Exotic destinations, sunny beaches, and wild parties...all not found in Du Quoin, Illinois. As the nation's college population heads on Spring Break, I steered clear of the cities of chaos and went straight to where the real action was. Paul Shafer Motorsports set up their own festivities with a 2-day, 3-show weekend at the brand new Southern Illinois Center, right off the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. This weekend would have me running from one end of the state to another in the span of 50+ hours as I would start in Edwardsville Friday afternoon, head to Du Quoin Friday night, back to Edwardsville after the show, to Champaign Saturday evening and then up to home in Chicago around 2am Sunday morning. But first things first, you need the back story...
First, I'd just like to say that IL-51 is not some place I ever want to travel down again. It is straight out of a horror movie. Dead, abandoned towns with no gas stations in site is not somewhere I want to be for very long especially when my cell phone turns off due to no service for half an hour. Anyways, I survived my journey through the land o' corn fields and met up with fellow monster trucker Rich Inman in the back lot of the arena. Rich had been busy for several hours working along side Shafer Motorsports building the track and getting the show ready to go. After getting signed in, we checked out the arena and learned just how "new" this place was. A very nice building indeed but would've been even better had the state not cut the funding for its completion. Therefore, the seats were not finished and only one side of the building had real stadium seating while the other was only 1/4 full of portable bleachers. The track itself was raised up about two feet on a huge concrete slab with a 20 foot catch fence all the way around. Reason being because midget sprint car racing also goes on in this building. The large indoor size would provide ample space for a Chicago-style monster truck course with plenty of room to spare.
The crowd was lined up to get into the Pit Party and I joined them for a while, walking around the track and caught up with every driver. Was really great to finally see Brian Harwood again, had been September of 2003 since we last crossed paths. After the pit party, a local news crew did a long interview of Paul Shafer on his operation and the event. Shafer also tossed me a new AMSOIL motorcross style shirt to wear tonight to look "official" as AMSOIL was now onboard as a big PSM sponsor.
A good-size crowd for a Friday night event filed in to the arena and was ready to get to the action!
We last saw Miller during his real debut behind the wheel of Smoke at the Team Demolition Derby Finals last September and since that time, Miller has greatly improved his driving and has become custom to running Smoke and the former Rampage truck (now run as a Bearfoot) throughout the winter season and sometimes both at one show! Against this lineup, I don't see Miller as a favorite in racing, but will certainly hold his own in freestyle.
As I said, great to see Brian back behind the wheel of the big skull truck once again. Harwood is a very skilled driver and will push it to the limits to get a racing or freestyle win. Proof evident as, the weekend before, Harwood rolled OzzMonster causing body damage and causing Shafer to not want to see anymore happen to this truck. Therefore, a conservative nature, contrary to Brian's style, would have to be put in place for OzzMonster to make it through the weekend. Harwood will still put on a show but probably not to the extent he'd like to.
Da Boss. Frankenstein has been running up and down the coasts with the Monsters of Destruction series and doing quite well but the toll is plainly seen on the truck, specifically on the body with several cracks and most noticeably, the missing wing. But, banged up body and all, this truck will still pump out plenty of horsepower and with extensive running on Chicago Style tracks this winter, Shafer came in a clear favorite.
Kid Rock/Kevin Harvick #29--Bennett Clark
Last time we saw Bennett, he was under some tough times with bad breakage in the debut of his new #29 body in Springfield, IL last August. Some recent engine modifications have his truck running at peak level and on this tight, tricky track, the crafty veteran just might be the one to pull out his own bag of tricks to show the young guns just how its done.
Rodney Tweedy--Monster Patrol
Tweedy has worked his way up the monster truck ladder very quickly. From a former ride truck owner to now full time Monster Patrol driver, Tweedy has racked up many wins this winter in his new ride, the former Boogey Van chassis, newly re-skinned with a sharp looking Monster Patrol body. I've not seen Tweedy race before and was looking for him to impress me. That chassis is very hit and miss in its durability and performance over the past couple of years but when running at 100%, it is very hard to stop. On a short and tight turning course like this, Tweedy's truck easily has an advantage but will he be able to harness that advantage?
Running smaller shows and not getting much television time, Larry Swim stays stuck in relative obscurity to many monster truck fans around the world and its a crime. Swim is the new generation "Mr. Consistency." I'll probably get some verbal backlash over that term, as Mr. Consistency is the nickname of the legendary Gary Porter whom continues to earn that title week in and week out. But so does Swim. The man keeps his truck in showroom condition and then drives the hell out of it on the track. Swim has been the most dominate driver in the Shafer camp all year and I have no choice but to name him the favorite to take the racing win and will definitely be a threat in freestyle.
The Mummy and Monster Patrol ride trucks were also on hand to give out dueling rides. There was definitely a competition going on between the drivers to see who could get the bigger line and give a better ride. Many fans jumped back and forth to both trucks to get the full experience.
As I stated before, the track was a Chicago-Style course and was truly
made in the style where the innovation began back in the late 80s at the Rosemont
Horizon-- Short, tight and would require all driver skill. The dirt would also prove to be
a huge factor as it was pure tacky clay, no slide whatsoever to the dirt. The corners were
going to be a driver's choice of sorts. With no real turning poles, the options were to
either try and keep speed up and go a bit wider or cut the turn off and go right for the
next set. It proved very challenging on all levels during the Qualifying round.
Monster Patrol and Smoke kicked it off and were noticeably taking their time around the track and were not getting much air over the cars at all. The turns were also not smooth for either driver. Frankenstein and Bearfoot had the best runs with Swim ending up in the number 1 spot after a very aggressive run including rocking up on two wheels in the corner but still powered his way around the track very smoothly to the fast time of the session.
Due to the very large FMX landing ramp and the car-van-car pyramid in the middle of the track, getting shots of both trucks at the same time was going to be nearly impossible and I kept jumping from corner to corner around the track for different perspectives.
Racing Round 1
OzzMonster vs. Smoke-- Harwood was certainly the more aggressive driver during Qualifying and had a knack for the turns in the wider based truck. Harwood blasted off the line with a great start over the first set and left Miller behind from the start. Harwood was smooth through the corner while Miller was very conservative in lining up the next set as Ozz extended his lead with a big jump over the second set. Through the last turn with no problems for either truck but Harwood's commanding lead from Turn 1 was the difference maker and cruised to the victory. Winner: OzzMonster.
Frankenstein vs. Monster Patrol-- What would usually be a battle of the wings, well, wasn't thanks to the banged up Frankenstein body being wing-less. Shafer got off the line a bit quicker than Tweedy and had an earlier lead into the first turn. Tweedy's truck was not adjusting to the tight corners well while Shafer's longer truck was cruising around just fine and cleared the second set of cars. Tweedy leaped over his set well but fell behind even more in the next turn and Shafer blasted his way around the track to the win. Winner: Frankenstein.
Bearfoot vs. Kevin Harvick #29-- The number 1 Qualifier, Larry Swim, would cap the first round of racing up against the living legend Bennett Clark in the Kid Rock/Kevin Harvick #29 truck. Clark got a good jump off the line but Swim just blasted out of the hole like no one yet on the night and cleared the cars and headed into the first turn. Clark struggled around the corner while Swim continued his smooth flow from Qualifying and sailed across the second set. Bennett was in a hurry to catch him and did not line up the second set right and jumped off the side of the set and hit some of the (what were to be) Quad hills and took out a finish line pole as well. The big bobble knocked Clark totally out of the race and Swim cleared his final set for the win. Winner: Bearfoot.
Racing Round 2
Frankenstein vs. OzzMonster-- This had the makings of a very good race on paper as two of the quickest running trucks and two of the hardest pushing drivers would square off to start Round 2. A dead-even and strong start on both sides of the track and the two trucks remained very close as they entered Turn 1. Shafer took the turn slower that Harwood and Brian took advantage, speeding OzzMonster ahead of Frankenstein. Harwood cleared the second set with Shafer staying low and trying to play catch up. This time the turns went the other way as Harwood struggled on the near end while Shafer glided around the cones and came out ahead of OzzMonster. Shafer charged the finish line and turned a small lead into over a truck length one as he crossed stripe. Winner: Frankenstein.
Smoke vs. Bearfoot-- Clash of the Bearfoot chassis as Miller gets back in as the fast loser. Monster Patrol would've been the fast loser but due to front steering issues, it was Smoke given the call. But Miller was going to need to step up his times if he wanted to come close to knocking off Swim. Larry doesn't look capable of a mistake tonight so perfection was a must for Miller in Smoke. Off the line, that perfection was already missing as Miller was left in his own smoke while Swim jumped out to a big lead. Swim dominated the corner once again and grabbed some big air over the cars as he was now catching up to the back end of Smoke who was really struggling. Swim leaped over his final set and about three truck lengths later, Smoke finished up as well. Winner: Bearfoot.
Rudy Waller & Co. were also on hand to do some FMX action and Rudy grabbed me before the show and asked me to shoot a bunch of shots for their website and of course I said sure. Waller and his two other riders Kenny Yoho and "Mr. T" did a great job, some of the best FMX I've ever seen at a show and the crowd was way into every jump. Check them out at www.teamfmx.com
While the Quads were scorchin' up the dirt track and FMX was flyin' through the air, Bennett Clark had been wrenching on his truck ever since the conclusion of his first round loss. Clark was having problems in that run due to some front steering failure. After a lot of disassembling, a front cylinder was blown out. Several Shafer Motorsports members joined in on the thrashing to get the #29 truck back ready for freestyle later.
But when Charlie Miller saw the flash bulb go off, he quickly dropped what he was doing and focused on some more important face time for the camera...
As the Finals were ready to roll out next, I quickly walked over to Larry Swim as he climbed into Bearfoot and told him to go kick some butt. Larry gave me the thumbs up, fired up Bearfoot and headed to the start line. With the FMX ramp now taken off the course, we'll be able to see both trucks leaping across the line at the same time.
Frankenstein vs. Bearfoot-- #1 and #2 Qualifiers and the two trucks I expected to be in the Finals have survived the field and the tricky track to make it to the main event. Swim hasn't been pushed to his limit so far on the night and has ran near perfect each time. Shafer has also been consistent but has not had the same luck as Swim with the turns. The light hit green and the trucks powered off the line and both stayed very low and fast over the cars. Shafer may of had a slight lead off the cars and into the turn. Swim for the first time on the night was behind and pushed too hard in the turns rocking up just slightly on two wheels and made a much slower turn because of it. Shafer was smooth on his side of the track and stayed straight and low over his second set while Swim was still out of shape over the cars and got off to the side. He kept his head in the race and whipped off a beautiful turn and made up tons of time as Shafer now struggled with his final turn. They both charged for the final set and it would be Larry Swim in Bearfoot launching off the final ramp, clearing the cars and taking the win. Shafer missed the win by about half a truck. Winner: Bearfoot.
For freestyle, the entire track was game. Both sets of cars were still in good shape for jumps and then there was the fresh car-van-car pyramid down the center of the track. Donuts were not going to be seen in freestyle and the obvious reason was the over tacky dirt. All 6 trucks were set and so was the crowd, it was time for freestyle!
Smoke-- Charlie Miller had the role as "bar setter" being the first person out for freestyle. Question was, just how high could or would he set it. Miller rolled out of the pits and went for the nearest thing to hit and flew off the ramp of the far set to start his run. Miller turned the truck around and hit a good jump going the other way off the set. Over right in front of us now and Miller really got some air under Smoke this time with a great looking wheel stand. He wasn't about to let his run go by and not hit the pyramid. Miller took good speed up to the stack and cleared the van and the second car with the front wheels, started slipping over to the left side when the rear end caught the van but made it over in nice fashion. Smoke nose-dived into the hard dirt and Miller was able to power up a slight slap wheelie as well. Miller built up some speed and attacked the near cars again and then over to the far set with a near mirror image leap of his previous. Miller landed and pulled Smoke right into his pit spot. Solid and smooth opening run and a great show of improvement over the performance he had back in September at the Team Demo finals. Score: 5.
OzzMonster-- As mentioned during the opening, due to last weekend's hard tumbles, OzzMonster was not full strength and Harwood was not looking to cause himself more pain, nor the truck. But he was already battling electrical problems throughout the night and they caught up with him again in freestyle. Harwood blasted out of the pits but instantly the truck just did not sound right as he took off over the near set. He chugged along the best he could to the far set for a decent jump but the truck was not responding the way he wanted it. A disappointed Harwood pulled the OzzMonster back into the pits and called it a night. Score: 2.
Monster Patrol-- The front steering problems on Monster Patrol have been sorted out and Tweedy was ready to run at full strength in freestyle. Tweedy came out and attacked the near set first with a decent jump and seemed to be trying to work in the rolling wheelie across the set. A little better jump over on the far set but he still couldn't get the front end high enough to carry across the cars. But that would change as Tweedy hit the near set with a lot of speed and rolled Monster Patrol all the way across the 5 cars and down the ramp. Great vintage looking wheelie. Tweedy was using the best momentum of the trucks so far and sped up to the far set for another hit but couldn't get the rolling wheelie nor the rear wheels off the cars. Another shot at the wheelie on the near side but didn't get anything at all. A good jump on the back set finished up Monster Patrol's run. Good momentum and a couple good jumps but running around in laps gets boring. Score: 4
Kevin Harvick #29-- We just saw a good paced run from Monster Patrol and I'm a big advocate of drivers using momentum to their advantage to create a good freestyle. Bennett Clark is the exception to that. His truck is one that gets the big air not from hitting things at fast speeds, but more from setting the jump and Clark punching the gas right at the last moment, shooting the truck skyward. With is front steering also fix, Clark put the theory to work right off the bat with a slow approach to the near set and then nailed the gas shooting the truck up into the air, hanging the truck there with a great opening leap. No luck on the back set this time by and came back to the near set for another excellent hanging jump. Clark slowly approached the far set with the same thing in mind and really put some air underneath the wheels this time, spiking the rear of the truck into the fourth car and bouncing off the ramp. Clark took another shot at the near set but could not get the big air as before. Back to the far set and again Clark got fantastic lift off the cars and shot #29 straight up, clearing three cars, landing the rear end on the fourth and walked it all the way down the ramp! Awesome jump! Clark sailed across the near set from the ramps to finish up the run. Slow, methodical approach but it is always consistent and works for his truck and works for me too. Score: 6.
Frankenstein-- Shafer missed the racing victory by the slimmest of margins but was now after the freestyle win. With Bearfoot the only truck to go after him, Shafer not only had to top what was already put down, but with the threat of Swim next, needed to really put on a show. He was quickly headed in the right direction with no messing around on the car sets and went right for the pyramid getting a great leap over the van, clearing it with no problems. The landing was very hard and threw Frankenstein up on right two wheels but Shafer brought it back down. Back to back great hits on the car sets while keeping the momentum up better than anyone so far. Another hit on the pyramid, a bit lower this time, and it came with an even rougher landing all on the nose. But Shafer kept his foot in it and tried to pull up a slap wheelie but just not the right bounce for that. The van was now formed into a nice ramp as the crushed roof was perfectly aligned with the first car. Shafer eyed up the pyramid for the last time and really slammed into it, airing the truck out big time, hit the ground very very hard and managed to bounce away with a small slap wheelie. Maybe a little short of a run but strong and aggressive showing. Score: 7
Bearfoot-- Larry has been having probably his best season ever behind the wheel of Bearfoot and the truck is looking more powerful than ever with each and every pass. Swim was going to use every inch of this track to display just what he and Bearfoot had. Swim charged out of the pits and never slowed down as he attacked the near set with the biggest air off them on the night, easily cleared all 5 cars and was ready for more. He took off to the back set with a full head of steam and we have extreme liftoff! Bearfoot exploded into the air with a giant leap and just seemed to float away he was up there so long. Another great hit on the near set and Swim was ready to go even bigger. Swim attacked the van stack and shot the front end way into the air, carrying the rear end over the top of the van and landing off to the left side a bit. Swim shot down the ramp side of the back set and was heading to the van again. This time an even harder hit sending the truck near vertical all the way over as the rear tires never touched anything after the first car. The truck look like a dart as the rear wheels slammed into the dirt and compressed tremendously under the force of the landing. The truck stayed in virtually the same vertical stance the whole way over, incredible. Swim was still looking for more as he turned Bearfoot around and decided he had seen enough jumps off the one side of the pyramid and was going the other way! That car was virtually un-hit and he blasted into it sending the truck vertical again but the slanted van caused the truck to tilt off to the right side in the air. Swim made a great save from the rough landing and sucked up some major crowd applause after that one. Swim raced down the front set in a picture perfect leap off the ramp to conclude his freestyle. Excellent run and there was no doubt who I chose and who the thousands in the stands picked as their freestyle winner. Score: 10.
Great effort by every driver on the night to put on a very solid show and a thrilling performance from top to bottom. The crowd was really into the action the entire event and sold out the place the following two shows. Larry Swim took home the racing victory on Saturday afternoon while Rodney Tweedy pulled off the victory in the night cap. Bearfoot took home every freestyle win. A return date for Du Quoin is already in the works and I cannot wait to circle my calendar for it.
Big Thanks to everyone at Shafer Motorsports for their hospitality and generosity throughout the evening and to Rich Inman as always. Thanks for reading the Du Quoin 2005 coverage and, yes, I did stick to the highways and take the long way home this time :-) After arriving home at just before 3:00am, it was a short 12 hours until I would leave for Champaign...