The Monsters of the Midway, normally an expression used to described the Chicago Bears football team, took on a whole different meaning when the monster trucks came rolling back through the Lake County Fair in Grayslake, Illinois for some mid-week action! These monsters would not be bashing helmets, but mashing cars as part of the Paul Shafer Motorsports Rock'N Monster Fest. Now, usually at Shafer Motorsports shows you see a good deal of Shafer owned trucks. Well, not this time. This is the first event that contains NO Shafer trucks! Originally there were six trucks scheduled for this event with the five seen above plus Bill Wirth in his truck running a Smoke body. But due what looked to be a booking mishap, he was sent instead up to Wisconsin for a different Shafer show but upon arrival turned out there were already enough trucks!
But, as if driving up to Wisconsin wasn't out of the way enough, Wirth would have to turn around later that night and drive back down to Valparaiso, Indiana for the Shafer show the very next day! Whirlwind scheduling was not the only thing that caused drama during the week as Mother Nature felt it was necessary for her to play a role too. Grayslake was to be a 2-night show (Tuesday and Wednesday) and I planned on leaving work early each day for both. But the weather turned nasty in a hurry on Tuesday and rain pounded much of the Chicago area. I decided to stay at work and forego the Tuesday show figuring it would be cancelled anyway. WRONG!
Andrew Pellegrine made the trek up to Grayslake and was very surprised to see the trucks on the track. Seems the fair demanded the trucks perform because that's what they were paid to do and there were people there to watch. Monster driving is a pretty unusual activity which is very popular. The spectator can get a lot from it, it has the excitement like that you get from games at partypoker and it also has an element of risk. On top of all that it is mega, it is loads of fun on a huge scale.
So the monsters put on a quick show as the rain poured down including some side-by-side racing and freestyle.
The weather thankfully was clear of the area on Wednesday and everything was cleaned up, dried out and ready for a real show this time.
Bad News Travels Fast--Bruce Haney
New faces in the crowd-- Dominator with new driver/owner Kyle Chandler from Maine and Ballistic with long time ride truck owner turned racer Mac Plecker from Georgia are the two new guys on the tour and this would be a proving ground for them as they break into the sport. Grayslake is a simple place and a great place for rookies to sharpen their skills. Chandler's Dominator is the old Ntrepid truck which was owned by Dave Ryan in Florida while Ballistic is a totally new truck built by the Pleckers. This is a field of trucks full of next generation stars and these two will hopefully fit right in.
Pick your pony-- Most of the time there are a few trucks that stand out from the rest in a field as favorites to win either racing or freestyle and simply dominate from the rest. We did not have that here. No one knew what to expect from Plecker or Chandler then you've got Blackburne in Demon who probably has the most horsepower out of anyone, Haney who has the most experience and the guy on the end, Shea in Nemesis, who will look right past the stats and beat the guy next to him in a flash. No clear-cut winner for either racing or freestyle was apparent, instead it looked to be a fairly even matched event that may turn into a "can you top this" battle for freestyle.
Before the monsters took to the track, as an added attraction, the world famous Joie Chitwood performed one of his amazing car balancing tricks as he drove a stock Chevy S-10 off a ramp and down the length of the track on 2 wheels! He did this several times and was quite a sight. Chitwood would be back out later with another one of his creations, the jet truck "Chitwood Thunder."
Monster Truck Racing
Racing would be quite different than what is usually seen. With such little space for the trucks, there were no obstacles for racing, just flat land drags on the dirt. The dirt was very tacky and would provide great traction but they drivers would need to be quick on the gas and then even quicker on the brakes as the track was barely 100 feet long with very limited shutdown space.
Ballistic vs. Demon-- Blackburne put the big Dodge power to use quickly and blew away Ballistic off the flag and held the lead to the finish. Winner: Demon
Nemesis3 vs. Dominator-- The rookie was quick on the flag and got the jump over Shea in Nemesis. But, Chandler let off the gas too soon and Shea kept his foot in it long enough to pass up Dominator right before the finish. Winner: Nemesis3.
Monster Truck Racing
Bad News vs. Ballistic-- Haney drew the random first round Bye run and now would take on the fast loser, Ballistic. Haney yanked the front wheels off the line and carried the wheel stand several truck lengths before the front end dropped down to give Bad News the added power to hold off Ballistic. Winner: Bad News Travels Fast.
Nemesis3 vs. Demon-- Both drivers mashed the throttle off the line at the same time but the big horsepower difference showed right away as Demon pulled out to a truck length lead and would take the win. Winner: Demon.
Monster Truck Racing
Bad News vs. Demon-- This should be a great race as both have shown tremendous power off the line and were not the ones to back out at the end. Haney again yanked the front tires off the line with an even bigger wheel stand that carried nearly 3/4 of the track. Meanwhile, Blackburne had Demon kickin' on all four tires and that would be the difference maker as he crossed the finish about a tire length ahead of Bad News. Haney was hard on the brakes and slid within inches of Ballistic sitting in the pit area. Winner: Demon.
Monster Truck Wheelie Contest
Right after racing, it was time to head into the wheel stand competition. The trucks would be split into two groups with the two fan choices from each going onto the Finals and eventually crowning a winner. Then, after intermission, all the trucks would return for freestyle. Again as in the past, there would be only one obstacle for freestyle, a car-van-van-car stack in the middle of the dirt track.
Nemesis3-- Bob Shea would get the first crack at the fresh cars and was ready to take full advantage. He rolled the hot looking Nemesis 3 truck up to the lead car and stabbed the throttle hard which shot the truck straight up as the rear tires popped up onto the first car but then began to slip the truck off to the left. Momentum kept the truck moving forward and the rear end smashed down on the minivans but that threw the completely vertical truck off to the left side of the set. Nemesis was thrown off the cars as the left front nosed into the ground and rocked the truck up onto two wheels and then back down on all fours right in front of the concrete wall giving the already stunned and somewhat terrified crowd a real up close look. Insane wheelie from Shea and the pictures should do all the talking!
Nemesis was shut off immediately via the RII and damages were already apparent with the most obvious being a flat left front tire and some body damage but there was more to be found in the pits. Nemesis3, after a huge opening leap, would be stuck in the pits the rest of the night and would not return. The truck was fixed about 10 minutes too late after the show ended. Score: 10.
Ballistic-- Mac Plecker had a tough act to follow but with Nemesis out of the competition, now had a chance to do well and still advance. He took the first hit from the still untouched car on the right side but mistimed the throttle and did not get much air out of the jump. Plecker came around for his second attempt and it was a near mirror jump of Shea's as he stood Ballistic nearly straight up on the first car but this time kept it steady and rolled the truck all the way across the three other cars! Fantastic rolling wheel stand! Two different styles of wheelie when you compare Nemesis and Ballistic but both equally impressive. Score: 10.
Bad News Travels Fast-- The deck was now really stacked against Bruce Haney after seeing his two competitors throw down perfect wheel stands. Haney was un phased by the pressure and stormed out of the pits and hit a very nice jump on the right side. Haney attacked from the other side with another great jump with all four tires in the air. His attempts were not bad by any means but were not going to win this contest. Score: 7.
Even though Nemesis3 would be unable to return, he was still given the loudest crowd response and would be given the win. But, second place Ballistic would be moving to battle the winner of the next match.
Monster Truck Wheelie Contest
Dominator-- The first rookie, Plecker, was impressive in his attempts, now it was the other rookie, Kyle Chandler's, time to make his mark. Chandler hit the cars with some decent speed but extended the truck into more of a long jump and did not get much height under the front tires. On the other side Chandler hit the cars much harder and got all four tires in the air and the front a good ways up as well. Nothing over powering or incredible but decent jumps from Dominator. Score: 5.
Demon-- Blackburne was going to use the horsepower that took him to the racing victory as the fuel behind some big air for the wheelie contest. His first jump was good but a little mistiming brought the front end back down too quick. His second attempt was definitely more of a long jump as he skimmed across the top of the cars. I was surprised at the results and did not think Dominator would have such an easy pass into the next round but this would be the case. Blackburne would have to wait until Freestyle for more. Score: 3.
Monster Truck Wheelie Contest
Ballistic-- A battle of the rookies for the Wheelie Contest final round and if there was a favorite, Plecker had to be it after his incredible rolling wheelie in the first round. With the cars already pretty mashed down, drivers would have to hit them harder and be more accurate on the throttle to produce quality wheel stands. Plecker rolled up to the right side of the set and hammered Ballistic at the last moment and was able to pull off another rolling wheelie, not to the extreme of his previous one, but successful nonetheless. Plecker took two more hits but the jumps flattened out and he could not find anymore luck with the rolling approach. He had trouble with hitting the gas at the right moment and was consistently a second or so late on the timing. Score: 7.
Dominator-- Chandler would need to turn up the aggression from his first run if he hoped to top Ballistic's final run. Could Dominator dominate the wheelie contest? Chandler nailed the cars hard on his first hit and got some good air but nothing to rival Plecker yet. He built even more speed on the next jump and the truck went the highest it had yet. Chandler seemed to like hitting the set from the left side better and lined up the final jump from that side. He really got into the throttle at the right time and hit his best jump yet combining a good angle on the front end and an overall nice jump to finish his run. A very improved run for Kyle Chandler but I'm a sucker for the old-school style rolling wheelie. Score: 6. But, the crowd saw it differently and in a close vote awarded Dominator with the Wheelie Contest victory!
With the end of the first part of competition, the show went to a brief intermission but lots of people took that as a way to head to the exit. The sun was very low and the temperature was dropping and at least half the stands cleared out. Instead of warming up in the car on the way home, everyone could've just sat back down as Joie Chitwood rolled out the only street legal jet truck known as Chitwood Thunder.
Chitwood killed every mosquito within a mile as he poured billows of smoke out of the truck at both sides of the track. The smoke soon turned to blazing, blasting fire as Chitwood lit up the night with an impressive display. The heat, smoke and power out of Chitwood Thunder was nearly too much for the fans at the end of the track as they were definitely smoked out. Chitwood also nearly melted my MonsterMayhem.org banner hanging on the back wall. This was just a bit of a tease for the next night in Valparaiso as Chitwood would show the full power of his truck and melt down a car at the end of the show.
Monster Truck Freestyle
The final event of the night would be Freestyle but was cut to four trucks with Nemesis3 unable to compete. The cars were very mashed down at this point and more than ever the drivers would have to hammer the trucks hard to get any kind of results.
Bad News Travels Fast-- Haney put together a solid run but not too much different than his jumps in the Wheelie Contest. The quality of the cars definitely did not help his cause and neither did the tacky dirt as I was hoping for some donuts but none to be found. Score: 5.
Ballistic-- The brother-in-law of Bruce Haney, Mac Plecker, rolled out his newly created, Ballistic next for Freestyle. At the start of the run Plecker again was having trouble with his throttle timing when approaching each jump. He obviously was trying for a big wheel stand or more rolling wheelie's but consistently was off as the front tires were already on the cars before he hit the gas. The feeling out and learning process hurt his run but practice makes perfect and Plecker quickly figured it out, at least for his last jump. Ballistic went skyward with a huge near vertical jump that had the rear tires clear of the first three cars and barely grazed the fourth one on the way down. Plecker was rocked hard inside the truck as Ballistic pogo'd hard on the landing but got control of the truck before getting near the wall. Awesome jump to finish the run. Score: 6.
Dominator-- Chandler was obviously enjoying the seat time in his new ride as he spent the longest time on the track and hit more jumps than anyone else all night. He repeated the same style from the Wheelie Contest and hit some decent long jumps but not enough to clear the remains of the four cars. No one had cleared them outright yet. Chandler showed good control with the truck and definitely and it was going to be interesting to see him and Plecker, heck, all these trucks on the big track the next night in Valpo. Score: 6.
Demon-- Rich Blackburne had more time to sit in the pits than anyone else and had to be thinking how he could make an impact and win this thing or pull out something different than what we've seen. Blackburne built his run around speed and was getting his truck turned around at each end quicker than anyone and was hitting the cars harder than anyone. Demon was getting more and more air and distance on each jump and the momentum culminated on his final hit. Blackburne blasted into the cars from the left side and launched all the way over the set, clearing the four cars then slammed the front end down and powered up a small slap wheelie to end the run with an exclamation point! Score: 10.
Demon takes the freestyle win by my scores but we never found out what the crowd thought as every headed out very quickly and a vote was never taken.
For a Shafer Motorsports show without the usual heavy hitters that come in those lineups, this was a very solid show which showcased a wide variety of talent. From the established Bad News Travels Fast team to the independent workhorses of Nemesis and Demon to the true rookies of Ballistic and Dominator, everyone came to win and put a great effort on the track.
Big Thanks to Paul Shafer, all the drivers for taking time to talk after the show and to Andrew Pellegrine for his pictures from the rainy first show. A special thanks to my Dad as well for making the trek as unfortunately that is becoming a rarity due to conflicting schedules. Of course, thanks to you for visiting MidwestMonsters again and reading another coverage.