Over the past three years, the Image Production's Monster Nationals series has been selling out indoor arenas all over the country putting on the best monster action found during the winter. The series has been hailed for its fast paced and well produced events featuring the best trucks in the business. With the fans craving more monsters during the summer, Monster Nationals headed outdoors for the first time with stop #3 being Champaign Illinois.
The show was held in conjunction with the Champaign county fair and therefore was another mid-week show and only two days after my stop in Grayslake. The drive to Champaign was nearly three hours which required some ditching out of work early and some crazy driving to make it on time. I picked up Steve Maver on the way in Joliet and we rolled into the fair with 15 minutes to spare. The show was already half way sold out with the presale and we were hard pressed to find some decent seats near the finish and over the fence line. The stands quickly filled to the brim even after we had sat down and many people were left standing or sitting on the steps. Even the infield on the other side of the track was filled with fans and their vehicles kickin' it Jamboree style. Another packed house for Monster Nationals action!
Big Dawg--Doug Noelke
War Wagon--Jeff Cook
TeamRAM and War Wagon were mainstays on the winter Monster Nationals series and were joined with two new comers to the promotion in Big Dawg and Samson. TeamRAM had the hometown advantage but when it came down to it, I don't think the crowd cared and you'll see that later. Big Dawg was not a part of the event here in February at the Assembly Hall and was the unfamiliar face in the group but Noelke would soon have the name of Big Dawg etched in their minds. Jeff Cook in the War Wagon always has what I would call a cult following wherever he runs and it is not a surprise to see him the crowd favorite.
The track setup looked simple with a small roller hill and then a set of 5 cars but that little hill can always turn into a big obstacle and be the deciding factor in races. To kick off the nights events, a special Grudge Race was held between the Ford of Big Dawg and the Chevy of War Wagon as the two big sponsers for this race were a Ford dealer AND a Chevy dealer. The rivalry is always hottly contested and what better way to settle it than with monsters trucks!
Big Dawg vs. War Wagon-- It became very clear that this track was going to bite back and was going to be very fast. Noelke in Big Dawg got a sizeable lead on Cook in War Wagon and made it stick over the roller. War Wagon took a small bounce to the left side and that was more than enough to let Big Dawg cruise on by and Noelke got some big air off the cars on his way to victory. The ramps looks very steep on both sides. Winner: Big Dawg.
In between each round of monsters there was some modified tuff truck action to keep the crowd entertained. The trucks were some of the best in the country but the track was pretty tame. If it was stock tuff trucks, I would've been out there!
One of the things that really sets Monster Nationals apart from its competitors is that the program is mixed up a bit show-to-show. The addition to this event would be a Wheelie Contest. Each truck would get a crack at the backside of the cars with the winner decided by crowd applause.
RAMmunition-- Dale Benear has been stepping up his aggression week by week and this event is the perfect place to hold nothing back and go for that break out victory. Benear rolled up to the far set of cars and mashed the big Hemi for all it had and stood RAMmuntion near completely vertical with the back tires digging into the second car! But Benear didn't drop the wheelie there, he kept his foot in it and carried the front end all the over and off the cars, down the ramp, and hit the roller hill all on the rear wheels!! INSANE! Only problem was that after hitting the hill, the truck nose dived very hard and the front end was locked up. I don't remember the exact problem but the crews quickly went to work to try and fix RAMmunition.
Samson-- Dan Patrick had himself one tough act to follow but after so many years I don't think there's anything he'll back down from. Patrick lined up on the still fresh near set of cars and hit the cars pretty hard but the front end shot forwards instead of up and with the big cantilievers pulling the back tires down, not much height out of the wheelie.
Big Dawg-- Noelke already had one win on the night and was looking to add to it. Noelke rolled up to the far set of cars and stabbed the throttle at just the right moment and sent Big Dawg skyward in a HUGE wheelstand! The truck was a good 3-4 feet in the air and nearly straight up and down. Big Dawg just seemed to float in the air before slamming onto the cars and Doug had to do some driving to keep the truck on all fours and it began to slide towards the concrete barriers. An incredible leap by Noelke in Big Dawg and the crowd so far was very even on RAMmunition and Big Dawg.
War Wagon-- 'Wildman' Jeff Cook hit the track next in War Wagon. Cook has put on some highlight reel runs in the past and is pretty good at pulling a rolling wheelie across all the cars as I've seen him do in Madison. But something just didn't sound right on the truck when he pulled up to the cars. The engine seemed to be laboring when he hit the throttle and definetly didn't get the wheelie he wanted. I was really looking forward to a knockout run by War Wagon too.
RAMinator-- Mark Hall was probably the most dominate driver in the 2003 indoor Monster Nationals tour and we all know his success in outdoor racing, but how about a wheelie? Hall cruised up to the near set keeping the speed a good pace and stomped on the Hemi right at the cars and RAMinator grabbed some great air both distance and height. This jump fell as 3rd best and the vote was down to Big Dawg and RAMmunition.
As I said, the crowd was very split on Big Dawg and RAMmunition and a vote had to be taken three times before Big Dawg was finally declared the crowd choice. I can't agree nor disagree here. Both jumps were awesome in their own right; Noelke with the great air and Benear with that fanstastic rolling wheelie. For some reason I think that both of them aren't finished by a long shot :-)
RAMmunition-- After some relentless thrashing underneath the truck, RAMmunition was back and ready to rock. Benear once again showed he was out to make an impact and drilled the light off the line. RAMmunition took a bounce to the right pretty quick but Benear never backed out of the throttle and hit the ramp crooked sending the truck sailing high into the air leaning to the right. Benear cleared all the cars easily and landed very hard on the right side and pulled a sweet save to bring RAMmunition back under control. Benear has pushed it to the limit in the Wheelie Contest and Qualifying and the night is only half done.
Samson-- Dan Patrick would get the first run down the near lane and test the track for racing. Patrick bolted off the line and navigated the hill smoothly and hit the gas and flew over the cars perfectly with a very quick run.
War Wagon-- Something still seemed to be lingering and sucking power away from War Wagon. Cook stumbled a little over the hill and gave it all the truck had over the cars and still put down a smooth run, just not the fastest.
Big Dawg-- Just like RAMmunition and just like in the Wheelie Contest, Doug Noelke went full tilt in this run and laid down the quick time so far and also grabbed some major and crazy air off that far set. Its becoming and "Can you top this?!" between Benear and Noelke.
RAMinator-- Mark Hall got the final run here as well and was in the near lane that seemed to be keeping the trucks more smooth and low to the cars resulting in the faster times. Hall charged over the hill also keeping low and gunned it for the cars and sailed over them perfectly with not a lot of height giving himself the #1 Qualifying spot. But in Monster Nationals, Qualifying means squat. Whoever wins Freestyle gets the Bye-run in racing and what's comin' up next? You guessed it.
RAMmunition-- Dale Benear hit the track first to set the bar for Freestyle. Benear got a huge running start from way back behind the roller hill and flat footed the truck all the way down the track getting more huge air off the back set and landing way down the track into the shutdown area. Looking to repeat the Wheelie Contest, Benear hit the backside of the cars but didn't get nearly as vertical but cleared past the ramps. Benear whipped RAMmunition around and burned down the near lane and got a really good leap off the set. He then took advantage of the very dusty and dry conditions on the track and tore off some awesome donuts sending dirt and dust everywhere including into the fair midway causing some of the food vendors to get a little pissed off. Not like their sausage wagon is going to stop RAMmunition anyway. Benear took another jump off the back of the cars and called it good. Score: 6.
War Wagon-- I quickly learned on the Monster Nationals tour that you never under estimate Jeff Cook in Freestyle. Cook started with a quick run down the near lane to open the run. Cook tried to get his trademark rolling wheelstand going and came close twice getting some nice air. Cook mimiced RAMmunition donut for donut out in the dry dirt and managed to kick up plenty of his own. Another big leap off the back of the cars and that was it. Good run but not anything spectacular. Score: 5.
Samson-- Dan Patrick looked to turn up the notch on Freestyle with the Bye Run on the line. Patrick started off clearing the near set off the ramps and turned back towards the cars, I thought, to hit them from the back. But instead Patrick turned the truck away from the track and busted out some insane donuts! He got Samson spinning totally out of control and nearly smacked the concrete barriers by the announce stand. Patrick followed up with some good jumps on the cars and finished the run. Awesome donuts that really got the crowd behind him. Still looking for someone to really mix it up. Score: 7.
(Dan's signature from the Crown Point event)
Big Dawg-- Doug Noelke is constantly improving and after establishing himself as a dominate racer, he's evolved his Freestyle more and more. Doug blasted onto the track and flew down the far lane with ease. Noelke went for the big move quick and headed down the center of the track towards the final tuff truck jump and got some big air and bounced up a great slap wheelie carrying it into the pit area! That really fired the crowd up and he kept the momentum going as he flew back down to the end of the track. Noelke followed up what Samson did and went to that same area and cut off some equally awesome donuts. Noelke followed up every great move with another and kept the crowd on edge. He slammed into the cars with a ton of speed and popped a great wheelstand on the near set getting the front end way up in the air. Excellent run! Score: 9.
RAMinator-- Momentum is the key to freestyle and the truck/driver combination that fulfills that everytime is Mark Hall in RAMinator. Hall started with a massive leap off the far side of the cars getting incredible distance off the ramp. Hall whipped the truck around and attacked the cars from the other side getting some more good distance. Hall kept the speed up and continued to grab big air off the ramps as well as the back side of the cars. He hit the middle dirt hill a few times as well but even with that, the run was very repeaticious. Some of the better jumps on the day but needed to change it up a bit. Score: 8.
RAMinator vs. War Wagon--
These two trucks matched up in the first round back at the indoor Champaign event in
February with Mark Hall getting some crazy air and blowing away War Wagon:
Who would take away this re-match? Jeff Cook in War Wagon got a slight jump on RAMinator and held it over the roller hill. Hall poured it on into the flat area but War Wagon stuck right with him. The trucks hit the ramps dead even and flew to the finish in a race no one could call. Everyone was scratching their heads on this one. Steve and I had no clue either. George Einhart (I know I just butchered that) the man in charge with the Monster Nationals was also doing the announcing and was right on the line to call the finish but even he wasn't too sure. He climbed the fence and asked the crowd who were sitting right on the line who they thought won and we were all split. I voted War Wagon but George gave it to RAMinator and now that I see the picture I agree as well. An exciting race to start off the brackets. Winner: RAMinator.
RAMmunition vs. Samson-- Benear has been heating up all night and looked to keep the fire lit. Benear bolted off the line and carried the front end in the air over the hill and off while Patrick fell behind. Benear put the peddle down and scorched the track with probably the fastest run of the day and left Samson eating dust. RAMmunition was clearly the crowd favorite after this race. A dominating win for Dale Benear. Winner: RAMunition.
Big Dawg vs. War Wagon-- War Wagon is in as the fast loser while Big Dawg had the Bye run in Round 1. Another dead even start by both trucks as they launched over the hill headed towards the cars. Cook took a slight bounced to the right and it opened the door for Noelke as he never let up and flew over the cars to a narrow victory. Winner: Big Dawg.
RAMinator vs. RAMmunition-- The Battle of TeamRAM. This isn't the first time they've had to face each other as back in February they each made it to the Finals and in an awesome battle, RAMinator came away the winner:
The crowd was again highly in favor of Benear in RAMmunition and went so far as to boo RAMinator! The big Hemi's rev'd up and let 'em loose on the green! Hall had a clear hole shot off the line but Benear reeled him in instantly and charged hard towards the cars. Benear hit the ramp in the lead and launched over the cars with some huge air while problems hit RAMinator and the truck died on the cars. Big win for Benear and it just jacked the crowd even more. Winner: RAMmunition. **Yeah, I know mypicture looks like crap. The Walgreens photo machine ate my pictures to begin with then the girl cut my negatives in half!!!!! So I have about 3/4 of the actual picture....lovely. But Steve lent me his shot of the race to make up for it.**
RAMmunition vs. Big Dawg-- It only makes sense that these two would make it to the finals. They've been the dominate trucks throughout the show with Noelke so far having a clean sweep of the night but RAMmunition hasn't been far behind. The crowd voted once again in favor of RAMmunition winning this race but there were alot of people jumpin' on the Big Dawg bandwagon as well. The light hit green and Big Dawg blew RAMunition away on the line. Benear started playing catchup in no-mans-land but as they hit the ramp Noelke continued to pour it on and flew across the cars to a full truck length win. Winner: Big Dawg.
In just his first Monster Nationals event, Doug Noelke in Big Dawg took top honors in every event and established himself even more as one of the top trucks in the land. Word has it that Big Dawg just may become part of the 2004 Monster National indoor tour as well! The Monster Nationals continues to expand every year and I can't wait til the next time I can attend one of their events. If you haven't checked out one of their show, I highly suggest you do. You will NOT be disappointed.
After the show let out, Steve and I roamed on down to the souvenior tables and yacked with everybody for over an hour. Thanks to the Halls, Noelke's, and everyone down there for letting us just hang out for awhile. The night was growing long and we had a long drive back as well so we packed up and hit the road back. Thanks to Steve for coming along and letting me use a shot of his. Now if he'd get off his lazy behind and write a coverage of his own once in awhile!! Feel free to IM him on AOL under the name Superman3387 and give him grief :-) (don't hurt me Steve). And of course thanks to you for stopping by yet again to read the coverage. Jason Twite.