up with Rich Inman about half way to the arena to hitch a ride the rest of the way and save a few bucks on gas. Rich had gone to the Friday Night show as well and gave a good report on the action. I could not make it to both shows as school and expenses just would not allow it. Once to the Show Me Center, we headed to the back area and met up with Linda Beckley of CFP. We strolled onto the floor of the arena and saw the new track setup with both lanes now a car-van-van-car setup, which I'd never seen before. The trucks would be racing in the opposite direction as they did on concrete in 2003 but in the same direction as with the dirt in 2004.
I looked down the line of monster trucks up against the wall and something immediately caught my eye. Nemesis had a new look! I didn't bother waiting for Rich to catch up, I basically ran down there to see it. (Not like the truck was actually going anywhere). The new body looked awesome! Brand new full body decals by Road Rage Kustoms with a killer looking skull on the doors and cool looking flames all down the body. But I had to actually search for the Nemesis name on the truck, it was nowhere on the sides of the body, it was on the tailgate and the hood.
I caught up with Bob Shae, owner and driver of Nemesis, and asked him the reason for the name not being on the truck. He stated that in the hope of the Monster Truck Racing Series (MTRS) forming, he wanted open space on the truck for his sponsors that he had lined up if the series takes off. Rich and I stepped outside into the Cape Girardeau deep freeze and chatted with Shae some more about a lot of stuff in the industry. Bob has a lot of things in the works for his team and others and you can keep up to date on stuff at their new site www.nemesismonstertruck.com.
As the minutes ticked away, the arena began to fill up with fans and with not yet having seats ourselves, Rich and I decided it was time to go hunt some. Problem was, finding them...the place was PACKED! We walked all the way around the arena before finally finding two open seats about half way up the building. At least we found seats. Many, many people were left standing in the aisles around the walkways as there was not an empty seat in the house. Extra folding chairs were brought out to put along the end walls but even that only allowed an extra 75 or so spots. An incredible showing of fans all ready for some monster trucks!
A first time driver, in his first show, in the first event for this truck under new ownership. Smith climbs into the Venom ride for the Holman team in lieu of Corey Neff and Maximum Torc cutting back on events. I don't get a chance to see many true rookies run, so this should be interesting for me let alone for Smith.
Holman's Beast--Bobby Holman
A rough outing the weekend prior in Grand Rapids left Beast with a shredded tire, a busted jack and only one victory. But Cape Girardeau is a whole different atmosphere. Holman won this event one year ago and he always kicks it up a notch when the big blue Ford is sitting just down the line as well.
Big Crunch--Tom Schmidt
Another bit of firsts as this would be my first time seeing Big Crunch in action. I've seen plenty of Schmidt's truck in photos and have been interested in seeing this truck run for quite some time. Nothing too extreme usually from Big Crunch but a consistent runner.
Every time I run into Nemesis at a show, seems like something is new with the truck, as I stated before, its a whole new body design this time. Shae pushes his truck to the limit and won't back down from anyone no matter the circumstances. When Nemesis is on kill, no truck is safe.
Bigfoot #11--Lonny Childress
Bigfoot returns to Cape Girardeau and with a returning driver behind the wheel. Childress drove a High Roller truck for Clear Channel last year along side his brother Jason in a Grave Digger but has left that stable and come back to his roots in the Bigfoot camp. I've never seen Lonny drive so, again, another first time voyage for me.
Monster Truck Freestyle
In the CFP show format, freestyle comes first and every truck will get one run to do what they want with the crowd picking the winner. After that, then comes side-by-side racing. Nemesis would be kicking off the action.
Nemesis3-- Shae rumbled his hot looking new truck out onto the concrete and immediately went for some donuts but only got 1/2 revolutions going on each try. Shae headed to the other end of the floor and lined up for the near stack of vehicles and hit a decent opening jump with some good lift getting the front tires over the two vans. Shae circled around in a hurry and came for another hit on the same set and did an almost identical jump. Shae lined up the far stack now and from the back side but didn't hit them aggressively at all and just rolled Nemesis across the cars. Shae spun the truck around in the tight starting line area and went for the far stack again and hit them very hard shooting the truck up into the air but the truck nose dived hard into the last car and came to a dead stop. Engine RPMs went sky high and that is never a good sign. Shae was not happy at all and unfortunately Nemesis had blown apart another transmission and would be done for the night. Score: 4.
Not the way to start off the night nor the way to debut a new body. It took a few minutes to get Nemesis out of the way before the next truck could hit the track.
Venom-- Shane Smith fired up his new ride, Venom, and lumbered out to the track. It was obvious Smith was still timid and in the learning stages even when lining the truck up and making simple turns. He rolled up slowly to the near set and burped the throttle a few times on his way and hit the cars not with too much force and the result was a very small jump as he limped the truck over the stack. Smith went to turn the truck around but was having trouble centering the rear wheels and was stuck in a "crab-walk" position. At first it looked like Smith just could not figure out how to maneuver the truck, but it started to become apparent that something was wrong with the steering as Bobby Holman and Bob Shae were out looking at the rear axle. With a lot of coordination they finally got Venom pointed the right direction but the wheels would not center. Venom was parked and the run was over. Score: 1.
Big Crunch-- Time for someone to step up and pump some life into this event immediately. The crowd was getting restless and so was I. Tom Schmidt now had a big weight sitting on his shoulders as he fired up Big Crunch. Schmidt opened his freestyle with a good hit on the near set and kept Crunch moving around the floor smoothly. He came around quickly for a hit on the same set and got a little better air and continued to build momentum. He swung to the far set and smashed down what was left of those vans with the best wheel stand of the night so far. Schmidt spun Big Crunch around and attacked the near set again with a real nice final jump, nearly clearing the stack. Crowd responded nicely and rightfully so. Good run for Big Crunch. Score: 6.
Beast-- Freestyle was really going to be ignited now as Bobby Holman brought Beast onto the track. Holman did not show me much in Grand Rapids the previous weekend and needed to put on a great run not only to make me happy but to keep this huge crowd in the action. Holman lit the tires up on the concrete of the staging area and then charged to the near set and hit a sweet rolling wheelie across the two vans to open the run. Holman kept the peddle down and hustled back to the far set and hit another fantastic rolling wheelie carrying all the way across the row. Holman had found his grove on that set and came back for another crack on the same side and stood Beast nearly straight up, burped the gas and held the front end in the air as he walked it across yet again! Holman continued to burn up the arena and hit several long jumps on both sets before setting up a final leap again on that far set. He rolled up to it, smashed the throttle and stood the truck straight up and down and it just sat there on the back tires before Holman hit the gas and in slow motion walked the truck all the way over the cars and off the set! Awesome jump and the crowd was jumpin'. The Beast wasn't done yet as Holman found the open concrete and lit up the floor with a furious set of donuts that never seemed to end! My pictures don't show it but he spun that truck at least 8 times with incredible speed before smacking the set of cars. Holman still kept going, went to the far set again and went for another rolling wheelie but ended up with a decent long jump to finally....finally end the run. Flat out, hardcore, high-speed freestyle that we've known to expect from Holman. Score: 10.
Bigfoot-- Lonny had a huge task in front of him now. Holman not only raised the bar, he kicked it through the roof. The crowd was heavily behind Bigfoot, which was going to drive him even more to win. Childress started with a nice opening leap on the far set almost clearing them. Came to the near side and this time just barely grazed the last car with a beautiful jump. The air continued to get bigger as Childress sailed Bigfoot off the first car on the far side and then didn't touch anything but concrete on the landing. Back to the near side and Childress took a slower approach to the set and shot the front end way in the air, popped the rear tires up onto the cars and then the truck just seemed to explode into the air and off to the side as truck and driver took a hard hit on the landing. Everything was intact as Childress spun Bigfoot to the back side of the far set and rocked the big Ford up with a great wheel stand but it could not compete with the rolling wheelies of Beast just yet. No more slow approach to the cars this time as Childress attacked the near set very hard and it sent Bigfoot off to the side again and another rough landing on the left side but it all held together. Childress now went after the donuts and burnt up the floor with a blistering set of donuts spinning Bigfoot out of control and he also smacked the crush cars to cap the run. A fantastic run to say the least and indeed rivaled that of Beast. The crowd vote was very very close but they gave it to Bigfoot. I'm pretty split on my choice. Both had momentum, both nailed the donuts, both had great air. Bobby Holman though just maybe had a little bit more energy and certainly won me over with those old school wheelies. Bigfoot Score: 9.5
Freestyle started slow and had a lagging feeling to it but Big Crunch started the up swing and then the Beast vs. Bigfoot war brought the crowd to their feet and really stepped up the program. There was a brief gap from Freestyle before heading into Racing. The racing format would see each truck face one another in a round robin type format with the two trucks with the most victories facing off in the finals. The starting line was a good truck and a half length from the rows of cars and the finish line was also about 20 feet after the set so letting up after the initial hit will most likely be costly.
Monster Truck Racing Round 1
Big Crunch vs. Venom--
The mechanical problems seemed to be figured out for Smith in Venom and had no troubles getting the truck set on the line. Advantage here should go to Schmidt with the experience. The light went green and Smith got the hole shot with a strong take off and into the cars. Schmidt passed him up on the cars as both of them stayed very low. Schmidt was on the ground first but didn't keep going! He just let Crunch roll to a stop while Smith also did not keep the throttle down and let up as well but coasted ahead of Big Crunch and was given the win. Poor execution by both drivers on the finish. Winner: Venom.
Beast vs. Venom-- The teammates will battle in this one and clearly Smith is again at a disadvantage even though he did just pick up a win against Big Crunch. Holman is a very hard and aggressive racer and will show no mercy against his young apprentice. The light hit green and Smith sunk his venomous claws into Holman on the line and left Beast napping. Smith charged towards the set hard as Holman tried to catch up. Smith nailed a perfect jump, almost clearing the set and staying low while Holman hit the cars extremely hard, never slowing down and exploded into the air with some GIGANTIC air, never coming close to touching the cars with a desperate come from behind leap. Smith's early lead held and he was able to stick it to the boss in Beast and took the win! Holman sailed past the finish line and landed some ten feet even past that mark, massive air in a failed attempt. Winner: Venom....or is it?
My final picture is not clear and I didn't get another one after it due to camera not loading fast enough. By my account of the live race and my picture I say Venom got it and a whole lot of people around me did too. But then the word is Beast won!! A bunch of discussions broke out around me and people were obviously questioning the call. That last burst by Holman certainly helped sway the decision and it was indeed a close finish. I say Venom, they say Beast, Beast moves on but a heck of a job by Shane Smith.
Intermission would follow next and over the course of 15 minutes, some genius in the building realized that not all the lights have been on for the show! DUH! Sure helps my pictures look better now. The floor was now going to be much much brighter.
Racing Round 2
Bigfoot vs. Venom--
Smith is 1-1 so far, but should be 2-0 and now must really show what he is capable of matched up with Lonny Childress in Bigfoot. Light went green and Smith again got a quick jump on Bigfoot but it was quickly erased as Childress powered ahead of Smith and nailed the cars first. Bigfoot stayed low and still cleared the cars while Venom struggled a little bit and drifted off to the right of the set and fell to Bigfoot by 1/2 truck length at the finish line. Winner: Bigfoot.
Bigfoot vs. Big Crunch--
Battle of the Big Fords to determine who goes to the finals against Beast. Hole shot went to Childress in Bigfoot as he left Crunch struggling from the start. Bigfoot sailed across the cars with a perfect up and out leap, clearing the set and landing on the finish line. Schmidt could never catch up and didn't get over the cars smoothly and fell behind nearly two truck lengths. Winner: Bigfoot.
Bigfoot vs. Beast--
The match up you just knew would happen and what everyone wanted to see again after their freestyle war. Bobby Holman told me last week that he wanted to get to Cape Girardeau and take out Bigfoot, now had what he wanted, could he deliver? Holman went to the line and sat there waiting for Childress to get set in Bigfoot. Lonny was taking a lot of time to get Bigfoot ready including several burn outs to heat up the tires. Finally both drivers were ready and were staged and locked on the light. Light went green and Holman rocketed out of the hole, slamming into the cars and shooting way up into the air with another giant leap landing on the finish line to take the win! Where was Bigfoot? Dead on the line! Childress blew out the rear axle doing burnouts and with 2WD only, he couldn't go anywhere. Winner: Beast
Holman turned Beast around and hit a wheel stand on the far set heading right at Bigfoot and parked the truck right there, rubbing it in just a little bit more. A disappointment for the event to end on that note but it definitely pleased the Beast fans and especially Bobby Holman who not only put on a perfect freestyle but did what he set out to accomplish and beat Bigfoot.
Even though the monsters were finished, one last event was ready to take center stage. It would be a funny car tug of war between CFP event director Hammer Arnold and a pro-drag racing female (sorry, forget her name). After a delay of getting them actually started it was tug-time. It was a slow but very loud back and forth battle across the floor. Hammer in the purple Bedazzled truck eventually took the advantage and yanked the other car across to his end for the win.
Rich had taken off before the racing finals to go meet up with transmission builder Matt Heady over on the other side of the arena so I went to track him down after the tug of war. We went down on the floor as trucks were tiring down and packing up. Rich was busy talking parts with Heady and Holman and we headed outside to get some transmissions loaded up in Matt's truck. With nothing else going on inside and the weather very very cold outside, we headed to the car.
A solid show, yes, but still disappointing on a few levels. Wanted to see more out of Nemesis but I will certainly have more opportunities. Venom's freestyle was basically not even existent but rebounded well with his racing performance. Other than that, the only other thing was that the show tended to lag and be slow and disorganized in several spots. Oh, and not having the lights on for 3/4 the show, smooth.
Thanks to Ed & Linda Beckely of Checkered Flag Productions for our access to the show and for continuing to put on quality shows all around the country. Big thanks as well to Rich Inman for giving me a ride to the show and savin' me a few bucks on gas. Thanks again for stopping by!