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A new year and a new adventure to kick off the 2005 Monster Truck season here on MidwestMonsters. Last year the first event took us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for some great Thunder Nationals action over the course of two days, but this year we headed north again, just a bit more East to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The first weekend of the year perfectly coincided with my final week off of college on winter break and with seemingly everyone else going to a show around the country, I wanted in on the action too. But what is a new year with out some new drama along with it? Planning out this trip was no easy task and literally came down to the night before the shows until my Dad and I knew for sure what we were doing.
Grand Rapids is about a 3-hour drive from Batavia and that wasn't really the problem, it was coordinating stuff to make everyone happy. First it was go Friday night, hit the show, drive two hours to relatives house for the night, hit a Saturday show and go home. Then it was I would just go to the Friday show, stay somewhere then go to the Saturday shows and drive back. And then it was go to both Saturday shows, grab a hotel and drive back way early Sunday. The real big problem was my Dad couldn't leave work early Friday and I had to drive 5 hours back to school on did we make this work? Solution! Get up at 8am Saturday morning, hit the road to Grand Rapids, go to the 2pm show, kill some time, go to the 8pm show and then hit the road BACK to Batavia...yikes.

Torgerson Motorsports invaded the DeltaPlex for the first time one year ago and got a pretty good response. But this year, they've stacked lineup a bit deeper to really promise some great action. We arrived just at the end of the 2:00 show pit party, just long enough to get a couple of shots before having to leave.

Truck/Driver Lineup:

Bearfoot--Bill Wirth

Beast--Bobby Holman

Maximum T.O.R.C.--Corey Neff

American Bad Ass--Dave Rife

Project X--Kevin Poore

The Neighborhood Bully ride truck was also in attendance.

One of the big reasons for going through all the hassles to get to this show was because I saw it as maybe my only shot for awhile at seeing the Project X truck. I had seen some awesome footage from Elliott Miller's of Poore's truck and of course the radical design drew me in but also his knack for some incredible wheel stands including getting stuck vertical on pyramids more than a couple times. I wanted to witness some of that for myself and Grand Rapids was the place to be for it.

The format for the monsters would first consist of freestyle competitions with two trucks battling each other in the first round then the other three facing off with the two crowd choices moving on to the Freestyle Finals. After that, it would be Qualifying and then side-bye-side racing. The course was a simple 5-car setup on each side with some small tuff truck hills on every side. There was also a large FMX dirt landing hill near the tunnel entrance. That hill would certainly be in the way for the monsters and because of the tight space, they would need to roll slowly around the hill each time when going to the other set of cars. The other monster trucks were also parked right along that wall so it was an even narrower fit.

Freestyle Round 1

Beast-- Usually set down in a freestyle order, Holman was now given the task of kicking off the freestyle and setting the pace. He attacked the fresh car on the near set to kick off the run but didn't open up with a real big "wow factor" or anything, rather small jump. The cars were going to be down to nothing in a hurry with 4 out of the 5 cars still on the track from the Friday night show. Holman swung around to the far set's fresh car and got a much better leap off that side. He came back around for a hit on that same car and stuck the front end in the air well and walked the truck up and over the first two cars. Just no real way to keep momentum up in this place so there were several seconds in between jumps for setup and getting aligned properly. Holman went back to the near set but again was unsuccessful on that first car. He went to try the back side of the far set where there was no fresh car and managed to get two decent wheel stands to finish his run. Score: 5.

Project X-- I wouldn't have to wait long to see Project X in action and I was really looking for a good showing out of Poore. He started the run right out of where his pit area was at the other end of the track and went for the far set of cars but didn't muster up a good starting jump. He continued on and went right at the FMX hill! I thought he was actually going to attack it but simply rolled the front tires up onto it. There would be no going after a hill like that in this place. He went for the near set on the side Holman did not have any luck with and proved big air could be had off that near set and launched Project X up into the air and twisted a bit sideways before slamming down in the middle of the row. Poore turned X to the other side of the near set and hit a decent long jump then went to the far set and nailed a near mirror image of his big jump on the near set. Poore went to the open dirt at the end of the track and attempted some donuts, which took me by surprised. He managed to get a couple good spins in before coming to a stop and the crowd was really into them. Good run for the local boy Project X. Score: 7.

Project X gets my vote for the victory and also took the crowd vote to advance on into the Freestyle Finals. But who would he face? Let's find out...

Freestyle Round 2

American Bad Ass-- Got to go way back to like 1995 for the last and only time I've seen this truck. Rife ran it as Black Widow at the first monster truck event at Route 66 Raceway when they were on the drag strip. Rife charged out of the pits and right after the far set of cars with a good jump but sparks were seen flying out of near the front axle. They were still shooting out as he hit the near set and it looked like a drive shaft loop had broken and slid down into the housing area which, was causing the sparks. Rife continued on as fingers were probably hovering the RII button. Rife hit a nice twisting jump on the far set then came to the near set again and finished up with a good rolling leap across the cars. Score: 5.

Maximum TORC-- A "Silent Striker" is what I would call Corey Neff. Not too many people recognize this guy for his skills and accomplishments but I for one know that every time he takes to the track, the rest had better take notice. Neff hit the near set first but didn't get too much air. He came back for another hit on the same side and did much better and was really going for that rolling wheel stand. He took a unique route to turn the truck around and cut sideways across the cars for a wider turn instead of having to go around the FMX hill. A decent leap on the far set before really catching some air back on the near set, rolling the rear tires passed the third car. A big hit on the back set to finish up the run. Neff kept the momentum up better than anyone so far and with every truck's freestyle seemingly running together because of the lack to work with, a little bit goes a long way. Score: 7.

Bearfoot-- Last time I saw this truck, it was running "The Mummy" body in Valparaiso where Bill Wirth took the racing win. Wirth attacked the far set first with a nice leap over the cars and then wasted no time going right after the near set. He was really trying to keep the momentum up as best as possible around this tight space and hit the far side again with good speed nearly clearing the set. Wirth took Bearfoot down the center of the track, over the tuff truck hill and then charged the FMX hill scattered some track crew guys off the hill. No jumping it of course, just rolled up it. Short run for Wirth but the crowd seemed to like it enough to get him into the Freestyle Finals. It was a really close vote between him and Rife but Bearfoot takes it. Score: 4.

Before the Freestyle finals could happen, some repair work was needed on the trucks. As the FMX guys took to the air, drivers took to their welders. Kevin Poore and his crew were welding away at chassis and shock brackets while on the other side of the floor, Dave Rife was welding under his truck to fix the drive shaft loop.

Both trucks would be repaired and ready to move on in the show. One truck that would not be moving on is this Jeep from the tuff truck competition:

As the story went, this guy's wife went to work for the day so he takes HER Jeep and brings it to the arena for tuff trucks! I think you can tell where this is going already. In it comes from the lot, snow covered and all and this guy showed no remorse for his vehicle. This hard nose dive was only the beginning. I wish I could've got pictures of it but from where I was it was impossible. He rounded the next turn and went for the small double jump hills next to the wall and launched off the first one, caught the back end on the second hill which nose dived the jeep again and sent the rear end flying sideways in the air and smacking into the side of the arena's concrete wall! The guy finished his run but the Jeep was toast. That hit broke the hard top cover in half, which caused all the glass to break out as well.
The guy was bared from racing again for hitting the wall and sent packing. At the 8:00 show, we got word a friend told the wife what happened. She left work and went home and I bet didn't like what she saw.  Smart move there dude, real smart.

Freestyle Finals

Project X-- Poore had Project X back together and ready to go for the big win in front of the home town crowd. Poore lined up the near set coming right at us, rolled up to the first car and mashed the gas looking for a big wheel stand but the cars were too mashed to stand it straight up, still a very nice jump. Poore came back around to the same set for another crack at it and this time really launched Project X up into the air with probably the biggest air on the night so far. Only a 2-jump run, could it hold up?

Bearfoot-- So far the crowd was firmly behind Project X and Wirth needed to step up his run if he wanted to sway the vote. Wirth opened on the far set again but didn't have much luck and swung around to the near set for a little better air but nothing close to Poore's yet. Wirth hit the far set harder this time for a decent jump and continued to make laps around the arena from set to set in the same pattern. A total of five jumps which was more than Project X but when they all look the same, the crowd votes for the big air. Project X takes the Freestyle Win.

Qualifying Notes

Each truck would make a single pass on the lane of their choice to set the brackets for Qualifying. The key point to this was that Qualifying actually mattered here! Reason being that the slowest truck would NOT race! So no slacking in Qualifying this time, if you want to race, better get on the gas.

Bobby Holman opened freestyle with a run very un-Beast like as it was low to the ground and not exactly on the "#1 Qualifier" side of the times either. But the pace was sent and he was able to make it into racing as Project X went slower than him followed by American Bad Ass who actually got a better time. Maximum Torc ended up on the short end of the times and would have to sit out racing. Bill Wirth in Bearfoot took the #1 spot with a HUGE leap over the far set of cars, clearing them all with ease and beating out the other trucks by nearly a second.

Racing Round 1

American Bad Ass vs. Beast-- Rife in the far lane, Holman in the near lane. Beast left just ahead of Bad Ass and left the line very strong but Holman backed out just a bit before the cars, keeping Beast low over the set and cruised by American Bad Ass who got too much air with out any distance on the jump. Winner: Beast

Bearfoot vs. Project X-- Wirth in the far lane, Poore in the near lane. When the flag dropped Project X left the line first but the slight hole shot was quickly erased. Wirth and Poore hit the cars identical with Project X going a little bit higher and not as far while Wirth flew level and far, passing up Poore in the air to claim the win. Good race. Winner: Bearfoot

American Bad Ass and Project X were to race for 3rd place but more breakage on Rife's truck would not allow that to happen. Poore had his truck fired and ready to go so he was awarded 3rd place as a bye run. On to the Finals...

Racing Finals

Beast vs. Bearfoot-- Wirth far lane, Holman near lane. The two top running trucks on the night and my two picks to end up the Finals. They edged to the line and the RPMs rev'd up. The flag dropped and Wirth was caught napping on the line as Holman blasted forward a half truck length ahead as they hit the cars. Holman went away from his low tactics and pulled a huge leap with the front end clearing the row of cars. The back end caught the last car bouncing it up in the air, nosing the front end and Holman had a little fight on his hands to get Beast stopped and he just barely did before hitting the ride truck. Wirth had a good jump in his lane but the startling line snooze cost him the victory. Wild race with winner: Beast.

With the first show in the books, I was eager for more and had the feeling we were yet to see that "break out moment" from somebody. My suspicions and exactly why I came to this event all come to the forefront at the 8:00 show!

Grand Rapids 8:00 Show