17 years ago I went to my first monster truck event at the Universal Ampitheatre in Chicago, Illinois, and since that time I've added over 100 events to the tally and ventured into nine different states to accomplish the journey. But in all those years there has been one state that, even though it is so close, I had never entered for a monster truck event. Iowa is a mere two hours directly west of Chicago's western suburbs and when I heard there were monsters right over the border, I was not missing this opportunity. Davenport, Iowa's Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds would be a new stop for me and also a first time exposure to some of the rising stars in this industry.
I arrived at the track almost two hours ahead of show time as did a swarm of people coming for the pit party. I spotted David Smith and Daron Basl back in the pits and got over to them to introduce myself. David and his wife Melody are a huge help to the World Monster Truck Racing League and consistently send in results every weekend from the road. Smith was prepared to arrange my access to the show as was Linsey Weenk who wandered on over along with Russell Steeley. They too were aware I was coming and I thank them all for their help!
As the crew with the Extreme Monster Truck Nationals prepared to open the pit party, much of the discussion between the drivers and myself revolved around the weather. Severe thunderstorms were forecasted for Iowa and were making their way towards Davenport. Large, dark and ominous looking clouds were spotted off in the distance so I made a call home to get a weather update. It sounded like we would luck out as the storm would turn north and I made the confident prediction to David Smith that it would miss us and if it didn't, it wouldn't rain for more than a couple minutes. We all know my luck with rain!
The sky stayed clear as the gates opened for the VIP Pit Party. The Sgt. Smash ride truck was also whipping willing riders around the track and over tuff truck hills.
Russell Steeley--Bounty Hunter
Steeley is the hired-gun for the summer months in the CheckerSchucksKragen stable allowing Jimmy and Dawn Creten some much needed time off from the road. I had not heard much on Steeley but had seen pictures of some past performances and knew he was not one to go light and would do whatever it took to uphold Bounty Hunter's newly won World Freestyle title.
Linsey Weenk--Iron Outlaw
Weenk joined the CSK team at the end of 2004 and has been on a road to success the likes of which this sport rarely sees. Weenk made a name for himself for years driving Jurassic Attack for Don Frankish out of Canada and was always one to dominate in that truck too. The recognition of his accomplishments were not seen by enough people and its a shame. The opportunity came for Weenk to move into a CSK truck and put his brother Nathan behind the wheel of Jurassic Attack. With several huge event wins all across the country and back into Canada along with memorable freestyles to go with it, he has taken the new Iron Outlaw name and made it his own
Daron Basl--el Matador
Much like Weenk, Daron Basl is on the same path to stardom with the Flame Motorsports team in Texas. I knew Basl was good even before I saw him run last September and after that event in Topeka, he proved he was reaching levels of greatness with el Matador. His ability to adapt to any conditions and quickly master the course is phenomenal. A true natural talent in a monster truck.
David Smith--King Krunch
Even with less than 10 years in a monster truck, Smith is the veteran of the bunch behind the wheel of a legendary name. Smith has ran consistent for years and finally has earned back the national recognition for the King Krunch name. Two stellar performances at the Monster Jam World Finals combined with coast-to-coast tours have re-established King Krunch as a force in the industry and a threat to win every time out.
Whether there will be Weather --Would the weather map be accurate or would David Smith be looking to hunt me down after the show? As start time drew closer, the clouds rolled in and huge lightning strikes were seen off in the distance. But so far all there had been was some wind gusts and plenty of fear to go around. The grandstands were covered and the fans did not seem to mind what the weather had in store. Obviously rain would play a role on the track conditions and if the event actually happened!
The track has a what!? --The chicago-style track had a bit of a twist to it due to the fact that the facility's normal setup is 2 circle tracks in 1. With the monster truck track on the front stretch, it was a shared part of both oval tracks. On the left side of the track (from my view on the other side) there was a small birm that separated the the track from either turning for the smaller, inside track, or continuing straight for the larger, outside track. That meant that the monsters would have to go up this birm that was right in the middle of their turn on the chicago-style layout. Only time would tell as to how the drivers would handle the little extra obstacle.
Who are these guys? --This 4-truck lineup was a true showcase of the younger talent leading the next generation of monster truck drivers. Even David Smith can be included in that title with less than 10 years driving which is almost more than the other three drivers combined! Basl I've seen live before but this would be my first look at Steeley and Weenk. Coming in my pick to win racing no matter what was Daron Basl but this was the perfect field for anyone to walk out winner. Davenport is just one battle in an entire season, but it is a step toward greatness and most importantly, notoriety.
As the crowd filed into the stands and the trucks rumbled out to the track for introductions, I took my spot on the other side of the track up on a huge concrete platform used for the announcers book and flag stand. That announcers booth was going to come in very handy because as soon as the introductions began, so did the rain! A light shower fell on the track as the winds picked up again but thankfully the rain did not last much longer than a few minutes and before David Smith could even stop glaring at me, the rain was gone! First event for the monsters would be a Wheelie Contest.
Bounty Hunter-- Russell Steeley would be first up and the guy to set the bar for the rest of the field. What kind of first impression would Steeley make on his two hits? It did not take long for everyone to notice Bounty Hunter as Steeley lined up the near set and shot the truck straight up and down with all four tires in the air, spiking it on the third car and then walked the truck almost all the way off the set! The crowd erupted after that hit and so did I, Steeley was not here to play a second-rate filler. He brought Bounty Hunter to the far set and popped the truck up vertical again and stabbed the gas to try and walk the truck all the way across but came up just a bit short. Two awesome leaps to open the show. Score: 9.
el Matador-- Basl has been more of a racing threat than a freestyle/wheelie threat and mainly that is due to the truck. King Krunch #14 is not set up to get big air, it is built to win races. Basl still gives it whatever the truck will let him in the wheelie's and he nailed a good first jump with the truck about half way to vertical. His second jump was slightly better as the front end shot up a bit more but ended up more as long jump than anything close to what Bounty Hunter did. Score: 4.
Iron Outlaw-- The man holding the record for the longest wheelie in a monster truck was up next to show just why he has that title. Weenk set the 500'+ record driving Jurassic Attack in the summer of 2004 and now has himself another great wheelie truck to battle with. Weenk had a decent initial hit on his first attempt but missed the timing on the throttle to keep the front end up causing it to drop way too soon. He rebounded with a much better wheelie, nearly mimicking Steeley's second jump with a good rolling wheelie across the second set. Score: 7.
King Krunch-- David Smith was the last one left to try and top the rookie. Big air has been a known weapon in the arsenal of King Krunch over the past couple of years thanks to two amazing freestyles in Las Vegas but would the large scale experience be enough to conquer a small midwest fairground? Smith did not slow down to line up his first jump and mashed the cars very hard resulting in a good long jump but nothing that would constitute a wheelie. He blasted around the track very quickly and set up for his second hit and really attacked the cars with some force and grabbed some big air as he soared King Krunch all the way over the 5 cars and the launch ramp which really got the crowd riled up. The big launch would have won him some freestyle points but for the wheelie contest it hurt. Score: 5.
Bounty Hunter takes my vote for the Wheelie Contest win and also took the crowd's vote after some close competition from King Krunch. While the trucks cooled down and prepared for racing, a few tuff trucks took to the track but there'll be some pictures from that later. Monster Truck Racing up next!
Racing Round 1
Smith squared off against Weenk in the opening match up and with no qualifying round beforehand, it would be the first trip around the course for both drivers. Two main factors were the birm in the turn as well as the dust. The dust was going to make for loose traction and could cause a visibility problem as well.
Weenk got the quick truck length hole shot over Smith and kept it straight over the cars while Krunch was already a bit out of shape over the jump. Into the first turns and Smith went wide around the tires kicking up a lot of dust in the process. Weenk was cautious over the birm but quickly made it an after thought and blasted down the near side to open up a bigger lead as Smith was struggling to gain control. Weenk went deep into the turn as well giving Smith a chance to gain ground but he was slowed by the birm on his end and Weenk shot over the final set taking a near 4 truck length win. Winner: Iron Outlaw.
Steeley was on his way to proving himself with a victory in the Wheelie Contest but now was up against the most dominate young driver in sport, Daron Basl. As I said in the opening, Basl adapts so quickly to any track and now it was Steeley's turn to adapt and try to gun down el Matador.
Both drivers drilled the green light and were dead even over the cars with maybe the slightest of leads to Basl as he got the truck back on the ground quicker. They hit the turns and Basl made a beautiful pivot around the tires and over the birm with little trouble while Steeley had some trouble on his side and was now definitely behind as Basl opened up a big lead with a picture perfect jump across the near set. Into the final turn and this time the roles switch and it was Steeley with an incredible high-speed spin around the tires and over the birm and was quickly barreling at full tilt towards the final set. Basl got out of the turn as quickly as possibly and poured it on to the final set and we were in for a showdown at the line! Basl got to the ramp first and kept it low enough to clip the finish line first as Steeley went airborne with a massive leap clearing the whole set and then some! HUGE air from Bounty Hunter as Steeley nearly took out the FMX ramp and used every inch of shutdown space to reel in Bounty Hunter. Another 5 feet of race track and Steeley would've pulled the upset as he passed Basl in the air over the final jump. Awesome race! Winner: el Matador.
More tuff trucks rolled out next and thanks to rough track, several left a bit lighter than when they started. The white Nissan was one of the stronger running trucks in the group and escaped the rounds with little damage and quick times.
Racing 3rd/4th Place Showdown
Steeley made his presence known in Round 1 and now looked to knock out the veteran in the bunch. Smith was going to have to find a handle on the truck and the track to defeat Steeley especially if we see a repeat run from Bounty Hunter.
Steeley was quickest off the line and held a 1/2 truck lead as they crossed the first set. Both drivers stayed low and gained lots of speed into the turn. Both with very good turns as Bounty Hunter disappeared in and then out of a huge dust cloud and sped towards the cars but Smith was right with him and the lead was still only about 1/2 truck with the final turn to go. Steeley went way wide over the birm but again kept good speed while Smith had problems around his turn as the truck got crossed up which cost him valuable time. Steeley poured it on and held off the hard charging Smith with another big leap over the final set and a truck length win. Winner: Bounty Hunter.
Would the Outlaw ride off into the sunset or will he be tamed by the Matador? Basl had shown stronger ability in the turns but needed to get down the stretches quicker as well as off the starting line faster. Weenk has used the big horsepower Expedition to his advantage and let the motor do the catch-up work after a misstep in the turn. He also did not have near the challenge in Round 1 as Basl did. The pressure was on, the RPMs were up and the light went green!
Basl improved immediately with a quick hole shot over Weenk and a truck length lead as they crossed the first set. Basl made his best turn of the night and increased his lead with his biggest jump on the night as well over the second set. Weenk was now about two truck lengths behind into the final turn. Basl's huge leap left the truck bouncing into the turn and let Weenk catch up and he used the opening to his advantage and really narrowed the gap with a great turn over the birm. Basl got around his corner and barreled out of the dust heading for the finish line. Basl hit he ramp first but here comes Weenk exploding off the ramp with a MASSIVE leap through the air carrying Iron Outlaw a mind boggling distance of what had to be the equivalent of 12-15 cars down the track, landing past the FMX ramp! Incredible jump but just like Steeley in the previous round, it was too much too late as Basl had nipped him at the line by about a 1/4 truck length even though Weenk ended up passing him in the air further down. Another excellent race.
Winner: el Matador.
We all needed to catch our breath after a bang-bang first half of the show and while some intermission FMX went on, the driver's looked over their trucks in preparation for freestyle. Everyone seemed in good shape, the only major issue was the tire on King Krunch. A rather large tear in the left-rear tire needed to be plugged up to run again. Smith had the hole stuffed up with rags in a few minutes and was ready to go freestyling.
When I asked all four drivers if it was difficult handling the birm in the turn the common answer was the birm was nothing compared to the difficulty the dust created in being able to see the track. The combination of the dust and the lights reflection off it made it a challenge to see where they were pointed coming out of the turns.
Draco the Dragonator opened the second half of the show with a long, fiery car munching performance including a new talent of his: shooting fireworks out of the mouth. He tried and tried to rip the car in half as usual, but the car was winning the battle. Instead, Draco folded the car up vertically and compacted it into a package. Something different to mix up the act which is a welcomed change after seeing the routine a good 10 times or so.
With the track clear and all the other antics out of the way, it was time for the monsters to fight it out for the freestyle title. The trucks would have the sets of cars to work with plus a fresh car-van-car pyramid was set up to the right side of the track. The FMX ramp was going to be off limits due to being so close to the stage and not being wide enough for the trucks to climb.
Monster Truck Freestyle
el Matador-- The racing winner would lead off freestyle and be in a tough spot to go for the double win but is certainly possible. Basl started at the near set with a good jump but would need to get a lot higher and wilder with three more trucks behind him. As we saw in the Wheelie Contest, big air from this truck was a challenge and it still showed as Basl could not get much of an improvement on the far set either. But the pyramid would change that as Basl lined up el Matador and took a good run at it clearing the front tires over the top of the van and smashed the van down with the rear tires. He built speed up to the near set and cleared the row of cars with a great jump and headed to the far set and hit another big jump which cleared the set. He parked el Matador up on the cars and waived to the crowd to end the run. Started a bit slow but really increased the speed and quality at the end. A longer run really would've helped. Score: 5.
Iron Outlaw-- Weenk could not top Basl in racing but freestyle was a different element and he was not going to come up short again. A good opening hit on the near set then a quick spin towards the far set and Weenk attacked with a big leap over the five cars sending Outlaw all over the track on the landing. He eyed up the pyramid next and hit it incredibly hard and nearly cleared the van entirely. Only the back tires grazed the roof of the van as they then spiked into the second car. The front end hit down hard and Weenk tried to nail a slap wheelie but the tires did not hook up. Another big hit on the near set followed up by a huge sky wheelie on the far set that probably would have won him the Wheelie Contest early. Weenk walked the truck all the way across the set, down the ramp and then balanced it back and forth on the rear tires before finally tapping the brakes to bring it down. He parked it right there and pointed out to the crowd whom were well behind him on that run. Score: 7.
Bounty Hunter-- Steeley has exceeded all my expectations and a freestyle victory would set him as a legitimate threat behind the wheel of Bounty Hunter. He followed the lead of the first two drivers and went for the near set first but also like the other two did not get much lift off the cars as they were well flattened by this point. The far set was providing the big air and it did again as Steeley shot the truck nearly vertical across the first four cars and pogoing off the fifth as he also rode a wheelie off the ramp. Freestyle was now a "Can you top this!?" battle as Steeley roared towards the pyramid with more speed than anyone yet and flew over the top of the van never touching it or the other car. He did not let up as he approached the near set and cleared the five cars with a great long jump. It looked like he was heading back to the far set but instead cut the turn tight and ripped into a dust throwing set of donuts! The truck disappeared entirely into the cloud of dirt as the crowd was going nuts even though they were being choked out and blinded by the mess! Steeley emerged from the billow and went for the near set but parked the truck on top instead of a finishing jump. A big hit to follow up the donuts would've been a great cap for the run but he still will rank high by mixing it up with the donuts and great momentum around the track. Score: 8.
King Krunch-- Smith could not top Steeley in the Wheelie Contest, got beat by him in racing, was freestyle going to change the tide? He would need a Las Vegas-esque freestyle performance to top Bounty Hunter or the rookie was going to be walking out the winner. The "one-upping" continued between the drivers as Smith went a different route to start the run and ignored the near set and instead came flying out of the pits and unleashed a fury of donuts right in front of the stands and covered half the crowd with a layer of dust. Smith focused on the cars next with a decent hit on the near set followed by a big long jump on the far set. Smith lined up the pyramid but did not have the speed nor the right angle for a good hit and flew off more to the side of the van. He rebounded with a good leap over the near set and then unloaded a king-size air shot over the far set, nosing the truck into the ground on the landing then rearing back up only to smack right into the turning pole tires! Smith roared King Krunch back to where he began the run and ripped off another insane set of donuts that set dust flying up into and even over the top of the grandstands, completely covering the area as everyone in the seats and even the truck disappeared into the fog! The left-rear tire was going flat again and it only helped to build the intensity of the spin before Smith finally lifted off the gas and sped out of the dust bowl and off the track. He couldn't lean out and waive to the fans because nobody could see him anyway! Score: 9.
Even as Smith shut off King Krunch back in the pit area, the stands were still cloaked in dust and all that could be heard was the cheering of the fans as they tried to escape the dirt. As the cloud parted, all I saw were people running, laughing and trying to shake the six inches of dust David Smith had just given everybody off themselves. The freestyle voting from the people that were left put the trucks in the order in which they ran with first place going to King Krunch! I guess covering people in dust is a good thing!
The drivers made their way over to a very dirty souvenir stand to sign autographs and I caught up with them a few minutes later to say bye and thanks for a great show. With a boring 2-hour drive ahead of me, I packed up and headed home.
Huge thanks to Jim Morris, David Smith, Daron Basl, Linsey Weenk, Russell Steeley and Brian Manson for all their help and again to the drivers for a spectacular show. There are Extreme Monster Truck Nationals running almost year-round and chances are there's one coming to your area soon. Keep an eye and ear open for the dates and be sure to check it out. The show ran smoothly from top to bottom with very little downtime and my only regret from the night is that I don't have it on video to re-live all the action. If there is a return date for Daveport planned, I will certainly be there. Thanks for reading!