For the last 5 years, my big event for the month of May and the one that always signaled the kick off of the summer racing season has been the 4-Wheel Jamboree in Lima Ohio. But with the theme of this year's coverages seemingly being change, as all the events I've been to so far have been at venues never before visited by me, Lima was going to be passed up this year in exchange for a big event on Memorial Day weekend down in Farmington Missouri, about an hour south of St. Louis. I had been anticipating this event for many months and stayed up to date on all the scheduling and lineups by my good buddy Rich Inman who was helping to run this show and invited me to come check it out. So I packed my bags, pushed my Dad into the car, and headed to Farmington for a wild weekend neither of us will ever forget.
Monster Truck/Driver lineup:
Big Dawg--Dale Gerding*
Grave Digger--Charlie Pauken
Tropical Thunder--Guy Wood
Black Stallion--Trey Meyers*
*Dale Gerding is the Big Dawg crew chief and he had full driving duties this weekend to complete his third driving requirement for his MTRA Class A license. Trey Meyers was back in Black Stallion as Mike Vaters re-injured himself after some hard hits in Lima the weekend before.
I shook my Dad out of the hotel bed bright and early on Saturday and we got to the track around 10:30am with racing not scheduled to start until 1:00. We met up with Rich right at the gate and he got us signed in and then we ventured off into the huge landscape of the St. Francois County Fairgrounds. We weren't in the gate more than 10 feet when the Noelke's came charging at us on the golf cart as seems to be a common occurrence with me. I waived and said we'd be down there in a bit. We walked around the track and headed to the pit area as all the trucks were sitting next to their haulers and sparking beautifully in the sun light.
We walked by the Big Dawg pit and only Scott was around so we chatted with him for a minute and did some more wandering up to the track to see just what the layout was.
Charlie Pauken and Doug Noelke take a look at the long straight line course.
A simple straight line course was the track setup along with a big
car-van-bus-van-car pyramid in the middle for freestyle later at night. The tricky part of
this course would be the initial roller hill that was very sharp at take off and could
throw trucks crooked into no-mans-land. The dirt, well clay for that matter, on the track
was very tacky so hookin' up off the line was going to be no problem.
My Dad and I decided to take a walk through the Show-N-Shine area to kill some time before racing. But, I ended up being the only one looking at the trucks because my uncle decided to call my Dad on his cell phone and they had to chit-chat for an hour about whoknowswhat! Here are just a few shots of the over 200 truck in attendance.
Upon returning to the Big Dawg pit area, I was surprised to see none
other than Larry Swim and B.J. Johnson sitting down right next to the hauler. Of
course my Dad was clueless as to who they were :-) After introducing my Dad to
Brenda Noelke, I went and introduced myself to BJ and Larry and told them what a great job
they had done just a week prior up at Route 66. They are friends of the Noelke's and
were in the area of the event anyway so they decided to hang around for the festivities.
Larry and BJ are two party animals that's for sure and had everyone riled up all
day and, eventually, all night long. I told them I had those Rt. 66 pics with me in
the car and that I'd bring them around later.
The clock ticked away as we hung around the pit and before we knew it, it was 1:00 and time to go racing. The day's schedule had a rather odd format for the monsters. At 1:00, only the first and second rounds of racing would be ran, then later at night, the finals would be run followed by an all out freestyle. Rich said that I could just follow Brenda along to wherever she went to shoot pictures and thatss what I did...right up to the top of the flagstand! It would be a tight fit, but somehow, Brenda, Scott and I all managed to move around and take pictures without dropping anything or falling down the steps.
The trucks fired up and paraded to the track and it was time to go racing!
Racing Round 1
Big Dawg vs. Avenger--
Quite a tall task for Dale Gerding as he had never actually raced Big Dawg before in competition, only freestyles and car crushes, and he has to start the day by facing the USHRA 2003 Freestyle Champion, Avenger. The Christmas Tree went green and Dale blasted off the line way out in front of Avenger. But Koehler started catching up on the flat land as Big Dawg slowed down. They were dead even as they hit the cars but Dale had just enough to edge out Avenger! HUGE UPSET!! We were all estatic up in the flag stand but that was until we learned that Big Dawg was DQ'd for red lighting. Turns out the Christmas Tree had a slow countdown of yellow lights and Dale reacted on the light turning from red to yellow and thats how he got so far in front of Avenger. A very tough break but its Avenger that will get to move on. Winner: Avenger.
RAMinator vs. Black Stallion--
Another up hill battle here as this was only Trey's second time racing the truck and not only that, but he was sitting next to RAMinator. But I don't think that bothered Trey a bit as he drilled Hall off the line and had a truck length lead over the hill! But Black Stallion started sputtering and died out right before the cars as Hall never let up and got a lucky break of his own at the same time and moved to the next round. The transmission in Black Stallion was replace the night before, but a part of it let go again in this round. Winner: RAMinator.
RAMmunition vs. Tropical Thunder--
Unlike the last two races, this race was about as tight as you can get. Two very powerful trucks with two drivers that are not afraid to put it to the floor no matter where the truck is pointed. Both trucks rocket off the line and over the hill with Wood carrying the front tires up and over the roller but he gets them down in a hurry to put power to the ground as Benear is right with him. The trucks scream down no-mans-land and Tropical Thunder takes a slight bounce to the side as they both hit the ramps dead even and across the line...Tropical Thunder just beats out RAMmunition. On the landing, Tropical Thunder landed very hard and the back end got kind of squirrelly on him but Guy drove out of it as Benear had his own stopping problems and he used every inch of the shutdown area and stopped just before the wall. Winner: Tropical Thunder.
Grave Digger vs. BYE--
With the odd number of trucks, someone had to have a Bye run. Surprised? Yeah you get the idea. Pauken used the Bye run well as he laid down a rocket shot in the far lane making sure he knew how Digger would handle in a race next round.
Avenger vs. RAMinator--
The only other time that I and Frank Krmel, the Avenger crew chief, could think of as to when these two had faced off before was at RAMinator's debut at the Pontiac Silverdome in 2002. In that race it was Koehler that looked to be on his way to victory after Hall got a slow start but RAMinator came from behind to just knick Avenger at the line on a track very similar to what we have here.
Just like in Poniac and just like Round 1, Mark Hall was snoozing on the line and Koehler got a half truck lead on him right off the hill and into the straight away. But Koehler had to back off as he was pointed way the wrong way and Hall blasted by in RAMinator clearing the 5 cars and then some on his way to the finals. Winner: RAMinator.
Grave Digger vs. Tropical Thunder--
Guy Wood played a little mind game with Pauken and maybe as well as himself in this race. Wood stuck Pauken over in the lane he didn't run his BYE in, but at the same time, Wood hasn't run in his lane either. Pauken got a quick holeshot on Wood but Digger immediately hooked left and Pauken has to correct while Wood thundered out in front. But then Guy got aimed the wrong direction and Digger closed the gap and they both hit the cars at the same time and totally crooked, diving for the finish line. They crossed the line and....no one had a clue as to who won. Wood took another crazy bounce at the end as did Pauken trying to slow the big trucks down. An incredible and hard fought race that saw the lead change twice that quickly. My shot is not on the finish line, just a bit past it but even with my shot I cannot tell who won. All three of us up in the stand didn't know who won, the crowd was scratching their heads as well, but the officials gave the call to Tropical Thunder!! A huge win for Guy as he knocked off the crowd favorite and moved to the Finals to face RAMinator. Winner: Tropical Thunder.
In a matter of 20 minutes, racing was over and it left a lot of fans in the stands unhappy to have to wait so long to see the monsters again. It would a near 6 hour time gap until the Finals and Freestyle. How did I manage to eat up 6 hours of time? Good question, as for the most part I don't even remember. We chilled in the Big Dawg pit for a good while and I showed BJ and Larry the Route 66 pictures as well as a bunch of shots from Springfield I had brought along to show Rich.
BJ and Larry try to look innocent as they make off with the Big Dawg golf cart.
A little while later, BJ and Larry headed back home but showed up only a few hours later because they wanted to party! They knew some people over at the Black Stallion pit and were off to do their own thing and have fun. Meanwhile, My Dad decided he wanted to walk back through the Show-N-Shine since he really didn't take a good look at anything earlier while on the phone. That chewed up some time and we realized that Tug-A-Trucks was going to start soon so we headed to the stands to check out the action. The trucks only had to pull each other a mere 12 inches to be called the winner so the tugging was more like "step on the gas and hope you beat the other guy to it." A gigantic and very old Army semi truck won as it was so heavy nothing else could budge it.
Upon returning to the pits I caught up with Rich and we noticed work being done on Black Stallion as the transmission was shot from racing. Turns out, Mike Vaters was allowed entry into a local high school metal shop facility and welded parts of the transmission back together! He arrived with the new gear as we were standing there and the crew got to work on putting it all back in place.
I strolled by the Team RAM pits looks for Mark to sign a picture for me but he kept disappearing into the hauler. As I walked past RAMinator I noticed a big, well large, ok, HUGE slice in the back tire!! I snapped a picture of it for evidence just incase the tire were to give way later on we'd know why.
Wow, 6 hours went by in only a few short paragraphs!! If only it really worked that way. I won't bore you with my minute-by-minute activities and get onto what you really want to see: FINALS!
RAMinator vs. Tropical Thunder--
This match has quickly grown to become one of the most exciting and has produced some thrilling races and finishes over the past year. At Route 66 last year, these two had the race of the year on the J-drag with RAMinator taking the win as the motor exploded in mid-air. At Granite City, Guy Wood got some revenge and smoked Mark Hall on the straight line. And now there is Farmington...Hall has been a little lazy on the light so far and has relied on some luck to get this far. Wood has been aggressive the previous rounds and has handed defeats to Digger and the other Team RAM truck, RAMmunition. Rich Inman pulled the trucks to the line, drivers gave the thumbs up and the light hit GREEN! Both trucks tear off the line carrying front tires up and over the roller as they storm towards the cars. RAMinator starts to pull ahead as the hit the cars they cross the line practically even and slam to the ground hard! Tropical Thunder takes another crazy bounce and goes into an incredible and vicious looking twisting barrel roll sending Guy on his lid and then onto his side!! Hall nearly hits the wall at the end and barely got RAMinator shut down after a fast and intense race. Crews sprinted out to Tropical Thunder to check on Guy after that hard roll. Guy appeared out of the truck and waived to the crowd signaling he was OK. A very scary wreck that happened without any real warning as the backend just tried to pass the front up and the bad bounce sent the truck spiraling. But who won??? With no visible winner and no instant replay, the announcer seemed to simply rely on the crowd for a winner! Even with Tropical Thunder rolling, it was a close vote but they gave it to Tropical Thunder. I won't argue too much on this because for one my picture is past the finish line and at an angle, my video doesn't show a clear cut winner, and I think its better when its too close to call between these two anyway, it just adds fuel to the fire and anticipation for the next battle.
Guy was able to fire the truck back up and drive it back to the pits, but with the damage to not only the body but to the front axle, no freestyle for Tropical Thunder. But before freestyle, there was something a little bit extra...
This police car rolled right up by the flagstand, parked, and a Barney Fife wannabe got out talking about how he was going to shut the event down because of too much noise. The crowd of course boo'd like crazy. I must say, that was one NICE looking police car and what happened next made me want to cringe...
Pauken fired up Grave Digger and I thought the bleachers were going to fall down the place was going so nuts. Obviously we all know what happens next. Pauken roared at the police cruiser and ran right on over it much to the dismay of the "cop." Pauken swung around for another hit at the car and this time had a little difficulty getting over it correctly and nearly rolled the truck on its side. Pauken bicycled it and made a nice save, saluted the crowd and then took off. The police car was now an added obstacle for freestyle.
Avenger-- The USHRA World Freestyle Champ for 2003 was at an immediate disadvantage having to run first for freestyle. The only plus was that all the objects including the huge pyramid were fresh for the taking. The pyramid, cars, wheelie hill, police car, and a big ol' dirt pile down by the flag poles were all fair game for Freestyle. Koehler wasted no time with the little items and went right for the car-van-bus-van-car pyramid and glided perfectly over it with ease. Props to the track crew on that pyramid, smooth as glass. Koehler roared up to the stands and hit the wheelie hill going right under the flag stand. He headed to the pyramid and launched over it, perfect again. Not satisfied with hitting it one way, Koehler spun Avenger around and took it on the other direction getting a great wheelstand up onto the pyramid. Koehler brought Avenger down on the front stretch and went for the police car. He hit it at a bad angle though and the front tires just kicked the car out farther and the rear wheels never got a grip on the car as Avenger pirouetted on the rear tires and flopped onto its side, spewing all sorts of smoke and fumes out from beneath. Another hard hitting roll. The crowd ate it up but it was not the run I'm sure Koehler was looking for. Too short for the first truck out. Score: 4.
RAMmunition-- Benear hit the track like a ball of fire and sailed over the cars. He went after the pyramid next but didn't jump it anything like Koehler did and just barely crawled over the top of it. Benear launched off the cars again getting some great air off the ramps. Benear tried like crazy to bounce up a slap wheelie on the hill but never could get one going. He attacked the pyramid once more but again just rolled over it slowly. He made up for it though with some very nice donuts to conclude the run. Score: 5.
Black Stallion-- Trey Meyers in Black Stallion took to the track as Mike Vaters had to watch from the sidelines in hopes the truck stayed together. Trey was much more aggressive on the obstacles that I had imagined he would be considering it was only his 2nd time ever in the truck. Trey took alot of speed up and off the pyramid getting some sick nose dives hitting the ground. Trey didn't get a lot of air over the cars but he made up for it at the end of his run as just when everybody thought he was done, Trey headed for the mud pit! Trey blasted right down the center of it with a ton of speed knocking the center birm down flat! He then whipped the truck around at the other end and did the same thing the other way. A nice move and a job well done by Trey Meyers. Score: 5
Big Dawg-- After the falter in racing, Dale Gerding was out to redeem not only himself but the Big Dawg name for freestyle. Gerding has freestyle experience from Mt. Vernon and Carrollton, but that was very limited and there sure wasn't a giant pyramid in the middle of the track. Gerding sped onto the track and rocketed over the cars getting some big time speed and distance. Gerding took on the cars twice more and then turned to the middle and lined up for the pyramid. Gerding never slowed the truck down and blasted up and over the pyramid with a picture perfect leap. Gerding wasn't content with just one jump and decided to take on the pyramid five more times! Each jump faster and better than the previous. On one attempt he cleared the top of the bus and the car-van on the other side! Everytime we thought Gerding was done, he just kept running and kept gaining more and more momentum. He tried a slap wheelie but never got one up. Gerding finished off with some sweet donuts and pulled right up by the flagstand and waived to the crowd. Gerding was pumped up inside and rightfully so as he just laid down a near 5 minute freestyle that set the bar way up for any truck that followed. I for one am hoping Dale jumps behind the wheel of a truck many more times to come as he seems to be a natural. Score: 8.
RAMinator-- Momentum is always the key in freestyle and trying to follow up the run Dale Gerding in Big Dawg just ran was going to be an uphill battle for RAMinator and Mark Hall. Hall stepped to the plate though and teared onto the track and soared over the cars getting attention right away. Hall spun RAMinator around and charged after the pyramid and leaped right over it never touching anything after the first car, huge jump. Hall blasted down the ramps of the cars again getting even more air and distance. Hall took on the pyramid once more and got a big nose dive coming off but it didn't even seem to phase RAMinator as Hall has seemingly still yet to touch the brakes! Hall launched RAMinator off the big dirt pile at the far end and without missing a beat, grabbed some big air over the near cars. Hall kept gaining speed with every jump keeping the momentum high. Hall also ripped off some donuts much to the delight of the crowd. Hall shot RAMinator off the wheelie hill coming right towards us and I think I got a little too much zoom on that shot. Hall dirt-tracked RAMinator around and put the pedal to the floor and blasted down the front stretch and off the wheelie hill with a huge and sideways jump and took a very hard hit on the landing where the fiberglass came down and hit the tire causing some body damage. Hall ended the run there but what a run it was. Tons of speed and air in every direction and hit absolutely everything on the track. Score: 10.
Grave Digger-- The red lights turned on and Charlie Pauken in Grave Digger hit the track. Pauken started with hitting the roller hill hard and blasting down the far set of cars with a nice jump. He headed back over the cars but didn't get near the height that either Team RAM truck was getting. Pauken went after the dirt pile as well as the wheelie hill with two nice jumps as he tried to keep the momentum up also. Pauken took to the pyramid and soared over it with ease. Pauken spun Digger around and oh...my....word....Pauken went full force at the pyramid and got INSANE air over the top of the bus, totally clearing everything and landing a good 10-15 feet past the pyramid and then bounced the truck up into a wheelie! Biggest air of the day right there by far. Pauken concluded his rather short run with a furious display of cyclone donuts that out did any previous ones. A good run but not going to get the win in my books. The crowd thought so but Score: 7.
After the show concluded, my Dad and I made our way over to the RAMinator merchandise hauler to chat with Mark & June Hall and Dale Benear for awhile. We had planned on heading back to the hotel for the night soon so we didn't stick around there too long and we headed back towards the pits. On the way, we ran into Charlie Pauken and I had to refresh my Dad's memory to just who exactly he was..."he drove Excaliber...." Charlie asked if I had brought the van down, but no, not this time. Charlie said he was racing in Quincy next but I was not able to attend that show. We continued on back to the pit area and on the way got to survey some of the damage done to Avenger and Tropical Thunder after their nasty rolls. Avenger crew chief Frank Kreml was hard at work on the rear end of the truck to get it ready for Sunday's action. Body damage to the top was also very visible.
However, the damage to Tropical Thunder looked much more worse. Guy Wood had one wheel off as well as parts lying everywhere and a blowtorch going to fix stuff. Body damage was about the least of the problems.
We ran into Rich and talked with him for a few minuntes and I thanked him for the great day and also asked about how his new truck was coming along. Then from behind us, Charlie Pauken rolled up with his rental car and decided to nearly run me over just for a few laughs of course. Charlie got out and popped the trunk and asked if we wanted a Pepsi. I said sure and then he pulled out "something else" and said with a sly smile "its got a little high octane kick to it though." I was rolling on the ground laughing as that was just the start to the night! I said bye to Rich and he headed off while we went over to the Big Dawg pit where the party had already begun. Brenda was organizing a huge feast for everyone and people from alot of the teams were just hanging around talking. Doug and Brenda are great people and I usually hang around their pit whenever I can but I didn't want to seem like a moocher of food off them or anything so we just talked for a little while and I said my Dad and I were going to get going. But Brenda insisted we stay so I said Yes and figured my Dad was just along for the ride now!
Dale had not gotten back from the signing autographs yet and BJ and Larry wanted to use that to their advantage. They taped a piece of yellow Caution tape to back of Big Dawg and had me take a picture of them by it and they were going to tell Dale that it had gotten ripped off while he was out for freestyle and thats all that was left.
BJ and Larry took off to go party over at Vaters' pit area and ran back
and forth once in awhile for food. Mike Vaters brought over some spicy crayfish that we
all assumed were fresh from the East Coast. We were munching them down and then someone
finally asked Vaters where they were from and he says "Wal-Mart just up the
road." Silence. I decided I would stick to the turkey from them
Ever heard of Mud Darts? Well neither had I until this day. I was coaxed...well shoved into playing it by Scott and I did perfect my first time and then did terrible when I tried again. Mike Vaters is the reigning champ at Mud Darts around the pit area. I know you are asking yourself "well just what the heck is Mud Darts!?!" Well...I think you will just have to ask the Noelke's about that one :-) We stayed and partied it up for a couple more hours until it was well into the early hours of the morning and decided we'd better get going for real this time as we had a 7+ hour drive back home Sunday. The races on Sunday ended up getting rained out as torrential thunderstorms pounded the track leaving everything under a few feet of water and nearly making it impossible for the haulers to get out of the pits.
Despite the actual monster truck action lacking in some areas and only getting one complete show for the entire day, the trip was well worth it and will be one remembered for a long time to come. Big thanks to Rich Inman, the entire Big Dawg crew, Charlie Pauken, BJ and Larry, and everyone else that made this weekend possible. Thanks of course to you for stopping by once again and I hope you enjoyed the coverage of Farmington. Don't forget, there are also some video clips of this event in the Other Midwest Shows Video Theatre! Thanks for reading, Jason.