One night a year spirits are set free as demons and ghouls roam our streets, our neighborhoods, lurking and feasting on all in sight, knowing for just one night they rule and mere mortals will be vanquished. Halloween was upon us but the monsters of the night could not wait until the 31st, the monsters wanted loose and the monsters set their eyes, their attack to the Route 66 track. For one night only, the monsters were back!
The most impressive lineup of monster trucks ever at Route 66 roared into Joliet to battle in the new Fall Classic.
This would be one of the biggest stages for Hawkins ever to run on but that's not to say he isn't already very tactical on the big tracks having racked up wins in the big domes during the winter. I had not see Equalizer run since Pontiac 2001 under the skills of David Morris. I looked for a breakout night from Hawkins and hoped to walk away impressed. Hawkins on the other hand was looking to bury the competition.
Sudden Impact--John Seasock
A man who we can never say stops improving because every time we turn around, he's topped himself yet again. I hadn't seen John run in over a year and in that time he's stepped up his program considerably and is a constant threat to win any event. The sweeping Chicago Style track is right up Seasock's alley and for him to take home the win would not be a shocker but also be a huge notch in his belt.
Even longer than a year since I've crossed paths with Eradicator, got to go way back to Granite City, IL 2002 for that. Slifko won the 2004 USHRA Most Improved Driver award and has taken Eradicator to many victories during the year, with the season all but wrapped up, could Slifko top it off with another win?
In Topeka, Kansas, Dale Benear was at both ends of the spectrum. From spectacular racing victories to crippled by breakage, Benear needed an upswing and Route 66 was the perfect spot to do it. Benear made it to the Semi's here one year ago and followed up with a great freestyle. Always a dark horse to win it all, as RAMmunition will come out firing.
Bergeron has turned heads all year with beyond spectacular freestyles and crashes but has struggled some with racing. Bergeron has seen Route 66 before in May of 2003 with the wicked bridged Figure-8 track but didn't fare well. No matter what happens in racing, Bergeron will bring the crowd to their feet tonight, I could feel it.
Wild Hair--Jason Witte
The number of Route 66 first-timers grows with Jason Witte in Wild Hair. Witte was a last minute replacement for Airborne Ranger who could not make the show due to engine problems. Witte is very consistent in racing and will wow the crowd like no other in freestyle. Wild Hair comes in as a replacement but may leave irreplaceable.
Route 66 belongs to Mark Hall there is no denying it. RAMinator is undefeated in racing with two event victories and looking for a third. Hall has already captured the ProMT/Special Events crown and the Monster Nationals title in what has been a RAM dominated year. RAMinator is the obvious favorite in racing and won't be counted out in freestyle after what we saw in Topeka.
The wild man busted out the wild orange Avenger paint scheme in this event for the Halloween theme. But this body certainly isn't a good luck charm by any means. Koehler was set to defend his World Freestyle Championship in Las Vegas when after two jumps the truck quit on him. Well, Vegas is gone, done, finished. The World Finals have just relocated to Route 66 and Koehler has his eyes set on proving why he earned that title in the first place.
This stellar lineup was filled with some of the best trucks in the country while the stands were filled with some of the biggest fans around as well. Besides me, Andrew Pellegrine, Jeremy Otto, Josh Rhodes, Steve Maver and Robby Haught were all in attendance covering the event and enjoying the action. Route 66 has become a major crossroads for monster trucks and fans alike that's for sure.
Ryan Westlake and crew had put together a spook-tacular course for the monster trucks that would have them racing on a large Chicago-style setup with long 7-car sets on each side. The track was scattered with Halloween decorations, some used as turning poles, but the main thing were cardboard tombstones setup along the front stretch with each truck's name on it. As a truck was eliminated in the brackets, a huge Grim Reaper character would come over and knock it down, very cool touch to the event.
There would be no Qualifying to set brackets as they were preset in alphabetical order which would leave a couple teams to battle each other in Round 1. Before we head into Racing, just a warning, my pictures suck! My camera was fighting me the entire racing portion of the show and what ended up being a pretty simple fix was not figured out until freestyle began. It's time for the Monster Mash 2004!
Racing Round 1
Avenger vs. Brutus-- Brutus roared off the line first and was smokin' out the back end over the first set with Avenger dead even as they mashed down the cars and headed to the first turn. Good, smooth turns by both trucks and they were hard on it to the second set both clearing the cars by a wide margin but were still dead even into the final turn. Brutus goes wide, Avenger cuts it tight and both trucks over drive the turn! Koehler recovers much quicker and gases it across the cars blowing out Bergeron over the final set. Winner: Avenger.
Equalizer vs. Eradicator-- Not a hard launch by either truck over the first set and they both smashed down on the last cars heading into turn one. Hawkins went a little wider but kept speed up and mashed it toward the second set but Slifko was already ahead of him by about half a truck length as they clear the second set. Around the final turn Hawkins gets crossed up while Slifko takes it easy and smooth to the final set. Hawkins puts his foot down and hopes for the best as Equalizer hits the cars every which way but straight and manages to clip Eradicator at the line! Winner: Equalizer.
But all was not well with the Equalizer, as sparks shot out on the landing and the truck would not center up on the way back to the pits. Hawkins pulled it in and crews immediately flew into action. A drive shaft was busted and would need replaced before Hawkins and Equalizer could move on to Round 2.
Wild Hair vs. Sudden Impact-- Seasock would take a quick early lead in this race as he out powered Witte off the line and over set number one. Seasock pulls a sweet turn and lengthens his lead while Witte grabs some major air off the near set and comes down a bit wild on the bounce. Seasock charges hard into the final turn but takes it too hard and Sudden Impact tumbles over! The truck rocked up on the left two wheels and looked like Seasock was going to power out of it but the truck hooked and went up on the right wheels and over it went. Witte cruised across the line for a win.
Sudden Impact was pulled back right side up and didn't appear to have any major damage beyond body parts. The roll would knock Sudden Impact out of racing but possibly still would be in freestyle depending on the truck's condition.
RAMinator vs. RAMmunition-- The final team match up of Round 1 would pit the two big Dodge's against each other. Neither truck went too hard over the first set and setup for the first turn. Hall did it perfect and Benear was right with him on the other side. RAMinator flew across the cars with only a slight lead into the last turn. Another beautiful turn by Hall while Benear spun wide and was out of it. Hall didn't let up to the final set but didn't hit the ramp square either and went shooting off the side of the cars nearly whacking the concrete barriers for the mud pit. Hall drove out of it and into Round 2. Winner: RAMinator.
Racing Semi Finals
Avenger vs. Eradicator-- Due to the breakage on Equalizer, Eradicator was brought back to match up with Avenger. Koehler was sleeping on the line a bit and Slifko took an early lead over the first set and into the turn. Good turn for Eradicator as Slifko kept it smooth and consistent around the ghostly turning pole. But Koehler had begun to make up the difference and laid down a rocket shot on the backstretch to fly into the lead as they entered the final turn. Koehler didn't slow down this time and pulled a sweet turn. Slifko slowed down a little too much and Avenger was just too fast this time. Winner: Avenger.
RAMinator vs. Wild Hair-- Both trucks skated by rather easily in Round 1 minus some drama in their runs. Witte left the line first but was quickly covered over the set of cars and Hall took the lead into Turn 1. A wide sweeping turn for Hall who really kept the speed up as he charged for the second set but don't count Wild Hair out yet as Witte rocketed over the cars about a truck and a half behind. Into the final turn and Hall pulls an unbelievably tight and fast turn around the pole and was mashing it to the finish line. Wild Hair went way wide and got out gunned down the home stretch. Hall had problems on the final ramp again nearly doing another side ways leap into the concrete barriers. Winner: RAMinator.
RAMinator vs. Avenger-- Easily the two favorites to win it all have made their way to the Final Round. Jim Koehler came up just short back in May falling victim to Dave Harwood in Wild Thang in an awesome race. Hall won this event a year ago and has his undefeated streak on the line in this one. The lights hit green and all at once, the suspense of this race was deflated as Avenger hardly went anywhere. Obvious problems with Koehler's truck as it was basically idling around the track while RAMinator burned up his half a lap and caught right up to Avenger. Hall had to back off and let Koehler finish across the cars before he could coast to a victory. Winner & 3-0 at Route 66: RAMinator. Jim Koehler may want to just burn that orange body now.
A few extras where in store for the freestyle layout and thankfully a half hour tear down and rebuild of the track wasn't necessary like in May. Plus, all the trucks could actually go over the jumps, amazing concept! The big stack in the middle was a double wide, double set of vans with single cars on the right side. There was also a long jump ramp on the left side of the track that would send the trucks over hail bails and a single car. Of course the racing cars were still fair game and with lots of running roam, we should be in store for some fast paced runs.
Brutus-- Chris Bergeron would be the first guy out and with fresh stuff to hit, this was going to be a wild run to say the least. Bergeron brought Brutus up to the near set of cars and shot the truck straight up in the air sailing across half the row before planting the back end in the cars and carrying a wheelie off the ramp. Awesome first jump and more to come! He went to the far set of cars and did nearly the same thing as the smoke and fumes continued to boil from the engine. Bergeron eye'd up the pyramid next and attacked it from the car side with a nice jump. He went to the far set again with an impressive long jump, clearing 5 of the cars while nearly vertical and pogo'ing off the ramp yet again. Bergeron went to turn back towards the inside of the track but held too much speed and the tires dug in flipping Brutus over onto his lid! A short but solid and wild run to open up freestyle. Score: 5.
Equalizer-- Mike Hawkins had a tough break in racing with some busted parts keeping him from advancing on but now his mind was on freestyle. Hawkins opened with a huge long jump across the back set, clearing it easily. He built speed around the oval and launched across the near set in the same fashion. Hawkins found himself some open ground and attempted some donuts but the truck just wasn't spinning as it should. Hawkins didn't have Equalizer centered up for his next hit sending the truck flying through the air sideways but was able to recover and avoid the same damage as in racing. Hawkins took on the vans next with a nice jump but stopped short on the landing to setup his next move. Hawkins attacked the side of the long jump ramp and the two massive hail bails sending Equalizer into a completely vertical wheel stand. The truck hobbled over the awkward obstacles and continued on. Another brief set of donuts and that would do it for Equalizer. Great long jumps and getting inventive with the track always draws favor with me. Score: 5.
Sudden Impact-- Seasock began his freestyle a bit early with the tumble in racing but the truck was still together minus the rear body panels and ready to rock. Seasock started strong with a good leap over the near set as the truck wanted to nose over but the landing turned out ok. A small jump on the back set and the truck stayed level this time. Onto the vans and Seasock nailed them from the car side sending the front end way up into the sky as Seasock managed to roll the back end all the way across the set, pogo the front off the ground and pull up a slap wheelie! Awesome combo of moves and the biggest hit on the vans yet. Another nice jump on the far cars but then it was almost de ja vu as Seasock wanted to make a tight turn to set up the vans again but the truck didn't cooperate and nearly rolled over again. Seasock recovered and blasted over the van one more time before finishing off with the trademark roof walk. Very good run for Sudden Impact. Score: 7.
RAMmunition-- Dale Benear rolled out the first of the two big Dodge's in TeamRAM for freestyle next. Benear opened up with a nice jump over the near set of cars and then turned the heat up with a big long jump off the dirt ramp clearing the hay bails and the white camaro. Benear turned towards the van set and hit the gas but the truck went no where and the RPMs went through the roof. Immediately we thought transmission but after a few moments, RAMmunition re-fired and was on its way and Benear rammed into the pyramid carrying the front end way up and over with a sweet jump. A good speed pass over the near set and then it looked like Benear was going to go for some donuts but again the engine went south and stalled. He got the truck moving for one last hit on the vans and wrapped up the run. The mechanical woes bite the RAMmunition team again. Score: 3.
Eradicator-- One guy that really stepped up his racing and freestyles over the year was Andy Slifko in Eradicator and Route 66 was about to get a taste of it. Slifko didn't waste time in turning heads with a kamikaze launch over the near cars sending the big Durango sideways in the air and taking a rough landing. Slifko took on the vans from the van side being the first guy to do that and got some pretty good air off them. He quickly swung the truck around and went at the pyramid from the other way as well really beating down the vans now. Again he lined up the van side and on this hit stood Eradicator straight up on the roof of the vans and walked it across the set in sheer beauty. Andy continued to lay waste to the van stacks and then attempted some donuts but like each truck before him, just couldn't find the right hook on this surface. He finished up with another jump over what was left of the vans. Great run from Eradicator. Score: 7
Wild Hair-- Last time we saw Jason Witte freestyle it was in sloppy Springfield, MO back in May and he ended up in an unfortunately familiar position of on his lid after a great save but then got tossed over by a hill on the track. Witte will always push it to the limit on every jump and he backed that statement up in a hurry by blasting off the far set of cars with some psycho style air and took a wicked rebound off the ramp. Witte cut Wild Hair to the left, which was a very bad idea, and the truck rocked up on two wheels but he was able to drive it back down to Earth. The hard hit took a toll on the truck though as Wild Hair was now only in 2WD. Witte didn't realize it until his next hit on the vans when Wild Hair went no where and was almost hung up in the center of them. But if going forward isn't working, why not backwards? That's exactly what Jason did as he mashed Wild Hair into reverse and blasted up and through the vans clearing the rear end all the way over. Awesome move with what he had but Witte wasn't done by any means because that dang truck was still running! Wild Hair was turned back around and now the rear was facing the other side of the stack and another big reverse jump to the other side but this time Wild Hair got hung up on the last van and Witte had some trouble lining the truck back up. He managed to get the truck setup again for a reverse jump into the vans and destroyed the yellow van he hit as Wild Hair stood on it's nose for a good 5 seconds in the air before the back end finally came slamming down to the ground. He kept his foot in the gas and hit the far set of cars in reverse as well, kept the momentum going in reverse and hit the vans from the side to end the run parked across the vans. With a crippled truck, about the best he could do and pulled out some sweet reversers. Score: 6. Watch video of Wild Hair's run in the Midwest Events Video Theatre!
RAMinator-- The night's racing winner was up next and looking for a sweep of the night. Last time we saw Hall freestyle it was a two-night freestyle clinic out in Topeka, Kansas the likes of I'll never forget. Hall's runs are always inventive and fast paced, I expected no different here. Hall started very strong by roaring out of the pits and not slowing down as he flew side ways across the far set of cars. He cut a quick right turn and launched off the pyramid with an excellent long jump. Hall went for one of his high speed quick turn around spins at the edge of the dirt and grass area when RAMinator's tires bit in and the truck flipped over into a violent barrel roll!!! RAMINATOR ROLLS! Myself and everyone around me were in stunned shock as for the first time in the near 3 year existence of RAMinator the truck had just rolled over. Not only did it roll but in such a freak and unexpected way. Mark usually pulls those turns off like they're nothing but this time was completely different. Hall said afterwards he did not expect the dirt to bite like that and was just trying to spin the truck around and over it went. The body was pretty well trashed but beyond that there wasn't anything too major. Not the way to end the 2004 season by finishing on the lid. Score: 2. Watch the video of the roll in the Midwest Events Video Theatre!
Avenger-- Only one truck left and Koehler had the truck back together in time to tear it up again! Would the "body curse" strike again though? Everything looked good from his first jump off the back set of cars as he cleared them all no problem. Koehler obviously took note of what happened to RAMinator and slowed down for his turns but still kept some good momentum up. He went full tilt towards the van stack and launched off the car side getting the biggest distance of any truck yet. Some more huge air was in store as Koehler rocketed off the long jump ramp, easily sailing over all the obstacles and taking a beating on the landing. Avenger was still going was the most important part! Koehler continued to work his way down the track and hit the near set of cars with a nice jump and then headed to the middle of the track to the vans again. Koehler kept up really good speed to the vans and punched it right at the moment of impact sending Avenger higher than I've seen ANY truck in a long long time! HUGE air over the vans as Avenger just seemed to hang in the sky for an eternity before slamming back down incredibly hard. The impact snapped the left rear tire off as the crowd came completely unglued! INSANE! Koehler burst out of the truck and of course went nuts right along with the fans. This was a complete de ja vu of his freestyle in Springfield, MO when he hit the delivery van pyramid shooting the truck way up and over the stack and then slamming down into the concrete and that time breaking the right rear wheel off. Needless to say, both times his run was over but what a way to go out. Score: 8 Maybe less jumps than some of the guys but realistically he hit everything on the track and he also hit three jumps bigger than anyone, it's the easy choice in my view. Watch the video for yourself in the Midwest Events Video Theatre!
An awesome night of monster truck action on both sides of the program that beat the pumpkin guts out of everything at the May show. My faith in the Route 66 show has been restored even more with this great event and the knowledge that in 2005, there will only be one show but it will be big and right in the middle of the summer, July 2, to try and combat the cold spring/fall months of Chicago which have hampered previous shows. So start planning now to make a stop at Route 66 for monster trucks as part of your 2005 schedule, you won't be disappointed! Thanks for reading and I'll see you at the races!