The original Route 66 Highway was a one-of-a-kind structure and a unique feature in automotive and U.S. history. Route 66 Raceway has molded the legacy that road created for this country and have built its own foundation as the place to come for new, innovating and driver-challenging monster truck racing tracks. Drivers that cruised Route 66 decades ago knew where they were headed and what laid in their paths. Monster truck drivers that comes to this Route 66 feel very differently about what their destination holds for them. Many thought we had seen it all after last year's event went back to a Chicago-style track that the unpredictability this place was building a legacy for was crumbling.
Not since the days of Louisville Motor Speedway has a Figure-8 monster truck course been used as the primary track for a venue and today in the sport there is no one track known for showcases this rare form of racing. Desoto Speedway in Florida ran one in 2003 but not in this style and Rocky Mountain Raceway in Salt Lake City, Utah has ran a Figure-8 two years in a row but is completely on asphalt. This is not the first Figure-8 Route 66 has built either, in 2002 the Figure-8 was taken to the extreme with a huge over-under bridge setup that was an incredible sight to see but provided little in terms of racing excitement as the lanes were uneven. This original Figure-8 model will showcase, speed, skill and the all out intensity crazy 8s are famous for producing.
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The day kicked off with a Pit Party on the track but there was another party of sorts out in the parking lot that I organized to bring together the many members of the Monster Mayhem Discussion Board that were attending the event.
Yeah I brought the van for the festivities and mainly to haul all the tables, chairs and coolers that were provided to all my guests that would hopefully show up...
...yeah...look at all those people.
Oh good, there's some! Over the course of the 2 hours we were setup, there were around 20 people in and out of the Monster Mayhem Tailgate party including members of Hall Brothers Racing who were parked just across from our setup. Other drivers and teams wanted to attend but with the Pit Party going on at the same time that was impossible. Next year, we hope to have the tailgate party set up even earlier and open to all teams to join in the fun. Big thanks to everyone that came by and had some food & fun.
After I had the tailgate party cleaned up and shoved back in the van, we had to make our way into the stands to find seats with the show less than an hour from opening. Let's meet the stars of the show ready to tackle the Figure-8!
T-Maxx-- John Seasock
Rammunition-- Dale Benear
Raminator-- Mark Hall
Eradicator-- Andy Slifko
*Stars&Stripes-- Mike Hawkins
Sudden Impact-- Brandon Lagarde
Kicker-- Sean Duhon
And More... --Jon Zimmer
*Stars&Stripes is the Equalizer truck but with a different body which featured the winning design from last October's Design a Monster Truck coloring contest at Route 66.
Storylines to follow:
The Crazy Eight-- This rare track style would meet up with a group of drivers who have never run a figure-8 before and whoever can adapt to the track quickest will likely emerge as a favorite to win. The track is much shorter than LMS ran and left little room for any straightaways to gain speed into the center jump and the trucks would actually hit the ramps three times compared to the two in the past. The pile of dirt, cars and a fountain was very large in width and was either going to take a full speed blast to clear it or a slower jump up onto the flat surface and the drive off. Trying to clear it and coming up short would be hazardous and had the potential to send trucks bouncing into the other lane. Come up even shorter than that and trucks would have to contend with the big hole in the center that the pool/fountain sat in. New track, long jumps, dirt, tight lanes...all major factors that these drivers were going to need to deal with and do it in a hurry to be a contender in racing.
Hi, My Name Is...-- Route 66 does a fantastic job of bringing in a variety of trucks to make up solid lineups and most of the time that means these drivers pull to the start line next to a truck they either usually never race against or have never period. There is also a brand new truck in the field named And More... which is the former Raptor 44'' truck now owned by Andy Slifko. This is the first event for the very short wheel based truck after going through a huge rebuild to make it fully monster-sized. Zimmer could use the fact of every other driver in the same seat he is with never seeing this track before and so many X-factors as a possible advantage to pick up a win.
3-Peat on the line-- Mark Hall has won 2 events in a row at Route 66 and his last victory was against some of these same trucks on the huge Chicago-style track last October. Some new faces and new trucks will be lining up for a shot at ending his win streak where it stands. Can Hall take the Raminator to 3 Route 66 victories in a row?
As I said in the intro, the trucks would hit the center jump 3 times which meant they were starting in a different place they were finishing. Their first jump would also be the last jump with the finish line at the end of the cars in that direction. There would be no Qualifying as the trucks were pre-bracketed before the show so its time to get right into Round 1 of racing!
Racing Round 1
Sudden Impact vs. Rammunition
One of those first time ever match-ups comes to the line to kickoff Round 1 as Lagarde pulled up next to Benear. Both drivers have had solid years and Lagarde in just his rookie season is looking like the Benear of 2004 stealing victories away from top drivers and stamping his name in the industry.
Benear took the hole-shot and grabbed a lead as they hit the ramps for the first time and drove across the hill and into turn 1. Benear stuck closely to the inside lines and kept speed up nicely while Lagarde went way wide and was having some trouble in the outside lane. Through turn 2 and Benear powered towards the ramps with a jump clearing the fountain and getting a nice bounce off the cars and into Turn 3. Sudden Impact started closing the gap now on the inside as they crossed turn 3 but Lagarde got the steering a bit crossed up and had to let off as Benear stayed smooth on the outside and flew up the ramps and off the hill to take the win. Winner: Rammunition. It was already clear the track was not going to be easy to master with three jumps and tight, sweeping turns.
T-Maxx vs. Raminator
If Hall wants to keep that win streak alive he drew one heck of an opponent for a challenge in only the first heat. Seasock in T-Maxx is his best year ever and is more than capable of knocking off Hall and it would not be the first time. They have traded wins all across the 4-Wheel Jamboree tour and renew the rivalry here.
No hole-shot either way off the line as both drivers went all out towards the first ramp and nearly cleared it. They were in total control around the first turn and were DEAD EVEN until the shorter lane took its advantage and put Hall out ahead as they hit the jump for the second time. Hall cleared the jump with a hard nose dive while Seasock landed flat on the hill and drove quickly into the turn pulling even and nearly ahead of Hall as they headed for the final turn and straightaway. Seasock let off momentarily to get the truck straight but still had the lead as Hall used every cubic inch the Hemi had to give one last effort and unloaded with a huge leap across the hill never touching any part of it after the ramp. Seasock did not clear the jump and veered off more to the left. The two trucks crossed the finish line seemingly tied but the win goes to T-Maxx in a thrilling battle to the finish. Some would argue otherwise that Hall flew by Seasock at the end of the jump and should've been called the winner. Watch video of this race in the Midwest Shows Video Theatre! and be the judge! Winner: T-Maxx!
Eradicator vs. Stars&Stripes
The second Route 66 appearance for each truck and the second time they've been paired up in Round 1. Last October on the Chicago-style track it was Mike Hawkins edging out Slifko but breaking the truck in the process leaving Eradicator to move on. If there is a slight advantage to anyone in this rematch it is Hawkins because of his chassis setup. The wider, longer stance will payoff big in the turns and should allow him to keep up more speed than the trucks with a higher center of gravity.
Slifko took the early lead as they jumped across the hill but both trucks took bad bounces on the landing and were hard on the brakes to stay on course. Hawkins came close to crossing into Slifko's path but was able to turn away and gain back the distance and then some as he carried more speed than anyone had so far in the near lane around the turns. Hawkins opened up a truck length lead over the next jump but Slifko was charging hard and caught some big air with his jump. But the landing was not as pretty as the jump. Eradicator's rear tires slammed off the cars and put the truck into a nose-first bounce towards Hawkins' truck. Slifko was on the gas and the brakes at the same time to coral the truck but he could not stop the momentum of the bouncing and crossed into Hawkins' lane but Stars&Stripes was just ahead of Eradicator and stayed out of the oncoming collision. Hawkins kept his speed up and finished the course well ahead of a recovering Eradicator. Winner: Stars&Stripes.
Kicker vs. BYE RUN
The debut of And More... would have to wait for another day as mechanical problems left the truck crippled in the pits with repairs to make before any hopes of a Freestyle debut. Sean Duhon used this opportunity to feel out the track and even with a Bye run had a rough time getting around the corners. He did not attack the course very hard which he should have done to see what he could do at full speed with another truck next to him. Winner: Kicker.
Racing Round 2
T-Maxx vs. Rammunition
Seasock knocked off the leader of Team RAM in Round 1 and now had the shot to take out Rammunition in Round 2. These guys were definitely two of the faster/smoother trucks in the first round and their aggression should lead to a great race.
Seasock drilled the light and left Benear napping just a bit and grabbed a quick lead over the first jump but both trucks had crazy landings with Seasock going too far and needed to turn back down towards the turn while Benear almost followed Seasock and nearly whacked into T-Maxx but he tapped the brakes and got Rammunition pointed back the right way. They were wheel-to-wheel around turn 1 and into turn 2 but Benear fell behind on the inside lane even before the second jump giving Seasock a huge lead as they headed into the second half. Benear kept his cool and started gaining ground as Seasock was having problem steering through the inside lane. The rear-steer would not center up for T-Maxx but Seasock went for the final jump anyway but fell off the side of it leaving the door open for Benear to fly past for the win! Benear was coming full tilt to the ramp and was obviously looking to clear it but came up short and bounced the back end way up in the air causing a huge pogo'ing nose dive all the way off the track! Benear got control of Rammunition and left in one-piece headed for the Finals. Meanwhile, T-Maxx was leavin' on the hook. Winner: Rammunition.
Stars&Stripes vs. Kicker
These trucks were complete opposites in Round 1 as Hawkins had a quick and controlled run against another truck, while Duhon's Bye run was slow and not very smooth either. Duhon needed to kick Kicker into high gear if he hoped to hang with Stars&Stripes.
Hawkins left quickly but Duhon was not far behind and put the pressure on as they entered the first turns. Duhon took the lead around turn 1 with the shorter inside lane but Hawkins was hard on the gas and dirt-trackin' Stars&Stripes around the sweeping outside lane and was gaining on Kicker. Hawkins took a commanding lead as they jumped across the center and into the final turns. Kicker went way wide and was slowing down while Hawkins was having his best run yet and blistered the inside lane and soared across the final jump to a dominating win. Winner: Stars&Stripes.
Mud bogging, FMX and tough trucks have all been filler acts at Route 66 and, per the norm of the track, it was definitely going to be something bigger and better for this event. Hollywood stuntman Mark Hager would be the designated destructive feature as he planned to jump his car off a ramp and into a 2-wide, 3-high stack of cars that were placed on top of vans and would also explode as he jumped into the pile and hopefully land safely on the catch cars. Hager was the stunt driver for the movie Dukes of Hazzard so this shouldn't be much of a challenge for him.
The whole crashing into the cars was going to seem easy compared to actually getting the car up to speed in the tight area. He would have to make a sharp right-hand turn onto the straight away leading up to the ramp and do so on very loose, dusty dirt. His first attempt failed as he came around the corner and nearly spun the car completely sideways. Hager gave it another run and this time made it through the turn and built up speed to the ramp. He hit the ramp as a huge fireball went off around the car stack and Hager blasted right through the steel wall of fire and landing in the preferred wheels-down position on the catch cars. Hager emerged safely after the successful smash!
With the half way point in the show reached, that meant intermission was up next. Or so most of us thought. I would like to take a few paragraphs here to go on one of my infamous rants and tirades and this time the focus is on the organization of this show and primarily the godforsaken announcer we had to deal with.
Now I know no show runs absolutely perfect and can succumb to a number of factors that hold up or slow a show's progress down. Well this goes beyond anything like that. When disorganization causes 3/4 of your crowd to MISS what I see as the climax to the event, that is a SERIOUS problem. The cause of that disorganization fell squarely into the announcers hands. Whoever this guy was flat out is a pathetic excuse for an announcer and SUCKS to the highest degree imaginable.
First off sir, if you ever were to read this, next time try to follow the friggin' show format Ryan Westlake gave you and told you to follow!! Do not spend your time trying to strike up conversations with either a) little kids in the crowd or b) older women in the crowd who you want to make buddies with or crack stupid jokes! This is a monster truck show where you are the only person that conveys what is happening on the track to the audience that depends on it! I got up out of my seat twice to try and find your sorry self and tell you to get back to doing your job but low and behold you were either too busy walking up and down the bleachers or were underneath the stands talking about pretzels. I hope you are never hired as an announcer in any form of event for the rest of your life. You flat out suck.
Now, back on track a little bit, let explain the part that had me in a rage and still does. After the Mark Hager car stunt, we're told loud and clear that it is intermission for the next 10-15 minutes and after that will be freestyle. Well there's all the proof we need that he was not following along with the format nor had a clue what was happening at this event. We still had the Racing Finals to run!! But, me being the person that has seen nearly 100 monster truck events and knows that sometimes announcers slip up and obviously the Finals will still be run, I headed down to use the restroom and grab some food as did thousands of other people.
While waiting in line I hear engines fire up and wonder what is going on. Figured they were maybe testing T-Maxx out after repairs or something along those lines. Then the noise continues and then it sounds like they're racing! I stayed in line as to not lose my spot to see what was going on especially if it was nothing of importance. The engines finally stopped after nearly a minute and when I walked back up onto the front stretch I see Dale Benear being interviewed! I about went nuts right there. They had run the RACING FINALS during INTERMISSION!!
I stormed back up to where everyone was sitting and probably offended several people around me with my verbal lash out but what I find more offensive is the sheer lack of communication to where the main event of the show is only seen by 1/4 of the people who paid to see it. I owe a HUGE thank you to Vince and Andrew who told Jackie she had better videotape this because they didn't know what was going on either. So, I missed the actual race but felt a slight relief knowing it was on video.
But where was the video replay for 2500 people that didn't see it? Oh that's right there isn't. This so-called intermission lasted another 5-10 minutes while cars were prepared for Freestyle but did we have any idea as to when Freestyle was about to begin? Hell no! The first truck was half way through its run before this sack of garbage announcer even acknowledged there was a truck on the track! NEVER was there an announcement to the crowd "get back to your seats because freestyle is about to begin!" NOTHING! He was too busy conversing with the crowd and not paying attention to the job he was suppose to be doing. We were 3 trucks into Freestyle before the majority of people finally were back in their seats and had missed what would be half of freestyle plus the racing finals.
After talking with Ryan Westlake at the end of the show he confirmed to me that his format had the Finals before intermission and he did not have a clue what his announcer was doing and that he did not follow the format at all. I place nearly all the blame on the announcer but still believe that any promoter MUST converse with the announcer before and during the show to make sure everyone is on the same page. When that does not happen, this atrocity is the result.
Rushing to do the finals quickly before everyone left the stands was not the proper way to make up for this error either. Once it was obvious people thought it was intermission, the finals should have waited until everyone used their 15 minutes and were headed back to the stands with an announcement telling them it was almost time for more monster trucks. In the end, not matter how great the excitement is on the track, the stuff that takes place off the track ultimately sets the mood for whether the show is a success or not. This was a complete failure to insure success and improvements for next year are not suggested, they are DEMANDED from this fan and the thousands of others that were screwed out of the show they paid to see.
Sorry you had to endure that but if you were sitting there I challenge you to not feel the same way. The Racing Finals is next but the pictures are beyond horrible because they are off a crappy video capture device. The complete and much better quality video of the race is in the Midwest Shows Video Theatre and I highly suggest the download.
Stars&Stripes vs. Rammunition
The favorite in this race had to be Hawkins in Stars&Stripes as he had not shown any weakness in both his previous races and seemed to have mastered the sliding of his truck around the outside lanes. Benear had been decent but some slight mistakes with over shooting turns and not taking them properly left him well behind in Round 2 and only T-Maxx's broken solenoid let Benear sneak into the Finals. If he brings the A-game this will be a war.
Hawkins drilled the green light yet again and took the hole shot over Benear as they stormed towards the first jump. Benear caught some big air and almost put the truck into another nose dive but he climbed on the brakes and got the truck headed in the right direction without losing much ground. He used the inside lane to try and build a lead but Hawkins was smooth as glass around that outside lane and was within a truck length as they crossed the center. Around the final turns Benear started to drift too far to the outside while Hawkins stuck his truck to the inside lane and looked to be in control again. Benear fumbled big time on the last turn and cut it too early and was completely off the gas to get Rammunition pointed the right way again. By this time Hawkins was 4 truck lengths in the lead but he too had problems! The rear-steer did not completely center up before he hit the final ramp and even though he got all four tires up, he launched off to the side of the hill and completely missed the last 1/2 of the hill! Benear completed his run with a big leap across the pile and although it was a slow run, he picks up the win due to the disqualification on Hawkins for not completing the track! Back-to-back races where Benear takes a win due to steering problems on the other truck. Winner: Rammunition. Hawkins should of won that but goes to show that anything can happen and catching a few breaks lands Benear in the winner's circle.
A few extra obstacles were dragged out and prepared for freestyle and thankfully they did not reach the psychotic and un-crushable magnitude like back in May of 2004. First, there was the side-by-side vans with some small ramps next to them on the back part of the track. Single cars were setup near where turns 2 and 3 would be for the Figure-8 track and to round out the junk, a single car and a camper were placed right on the front stretch. The trucks would have 90 seconds to tear it up as much as possible to win over the fans. Unfortunately, Kicker and T-Maxx would be out with breakage from racing.
And More...-- Jon Zimmer and crew had the new And More truck back together enough to give it a go in Freestyle but the former Raptor truck would still be limited to just 2WD. Zimmer could not get any kind of speed going for his two jumps which were some simple little wheel stands on the cars that were impacted in the Figure-8 hill. He did get some cheers for splashing through the pool and fountain but nothing noteworthy other than the truck still needs lots of R&D before being able to compete at the highest level. Score: 1.
Eradicator-- Slifko stormed onto the track next and was ready to set the pace for Freestyle. He did not hesitate to what to attack first and he charged the car-camper setup and totally, well, eradicated it! The camper was a pile of wood and aluminum now strewn across the front stretch. Slifko followed up that smashing with another hard hit this time on the fresh van-van jump on the back stretch. He aired the Durango out and cleared the top of the second van then nearly pulled a slap wheelie out of the landing. He turned Eradicator back around and went at it from the other way and this time walked the truck across the two vans and did get a slap wheelie going on the landing. The run was looking great so far and he continued to thrill with a big sky wheelie off one of the single cars and into another slap wheelie carrying it down past the middle of the track. Slifko took a few hits on the cars in the middle and pulled to the front to waive to the crowd. Great run from Slifko! Big air, good combos and used nearly every obstacle on the track. Score: 8.
Rammunition-- Racing winner Dale Benear could start a streak of his own for Hall Brothers Racing and clinch the first double-win in the history of Route 66 Raceway. Last year's event was not kind to Benear as transmission problems plagued the truck all night which led to a very short and problem filled freestyle. But this time the truck was clicking on all gears and ready to fire away at the obstacles. One slight new addition to the track was now a single car to the left side of the double vans. Because of the dirt holding the vans together, the car was on an angle and not up against the van either. I suspected that the poor placement of the car would maybe turn the drivers away from hitting it. Wrong! Benear targeted every single car on the track with this run. He opened with a great launch off the single car in turn 2 and then circled around to the vans and specifically to the side with the fresh car. Benear gunned Rammunition towards the set and used the car as a ramp to fly over the smashed down vans and into a slap wheelie on the landing! Benear ripped into some donuts on the dusty front stretch and then attacked another fresh car in turn 3 before flying across the center jump and into another set of donuts! Benear shredded what was left of the camper and single car with a nice jump and then really aired the truck out with another hit on the turn 3 single car. He went for another big jump across the center hill but fell off the side on the landing and nearly dumped the truck over. But Benear rebounded big with a vertical wheelie over a single car coming right at the audience to seal his run. Excellent freestyle and he definitely had a shot at taking the double-win. Score: 9.
Sudden Impact-- During Brandon Lagarde's rookie year he has not come across a track of this magnitude and I was eager to see if he would successfully break out of being confined in small arenas and use all the space given to him. Lagarde raced down to the front stretch and opened his run with a nice hit on what remained of the car-camper jump and then right into a hit over another single car. He went for the vans next and had no problems conquering the stack from the car side. Lagarde took Sudden Impact across the center jump a couple times which was really getting beat down and gave him quite a bumpy ride. He headed back to the vans and nailed a great jump clearing the single car and rebounded the landing into a small slap wheelie. He attempted to get a set of donuts going but the truck did not even get all the way around one time before something locked up in the rear end bring the truck to a dead stop. Decent run for Lagarde on his first big track and he should be happy with it. Probably not so happy that all three of his trucks lay broken in the pits. Score: 6.
Raminator-- Last year's Freestyle was not so good to Mark Hall as after one jump the truck hooked a soft spot and spun over onto its lid and was christened with its first rollover. Not only were those memories undoubtedly in Hall's mind, but so was the aggravation of being knocked out in Round 1 of racing this year. The track was now all his to turn the emotions and Raminator loose. Hall roared onto the track and went right for the middle jump and blasted the truck off the side cars and bounced his way off the hill. Hall ripped right into a set of donuts leaving most of the track in a haze of dust as he headed to the far side where a new car had been put in place to the right of the vans. Once again, not the best placement but it did not prove to be a factor as Raminator tore right through it and up over the vans and other car with ease. Hall lined up the single car on the back side and hit a decent jump but he had more in mind on the landing. He got the perfect slap wheelie style bounce and mashed the gas which brought the front end all the way straight up in the air. The tailgate and wheelie bar dug into the ground and Hall rode out a huge wheelie nearly the length of the track! An unexpected and awesome wheelie for Raminator. But Hall was not done there and hit a couple long jumps over the center hill and then found another spot for a furious set of donuts that spewed dust everywhere and completely covered the truck. He was still spinning even after no one could see him! Slowly the truck emerged from the cloud as the crowd was going nuts and I figured he was done, but wrong again! Hall gunned Raminator towards the car on the front stretch and hit a huge long jump then kept the speed up and aimed for the van stack again. Hall punched the throttle at the last second sending the truck nearly vertical over the stack with a giant leap to finally finish the run. Every single trick in Hall's arsenal was used and used to perfection. Watch the video of the slap wheelie and donuts in the Midwest Shows Video Theatre! Score: 10.
Stars&Stripes-- The flagship truck of this event was the last one left to try and claim the Freestyle crown but it would be an uphill battle for Mike Hawkins in Stars&Stripes. He performed near flawlessly in racing only to lose out on his only mistake of the day. Now he again would have to run perfect if he wanted to top Raminator. Hawkins came out firing and opened the run with the two biggest hits on the front stretch cars and looked poised to give everything he had. Hawkins hit a good leap over the van stack and then went for the now slap wheelie ramp/single car but could not get a wheelie going in that truck. Hawkins was keeping good speed up and not taking time to plan out jumps and just nailed anything in his path. He blasted over the center jump then caught one of the single cars at the wrong angle and bicycled the truck on two wheels down the track but brought it back on all 4s. He was about the only driver to really use the cars on the center hill and got some good leaps in both directions. Hawkins was dirt-tracking the truck even still in freestyle and hit the center jump from every angle and took a splash landing in the fountain on one hit. He went to the same spot Raminator had for his donuts and had a good set going when his truck locked up as well! Almost the exact same way as Sudden Impact locked up so did Stars&Stripes. A high speed run from Hawkins which really works for his style of driving but the big WOW moment of the run was not there and ending with breakage sealed his fate. Score: 7.
As with every event at Route 66, the night is concluded with a big fireworks display:
On the way out I stopped by the Hall Brothers merchandise trailer where Mark and Dale were signing autographs and both of them were more interested in getting some more food than they were with talking about the show! So I promised them I'd pull the grill back out and get some stuff grilling out by the van. Sure enough, the Hall Brothers team took a break from tearing down trucks and wandered over to scoop up some more parking lot style burgers and hot dogs.
Big thanks to everyone that stopped by our MonsterMayhem.org tailgate party both before the show and afterwards and remember to look for us again in 2006 as we hope to make it bigger and better for everyone to enjoy. Also, very big thanks to Ryan Westlake for his hospitality and for trying his hardest to accomplish a good show even with sub-par help sometimes. Finally, thanks to Vince, Andrew, Jackie and everyone that lent a hand in setting up and taking down our mess in the parking lot, could not have done it without you. Of course thanks to you for reading the coverage and we'll see you back at 66 in '06!