Madison Monster Nationals
Previous trips to Madison, Wisconsin for monster trucks has meant frigid temperatures, mounds of snow and extreme amounts of horsepower caged within the Alliant Energy Center. But that is all in the past and this is certainly not January. Fourth of July weekend saw the summer monster truck racing season in full force and it was time for the Monster Nationals series to bust out and head to the wide-open turf of Madison International Speedway.
It's also time to finally get a good story line going as my last few journey's haven't been filled with pit falls and weather disasters and all that great stuff you love to see me go through. July was starting off in a big way, as Madison was stop number one on a long list of events across the Midwest. Madison was to be a two-day affair with a show on July 2nd-Friday and July 3rd-Saturday. Madison is in the neighborhood of two and half hours from my house in Batavia and I didn't want to settle for just hitting one of the shows so that meant I had to be creative and needed a plan. Enter the good high school friends you lost contact with after graduation :-) My friend Billy and his girlfriend Jill just happened to have an apartment on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, which for those that don't know basically makes up the entire city of Madison. After a little begging and pleading I was granted access and took off for Madison on Friday afternoon.
I flew up the highway and made excellent time and thankfully my exit was just before the massive backup of SUVs pulling boats heading to the Wisconsin Dells area. I spent the next half hour roaming the one-way confusion and pedestrian filled streets of downtown Madison trying to find their dang apartment but finally did. Having found the place in daylight I was confident I could find it later at night so I trekked onward and back south to the racetrack. I blew by the turn for the track the first time as the road is hidden in between two giant corn fields way on the out skirts of town. I corrected and headed down to the track and found a not so filled parking lot but I was way early.
Upon entering the stands, I was now what seemed miles above the track surface and was taken back at just how big of an area the monsters had to work with. The infield on the 1/2 mile track was huge! Before hitting the pit party on the front stretch I stopped at the merch tent and talked with Brenda Noelke who said her and Doug were short handed tonight and asked if I wanted to help Doug on the track. Heck of an offer but I was honest and said I wasn't up to it on the night and just wanted to take up a spot in the stands. I wandered down to the Team RAM merch hauler next, the brand new and much bigger hauler I might add. The very cool addition is two exterior tv sets that play clips from previous shows from all over the country. Even clips from the Route 66 show last October made the cut. Of course I had to stand there and watch the entire cycle. June Hall and I chatted for a bit and I was about to get one of the new shirts but I was short on cash. The track was calling me so let's meet the monsters and see whats on tap in Madison.
Bad News Travels Fast--Bruce Haney. One of two debuting trucks on the Monster Nationals tour was Bruce Haney in Bad News. Haney ran with the monster jam tour all winter and has continued with several Summer Heat shows over the past couple of months. But he's faced several of these trucks before and with having raced on the big platform all year adjustment shouldn't be a problem.
Big Dawg--Doug Noelke. Big Dawg has been close to unstoppable on the Monster Nationals circuit racing portion, racking up wins at pretty much every show this winter. Doug fell short of the Monster Nationals title by only a few points due to only a couple freestyle wins, which are counted towards the points race. Being confined to small arenas all winter has left Doug slap wheelie-less but I think that'll change with all the wide open space at the speedway.
Rolling Thunder--Jim Bendzick. The other first timer at the Monster Nationals was Rolling Thunder. The Bendzicks are from a bit farther north in Minnesota and have been traveling on the Thunder Nationals circuit in the winter and some of the smaller Monster Jam events. This would be one of the few long, outdoor tracks Jim has raced on which may hurt him. I saw Jim race my only other time way back in January up in Milwaukee and he performed very well on the Thunder Nationals course.
RAMmunition--Dale Benear. Last time we saw Benear he was standing RAMmunition straight up and down while clearing the length of the floor inside Assembly Hall back in February. This type of track is right up his alley and having 2000hp under the hood doesn't hurt either. Dale is always one who can sneak out of no where to nab a win.
RAMinator--Mark Hall. Reigning ProMT champ and now reigning two-time Monster Nationals champ, Mark Hall was in Madison to add some more names to his list of victims. This track is again ideal for Hall, long and straight, which will allow him to get every bit of power out of the big Hemi. Racing winner? Not without a fight.
After hitting the pit party for a bit, I stumbled into Andrew Pellegrine who made the trip up with his family for the show. I also crossed paths with George Eisenhart of Image Promotions as he was talking over the house mic. I said HI and he said "hey, I know you!" right over the mic, funny stuff.
The crowd finally filled into the stands and showtime was upon us. Andrew and I picked out some seats up top and were ready to rock! Look out M.I.S, the monsters are here to roar!
Rolling Thunder started off with a solid run and Jim had no problems with the track. Bad News followed him and Bruce laid down a great pass beating Rolling Thunder's time by over a second. RAMmunition rolled up next but fell victim to some transmission problems right off the line. Didn't tear apart thankfully and Dale made a slow run to not damage it anymore. Big Dawg was fourth to run and Noelke put down a perfect run to knock off Haney from the top spot. But, it didn't last long as Mark Hall scorched the track to beat out Noelke by 3 hundredths of a second.
Keeping with the usual Monster Nationals style format, freestyle would precede the racing portion of the show. In addition to the sets of cars, a car-minivan half pyramid was setup in the infield along with a big slap wheelie/long jump hill out on the back stretch. Plus, TONS of grassy area to rip up.
Rolling Thunder-- Bendzick would get first crack at all the stuff on the track and he made good on his opportunity. Bendzick drilled the near set of cars right off the bad with a big sky wheelie and thundered down onto the cars. He busted in the far set too with a good jump but not as high up. Bendzick was not intimidated at anything on the track and lined up for the minivan jump and flew right over it just barely grazing the top of the van. Back to the near set for another giant wheelstand before going to the minivan again. This time he hit it much harder and straight on getting an excellent jump and really launched off the van. Jim waived to the crowd and they responded with a big applause. Always good to have a crowd that's into the action from the start. Score: 6.
Bad News Travels Fast-- It's really been a feeling out process all year for Bruce Haney and his new Bad News truck especially in freestyle. Learning what the truck can do and more importantly getting comfortable with what the truck can do. Haney has been improving throughout the year and continued in Madison. He started with a couple sweet long jumps off the back of the cars on each set then eyed up the slap wheelie hill. He tried to bounce up the front of the truck but didn't get much rebound and only carried the front tires a little ways. He reverted to the cars again for some more big air and looked to be done with the run as he pulled to the front stretch of asphalt. But then he cut the truck quickly to the left and tried to get a donut going. He's used to getting a truck spinning on the concrete floor of a Thunder Nationals so it didn't take long for him to get Bad News going and away he went! Smoke pouring off the tires and track as Haney spun Bad News around and around and around before disappearing into the smoke. The crowd went friggin' nuts! Score: 5.
RAMmunition-- No word on the transmission other than it was just some slippage and Benear rumbled out onto the track for his run. He started with a few jumps on the backs of the cars but they couldn't touch the air Bendzick or Haney were getting. That meant time to find something else that would provide some air and that was the car-minivan jump. Benear blasted off the van with a HUGE leap and came crashing back down with a hard hit on the front but it was all still together. Dale roamed to the wide open field and spun the truck into a dirt slingin', grass rippin' fury of donuts that again ignited excitement in the crowd. Benear mixed it up even more and headed to the long jump hill and soared off it with a picture perfect jump sailing way down the back stretch of grass. Benear took one more hit on the minivan and wrapped up the run. Excellent freestyle incorporating everything on the track and plenty of momentum. Score: 8.
Big Dawg-- Doug Noelke brought the Big Dawg out next to pounce on the track. Noelke took some shots on both sets of cars shooting the front end up really well and digging the back end into the middle of the sets. Noelke passed up the minivan and went for his specialty, the slap wheelie. One big leap off the hill, a quick bounce of the front tires and away we go! Noelke ripped up a giant slap wheelie carrying it nearly all the way down the grass stretch. He came back around for another big hit on the cars but everyone wanted him to get back to that hill and fast. Noelke did just that. He got a perfect jump followed by a perfect slap of the front end sending the front straight up in the air for over one hundred feet of slap wheelie paradise. Killer wheelie that sent shockwaves through the crowd. Score: 7.
RAMinator-- One truck left and Mark Hall is usually one to go out on top with a fast paced big air filled run. Hall came onto the track and headed for the long jump hill and flew into the air with a great jump to open the run. Some innovation was in order next and I must say that this move is one that is hardly ever used and just happens to be one of my favorite freestyle jumps. Hall lined up the far set from their trunks and absolutely launched off the cars, into the middle grass, then hit the near set with a small jump as well. Great combo of jumps. He turned to the far set of cars for a jump but didn't get much out of it. He went right back to hitting the cars from the side and got some good air going across again on the far set. Hall found some open grass and unloaded with an insane set of donuts spinning like crazy in the open grass. At least 8 rotations and I have zero pictures to account for it. Stupid light poles and fence and me stumbling on the bleachers and falling on my butt. Anyways...Hall went right from the donuts and jumped the minivan but didn't hit it with much force. He came up to the front of the track and attacked the near lane of cars from their hoods with a big jump now going back across the track. One more jump off the minivan with a hard landing on the front tire and that was it. Two great runs by the Team RAM trucks. Score: 9.
Even though all five big trucks have freestyle, there was still someone waiting to tackle the course and that was Steve Comb in his X-Truck. As many of you probably know, Steve owned the Knight Stalker monster truck and now builds custom shocks for many current monster truck teams. He also sells these custom made X-Trucks and what better way to display its capabilities than on a real monster truck track. Steve wasn't too aggressive at first and jumped the starting line roller hills and cut a couple donuts on the grass. But then he got adventurous and lined up for the big slap wheelie hill! Combs went full force at the hill and LAUNCHED the X-truck straight up into the air then slammed the rear tires down into the ground, barrel rolled to the right and flipped onto his roof before coming to a stop on his side.
A very rough crash and it took its toll on Steve and the X-truck as well. Damage done to the rear end of the truck was evident and Steve was visibly shaken after the crash and not too talkative. That X-Truck might be on the discount rack now.
Intermission followed next but that is not to say there wasn't some half time festivities. Mike West in the American Thunder Jet Jeep roared onto the track and was ready to play. He roasted the front stretch and heated up the crowd as if we needed it in the 90 degree temps. Mike doesn't find tracks like this too often where he can really unleash the power of American Thunder and he wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. Mike blasted around the 1/2 mile oval a couple times at a blistering pace with no chance of the camera keeping up to him. Killer speed and the fans went wild again.
Racing Round 1
The track for racing was a long straight line track in the middle of the infield consisting of a small dirt roller 10 feet from the start line, then a long no-mans-land followed by a 5 car jump to the finish line which was a good 50 feet AFTER the end of the cars. Several factors would come into play and a good start would not necessarily mean victory. The ability to get out of the box quick, over the hill then put the horsepower to the ground and stay low over the cars will lead to success. But after getting over the cars, drivers must be aware that airing the truck out over the final set may result in their opponent staying low and driving right past to the finish. In my pictures, the finish line is the big light pole with the barrels around it. Big Dawg would get a BYE run in Round 1 for picking up the crowd vote in Freestyle.
Bad News Travels Fast vs. RAMmunition-- The favorite here had to be Bad News because Dale Benear did not get a good feel for the track in Qualifying with the transmission problems while Haney had a solid pass in the far lane and is there for this race. But if the transmission is fine in RAMmunition, this could be a very close race. Hole shot went to Bad News and he got over the hill first and landed fine into the flat land. Benear bobbled a bit on the hill but put his foot through the floor to catch up to Bad News and pull ahead in the air over the cars. They hit the ground together and Benear had enough momentum going to hold it to the pole and take a very close win. Winner: RAMmunition.
RAMinator vs. Rolling Thunder-- Edge here goes to Mark Hall and he showed why. The trucks got off the line pretty even but quickly Rolling Thunder was out gunned over the roller hill and into no-mans-land as Hall blasted down the track and opened up a big lead. Bendzick stayed straight over the final set much better than Hall did as RAMinator was out of shape in the air and had a rough landing right on the finish line but it had no effect on the result. Winner: RAMinator.
RAMinator vs. RAMmunition-- A Team RAM battle in the first race of round 2. Hall in the far lane, Benear in the near lane. The light hit green and RAMmunition's RPMs hit the sky. Hall never let up and rocketed down the track in probably his quickest pass on the day getting a huge jump off the last set. The tranny problems have come back to haunt RAMmunition again. Winner: RAMinator.
Big Dawg vs. Bad News Travels Fast-- Haney gets back in as the fast loser but will be up against Big Dawg. Noelke hasn't been tested on the course yet and Haney ran very strong his first time out, should be a good race. Noelke thumped Haney on the light and had a half truck lead over the roller hill and into the stretch. Noelke poured it on to the cars and sailed threw the air landing right on the finish line with Bad News a truck and a half behind. Winner: Big Dawg. 3/4 of the way in his run, it looked as if Big Dawg hit a brick wall and his speed stopped building. Indeed that was the case as the gearing on the truck was not enough to carry it the entire length of the course.
RAMinator vs. Big Dawg-- As the sun set behind us, the trucks pulled to the line for the finale. Hall, with the quicker time, put Noelke in the unfamiliar near lane just to stack the deck against Big Dawg a bit more. Remember, Big Dawg can go full strength for about 3/4 of the track, but after that, there is no more gain in speed and with Hall already running faster than Big Dawg, Noelke will need a monstrous hole shot to get a lead and keep it. The crowd was pretty split on their favorite, maybe a little more leaning towards Big Dawg as the trucks staged. The light hit green and Noelke got the hole shot he needed and had a slight lead over the roller. Perfect landing by both as they stormed to the final jump. Hall roared passed Noelke as the half track mark and blew the doors off with a huge final leap landing past the finish line while Big Dawg came up about a truck length short. Winner: RAMinator.
Only one thing left to cap off the night and that was for Mike West in the American Thunder Jet Jeep to blow up a car!
A very solid and compact show that wrapped up in less than two hours! Another fine performance from the Monster Nationals series, haven't disappointed yet! After pretty much everyone had cleared out, I tracked down George Eisenhart and asked him about the possibility of rain for the Saturday show and what would happen to the show if it were to rain. He said he knew there was a good chance for it but that they would run it if there were 5 or 5000 people in the stands. I told him I'd be one of the 5 and would be back tomorrow. So I headed back north to stay the night in downtown Madison with high hopes for another show Saturday.....But what I got was a lot of let down.
I killed time all day Saturday with my friend Billy and Jill in Madison, eagerly awaiting show time. It had rained on and off all day and when I got the track, I didn't like what I found. The infield was under water and no one was around.
The area around the speedway had gotten dumped very heavily with rain causing lots of flooding on the track. But they were going to do the show anyways, right? Wrong. There weren't even 5 people there, just one, me! A few other cars came along here and there asking about the show and had to break the news that there wasn't going to be one. Everyone was pretty much packed up and ready to leave if they already hadn't. The Halls Brothers would've liked to of been gone except they were stuck with one problem. The merch hauler was not fitting out the exit properly.
It took some moving around and lots of very careful maneuvering and coordination from Dale Benear, Mark and Tim Hall but they were finally able to squeeze the truck and hauler out of the concourse area.
That's one lonely truck out there in the parking lot.
What started as a great trip ended on a wet and dreary note and I still had to drive back home through it. The Friday night show was still worth the trip by itself but when you plan for two shows and then it gets taken away, just leaves a real down feeling on the whole ordeal.
Big Thanks to George Eisenhart, Doug & Brenda Noelke, everyone at Hall Bros. Racing and of course Billy and Jill for letting me crash at their place for the night. Thanks for reading once again!