Night 1

The Rolling Thunder Monster Truck Challenge presented by Torgerson Motorsports has reached new heights in 2005 with an expanded schedule reaching both sides of the country and everywhere in between. The lineups have grown in size and strength and probably the greatest combination of both those aspects roared into the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A fantastic field of five trucks that usually do not run together all converged for one weekend to see just who the supreme monster truck was. A new venue, new lineup and a new attitude for Torgerson Motorsports made this event one not to miss.

After driving the 4+ hours back to Chicago from Edwardsville the night before, it was up to cold and blustery Milwaukee Friday evening for my Dad, Andrew Pellegrine and myself. Fans were already lined up outside the Bradley Center prior to the Pit Party being opened which is always a good sign from the promoter's view. We met up with Danny Torgerson out on the arena floor briefly before the doors opened and the fans poured in. Between shooting pictures for on here, for Torgerson and black & white film for my photography class, I never seemed to slow down and the pit party flew by. Got to stop and talk shortly with Robby Haught from as well as getting autographs from a few of the drivers.

The floor was cleared out at the end of the Pit Party and we made our way up into the stands to find some seats. With the track set and the lights dimmed, it was time to meet the monsters!

Truck/Driver Lineup:

Bigfoot--Dan Runte
The sloppy Springfield Jamboree in 2004 was the last time I saw Dan Runte drive and that event was far from a showcase of his skills behind the wheel of Bigfoot. Runte has competed heavily on the small, indoor circuits of Torgerson and Monsters of Destruction during the winter making this event another one right up his alley.

Raminator--Geremie Dishman
I was unfamiliar with the driving style or ability of Dishman as I have not seen him in action but enough people must have liked what they saw in 2004 to vote him the MTRA Rookie of the Year. Always exciting to see a new guy on the track and when he is sitting behind the wheel of a truck like Raminator, the excitement will only intensify. We'll know real quickly what the kid can or cannot do up against this strong field of trucks.

Devastator--Mark Schroeder
Schroeder learned his monster truck craft in the smaller venues like this but over the past year or so he has really improved his driving and with the great performance of his new truck, he has progressed into the huge stadium and dome shows across the Monster Jam circuit. Mark is from right up the road in Muskego, Wisconsin and the home crowd will certainly give him a boost throughout the weekend.

Monster Patrol--Rodney Tweedy
Tweedy is another newer driver to the sport but has been given some great opportunities and equipment piloting Monster Patrol, Boogey Van and Captain USA for Shafer Motorsports. He has picked up numerous racing victories already on the year including one earlier in the month down in Du Quoin, IL. His freestyles have been lacking but it will take some time in a notoriously rough truck to handle.

Project X--Kevin Poore
Kevin "Carnage" Poore is a nickname most definitely earned as Poore has become recognized by not only the wildest looking truck out there, but also the amount of damage that truck takes nearly every time it is on the track. He has rolled the truck over in more than half of the events he's appeared at this year on the Torgerson tour. Besides winning countless wheelie contests and freestyles, Poore is also tallying up the racing victories as well and could be a surprise winner at the end.

The Mardi Gras Monster was also in attendance to give out rides to the fans with the big bucks. Mardi Gras is one of two ride trucks now owned by Torgerson Motorsports.

The track setup was very simple but is a design I like and one that fans of big air will surely like. Two 5-car sets on some VERY tacky dirt. It was more of a sponge-like clay surface that had no loose layers to it anywhere near the cars. The ramps were, well who am I kidding, the ramps were non-existent! The trucks would be slamming right into metal for racing and depending how much that first car was smashed down during the Wheelie Contest, we would really be in for some moon-shots. Around the car sets was the S-shaped tuff truck course and also Freestyle Motocross would be a part of the show later on.

The crowd was set, we were set and it was time for monster trucks!

Wheelie Contest

For the wheelie contest, each truck would get one crack at each set of cars from the non-ramp side to see how vertical they could get. Crowd would vote for the winner.

Project X--   This truck may not have the best setup for an everyday "regular" monster truck but it is the perfect style for standing straight up and down in a wheelie contest. Poore has won nearly every time he's been in one and we were about to see why. Poore chose the far set to attack first and rolled up slowly to the first car then punched it right at impact shooting the front end straight up as it was meant to go as the rear end jumped up onto the first car. The truck leaned backwards and seemed stuck in the air before it sloooowly started tilting back towards the middle of the track and came crashing down with a big thud on the dirt! Project X goes over again! It would have not rolled if the truck had not turn sideways mid-jump causing the tires to start slipping off the cars. Cannot put a truck any more vertical than that and a spectacular way to open the show that would set the pace for more to come. Score: 8.

Raminator-- Dishman had a tough act to follow and with a truck not geared for the vertical wheel stands, he was already at a disadvantage. Dishman hit the other set of fresh cars with more speed than Poore did but the truck leaped forward more than up. Nice looking jump but not enough for this contest. Over to the far set and Dishman hit those harder too but again could not get the big air he needed. Score: 4.

Devastator-- After tackling vans, buses, garbage trucks and giant car piles in the big domes, this setup had to look like a cakewalk for Schroeder. But it is a whole different kind of style when running a small show compared to the giant arenas and I was curious as to how Schroeder would adjust back to the setting. He showed no rust on his first jump with a straight jump across the cars with the front nicely up in the air. He tried to walk it across the cars but could not keep the momentum rolling. Onto the near set and this time he unloaded with a twisting and contorting crazy looking wheelie that put a surge into the home town crowd. The truck landed fine and Schroeder would be ready for more. Score: 7

Bigfoot-- One of the few shows Runte has run in 2005 where there actually were no ramps on the cars and he was going to be able to let Bigfoot loose and show us what we've been missing. The Ford Hemi engine was sounding fierce and ready to roar as Runte rolled Bigfoot #15 up to the far set of cars. Runte got Bigfoot to clear all four tires but did not get the front end vertical enough. That quickly changed on his next jump.  Runte stomped on the gas and launched Bigfoot way up into the air, the planted the rear tires into the fourth car as the front axle twisted in the air much like Devastator did before slamming down hard on the dirt.  Fantastic leap from Runte! Great height, crazy look and plenty of distance on that. Score: 10!

Monster Patrol-- Tweedy also had a tough wall to climb in front of him to top every truck. This Monster Patrol is the chassis that previously ran as Boogey Van and with Amber Walker and Sherry Harwood behind the wheel, the van was stood on its end many times including some reverse rollovers. Tweedy needed something big as he went after the near set first but did not hit the cars very hard and got a little rolling wheelie across the first three cars but nothing yet to complete with the past 4 trucks. Tweedy got the front end up higher on his next jump but again not going to take the win. Score: 4.

My vote as you saw went to Bigfoot to win the Wheelie Contest but that hometown crowd effect came into play and Devastator was voted the winner. After the monsters, some tuff trucks hit the track followed by FMX featuring Kenny Yoho and his usually entourage of riders. They jumped for a really long time but it would be their only appearance on the night and the crowd really was into it. Good job all around.

With the show moving along nicely, it was right into Monster Truck Racing! Due to damage in the Wheelie Contest, Project X would sit out racing to get the repairs fixed in time for Freestyle later on. There was no Qualifying, brackets were pre-set. The course was a short 5-car drag but the starting line was a truck length back from where the cars were so the trucks would be able to grab some much needed speed before slamming the first car. The hard hooking dirt would provide all the traction the drivers could want and will result in some quick starts and no spinning on the line.

Racing Round 1

Raminator vs. Devastator-- Dishman took the right lane and Schroeder was in the left. Danny Torgerson dropped the flag and Schroeder took the hole shot to the cars first and absolutely launched into the air with a huge leap over the cars, clearing all five, landing on the finish line just a fender out ahead of Raminator. That hole shot made the difference for Devastator as Raminator makes a rare first round exit. Winner: Devastator.

(stupid camera didn't focus)

Monster Patrol vs. Bigfoot-- Tweedy in the right lane, Runte in the left lane. Runte bolted off the line, yanking the front tires off the ground and skimmed them over the first car staying low across the set and nose-diving the finish line. Tweedy was behind from the start and the big air put him a truck length behind at the finish. Winner: Bigfoot.

Before the Finals, the two losing trucks from Round 1 were brought back for a Consolation Race for 3rd place.

Monster Patrol vs. Raminator-- Hole shots are key in this type of racing and both the drivers needed to improve their reaction times if they wanted to get the win here and also vie for 1st place Saturday Night. Tweedy got the early jump on Dishman and hit the cars perfect with a smooth jump in the air leaping towards the finish. Dishman was hard on the Hemi to catch up and grabbed some huge air in the near lane in his attempt to pass Monster Patrol and if he'd had 5 more feet he decisively would have been called the winner. VERY close race that had Monster Patrol diving down at the line while Raminator was shooting up past the finish in the air. Win went to Monster Patrol but some disagreed. From my pictures it is way too close to call but it sure looked like Dishman had made up the distance. Great race either way. Winner: Monster Patrol.

Racing Finals

Bigfoot vs. Devastator-- Hole shots were not a problem for these two, which is why they squared off in the Finals. Danny Torgerson locked the trucks up on the line as the drivers were locked on the green flag in Torgerson's hands. Flag dropped and up went Bigfoot! Runte yanked another wheel stand off the line and hit the cars with the rear tires first! Meanwhile, Schroeder was behind on the flag and mashed the Chevy to try and catch up with a big repeat jump from Round 1 in the near lane but not far enough or quick enough to catch Runte who nosed the finish line a half truck length in front of Devastator. Winner: Bigfoot.

Real good racing action and the part I really liked was that the crowd was very excited for it too which is becoming a rarity with freestyle being the main event and main attraction these days. Bigfoot and Devastator were the heavy favorites and to match them up in the Finals really created some intensity. Now, if that wasn't enough to build the crowd fever, they were in for more with Freestyle coming right up next!
Freestyle is run a bit different at TMS events: There are two rounds, 3 trucks the first time and then 2 trucks the second time. The crowd-voting winner from each session moves into the Freestyle Finals to crown our champion. There would be no extra obstacles on the track in the first rounds, but for the finals there was a fresh van waiting in the wings!

Freestyle Round 1

Monster Patrol-- Rodney Tweedy was out first and attacked the near set of cars to open his run with a decent jump. A near identical jump on the back set followed up by a smaller jump back on the near set. He was not getting much speed around the course and took awhile to line up the cars. Another low jump on the back set before Tweedy finally was getting some bigger wheel stands on his final two hits around the track.  Not too much and really the same jump over and over. In this type of setup, innovation is key. I've probably said that 100 times in coverages but its the truth. Score: 4.

Project X-- Kevin Poore and crew had Project X back together yet again and were ready to make a freestyle impact. He hit the near set pretty hard to start the run and aired the futuristic looking beast over the 5-cars well and so far the truck looked to be intact. Poore really took flight on the far set as he shot the truck up near vertical, planting it in the second car and walked it off the stack to some big cheers. Poore rolled Project X across the track, passing up the near set of cars and got himself turned around to hit the cars from the racing side. Before he was positioned, red fluid was seen shooting from the rear axle and oozing all over the place. Must not have been a concern to Kevin because he kept on going and got some nice air on the next jump. Poore lined up the far set for his final jump and took his time to get it right. Poore mashed Project X into the side of the cars and launched the truck way up into the air with his biggest jump so far, pogo'ing the rear tires on the last car and off with a hard nose-dive and rough, bouncy landing. Great leap to cap the run and the crowd was really into it by this point. Score: 6.

Raminator-- Geremie Dishman would be the final truck in the first freestyle round and would need to come out firing if he planned on beating Project X and improve on his jumps from earlier. His first hit was definitely not going to get the job done but after that, Dishman found the big air he was looking for with two back-to-back launches off the cars, nearly being the first to clear all five cars. He was really finding a groove on the far set and shot the big Dodge into the air with at least 10 feet of space underneath the tires and pogo'd the truck hard into the fifth car and then bounced back up onto the nose and had to make a quick save in a short distance. He came across the near set with an almost diagonal hit on the cars that did not provide much air but he was not going to end on that note. Dishman went to the only open space there was and ripped off a crazy set of donuts on the very tacky track, actually digging down far enough to kick some dust up as well. Great spiraling set of donuts that just made the crowd go berserk. Score: 8.  Freestyle Round 1 Winner: Raminator.

Freestyle Round 2

Devastator-- The hometown hero hit the track to set the bar for Bigfoot and he stuck it up there pretty well by opening the run with a giant rolling wheelie across the set and off, slamming the brakes before hitting the van a little prematurely. Schroeder got his focus back and nailed a killer floating sky wheelie totally planting the rear end into about the third car and just letting the truck hang there and tip back down on all 4s, awesome jump! Schroeder was really keeping the pace up around the track, the first truck to do so and was not taking long to line up jumps and instead was just mashing it and it showed as he was pulling off some incredible jumps one right after the next. He made sure to hit both sets from both sides and the finished up with a bouncing jump on the far set that he rode off into a small slap wheelie which the crowd quickly picked up on and gave him a big and deserving ovation at the end. Very good run. Score: 8.

Bigfoot-- Runte would need to be on his A-game to top the run by Schroeder to move into the Freestyle Finals against Raminator. Runte followed the same path as Devastator did and hit a couple nice jumps but did not get the rear end very far off the cars. He attacked the near set this time getting that needed air and pogo'd off the third car and bounced into the turn towards the near set where he tried to duplicate his jump but did not get the height. Runte was not doing much to set his jumps a part from one to the next and all were starting to look the same. He went for the near set for the final time got a very nice long jump but it was not going to be enough to top Devastator. Score: 5. Good leaps but Devastator takes Round 2 and moves to the Finals.

Freestyle Finals

A little prepping of the track needed to be done before Raminator faced off against Devastator as like I said before the vans would come into play now. The first car on the far set was pulled out and a van inserted then the car pushed back up against the van. Not much of a car left to try and get some air to tackle the van so we were very interested in how this would play out.

Raminator-- Dishman was eyeing that van up from the pit area and knew that he had to hit it or would be booed out of the state if he did not. He again started slow on the near set with a small jump but this time it was more setting himself up for the big van on the next hit. Dishman charged Raminator hard at the flattened crush car and clipped the side of the van with the front tires and was able to get the rear end to also clear the top of the van smoothly. That was a good sign that the trucks were going to be able to handle the van well, or at least should. Dishman came around and went for the van again, harder this time and used the van more as a ramp and was working in some great distance now and definitely did not look worried anymore about the van setup. He went back to what got him into the finals and that was the donuts. A fast and furious set that sent dirt and dust flying everywhere and he spun out of rhythm and went right back at the cars with finally a bigger leap over the near set. Dishman went full speed at the van this time and unloaded a huge jump, clearing the entire row of relics after propelling Raminator off the top of the van for some great distance. Geremie was in the groove now and bombed the Dodge of the near set for his best leap of the night on there. Dishman took a final crack at the van and smashed the top of it down as he drove the rear wheels right across it and pogo'd off the third car in the row. He pulled up on the near set and waived to the pumped up crowd. High powered, big air run from Raminator. Score: 9.

Devastator--   Schroeder was going to need all the momentum he could muster up as well as the backing of the hometown crowd as some of them have slowly been going to the way of the Raminator. Now, Mark needed to win them back. He started strong with a nice rolling wheelie across the near set and then made is way to the van. He did not hit it very hard and nosed the front end into the cars on the other side, struggling to make it across the van. Schroeder hit back to back floating sky wheelies on the near set but would need more jumps on that van to oust Raminator. His approach this time to the van was much better and got the front end over the peak better but the rear tires caught the van and drove the front back down into the cars. Mark stomped on the gas and yanked the front back up into a slap wheelie and rode it off the cars! Very nice recovery from a bad jump into a great finish. He was finally able to clear the van on his next time by but stayed relatively conservative yet again. Schroeder blasted over the near set with a beautiful leap and I thought there was still hope left for him. Another low hit on the van and that would do it. Bigger air on the cars than over the van would not win it tonight. Great job at pulling off a slap wheelie but Devastator was just out gunned on this night. Score: 6.

Not a weak spot the entire night, excellent show that sent everyone home happy, I heard not one complaint the entire night. Great work by all the teams and Torgerson Motorsports for a job well done. Remember, this was only Night 1! What could they possibly do for an Encore? The wheelies get wilder, the racing gets even closer and the freestyle gets crazier! All the action from Night 2 in Milwaukee plus a special WMTRL Top Ten plaque presentation to Dan Runte is a click away!

Milwaukee Saturday Night