Another busy Chicago-summer was in the books and late August had arrived which meant it was time to head back south to Edwardsville for another grudging year of college. But the move back was more of a thing to look forward to the past few years as there is always an event in the vicinity to ease the pressure of getting back in the swing of school.
The Washington Jaycees would once again be holding their annual monster truck event and I made my second trip out to the fairgrounds for the festivities. Unfortunately, budgets were tight this year and only three monsters were booked for the show but a very solid 3-truck lineup it was and whomever made the choice on trucks must like the letter 'B'...
Bad News Travels Fast--Bruce Haney
Bigfoot #8--Shane Blair
Big Dawg-- Doug Noelke
Dave Harkey with Bigfoot #14 was also there but was not scheduled to compete. Harkey had stopped in to do some repair work on the truck before heading back out on the road.
The track layout was pretty much the same as the last time I visited in 2003. A 2-car jump off the line would not exactly be a simple roller-type jump, it was actually very steep and rigid. In addition, the trucks would be starting a good truck 3-truck lengths from the ramp and would have good speed already when they hit it. A short flat land section separated the 2-car jump from a final leap over 4-cars to the finish line right at the end of the cars.
Before the monsters hit the track, I spent some time wandering around the fairgrounds and talked with the Noelke's and Haney's and also ran into former Wild Hair owner and Washington, MO native Jason Witte. We shared a drink and some stories and then I headed off to the stands to find a seat but that was harder than I anticipated as they had really filled up ahead of time. I ended up near the finish line but had one of the light poles in a bad spot as you'll see.
Monster Truck Qualifying
Each truck would pick a lane and take a run down it against the clock. With the unusual 3-truck bracket, the #1 Qualifier would go to the "second round" and face the loser of the #2 vs. #3 Qualifier race. The winner of the #2 vs. #3 would go the Final to meet the winner of the "second round" race.
Bad News Travels Fast-- Haney came in to Washington riding a winning summer season including victories in Grayslake, Valparaiso and several other stops across the country. Another long track will give Haney plenty of time to open up all the horses in Bad News. Haney left the line strong but the ramp for the first set threw the truck off to the right and he had to straighten up before putting the peddle down to the final set. A good leap over the final set of four cars and across the finish line but would the run hold up?
Bigfoot-- Shane Blair had less than a month of seat time in Bigfoot up to this event and sitting in that cab commands high expectations. Blair pulled the truck I famously broke, Bigfoot #8, up to the line for his qualifying pass. Blair blasted off the line and kept it dead straight over the first jump. The cantilever suspension showed it was still worth having around as it sat down on the ground in a hurry and rocketed the truck across the final set with a huge amount of speed and air. Great run from Blair and he took over the #1 spot.
Big Dawg-- Last time I saw Doug Noelke it was a rough go of it for him and Big Dawg at the Champaign Monster Nationals in July. A broken rear axle left the truck crippled for most of the show and the usual strong showing in racing was not even given an attempt. Noelke is a Washington native and loves to perform for the home town crowd and had Big Dawg ready to attack. Noelke yanked the front end in the air off the line and hit the first jump hard but he too slid off the right a bit but did not let out of the throttle. Noelke corrected the truck's direction on the fly and hit the final jump at full throttle and sailed to the #1 Qualifying spot!
In-between the rounds of monster truck racing were tough trucks. Now, I'm not just talking a few runs, back to monsters, some more, back to monsters and the shows is wrapped up nice and neat. No, far from. I'm talking 30 trucks running time and time and time again, endlessly for hours upon end. The organizers of this show may not like to hear it but you can bet I'm not the only one complaining. THIS IS RIDICULOUS! Every truck running in every one of their "categories" and I swear some of these guys were on the track 5-6 times. I'm sorry your whole attitude for putting on the show is to sell $6 beers so you stay open all day long and hope people just keep coming in to buy stuff, but when kids and adults alike are falling sleep in the stands just waiting, hoping you might send the monster trucks out, something HAS to change.
So, here are a few tough truck pictures and I will spare everyone reading this the mercy I was not shown at this event and skip over the tough trucks with out one single comment on the runs and move back to monster trucks.
(Notice how it goes from nice, bright sunny during the day now growing darker every time the monster trucks come to the track. Just goes to show the insane amount of time devoted to crappy tough trucks).
Monster Truck Racing
1st Round Race
Bigfoot vs. Bad News Travels Fast-- As explained before, the winner of this race would move right to the Finals to face the winner of the race between Big Dawg and the loser of this race. It is possible that these two could come back later and be matched up again for that race. Blair was the quicker of the two in Qualifying and a lot of that was due to being smooth off the line and over the first jump. They were both in their same Qualifying lanes and the results were much the same. Blair got a good hole shot on Haney and left him a half truck length behind even before the first jump. Bad News again slid off to the side of the cars while Bigfoot remained straight and smooth over the 2-cars. Blair landed quick and poured it on to the finish with a great jump over the 4 cars and crossed the finish line before Haney had even hit the ramp. Winner: Bigfoot.
After this race was it right into more racing? No, of course not, about 2 hours of tough trucks sounds good. Once again, you are spared.
Monster Truck Racing
2nd Round Race
Big Dawg vs. Bad News Travels Fast-- Noelke has had a good 3+ hours to sit around and think about racing...hope he didn't fall asleep and was still ready to run. Noelke pulled a wheelie off the line in Qualifying and he did it in this round as well and it may have hurt him just a bit as Haney was not behind and stayed right with Noelke over the first set. Noelke carried more power though over the set and was settled down first and the race to the finish was on. Big Dawg shot up the ramp first and sailed across the line with a truck length win and was headed to the Finals. Winner: Big Dawg.
Just when I thought the tough truck stuff couldn't get any worse...oh it did. They managed to drag it on for another 2 hours which allowed the sun to completely set and by the time the Finals pulled to the line we were in complete darkness.
Monster Truck Racing
Final Round Race
Bigfoot vs. Big Dawg-- They were evenly matched in Qualifying and it is only right they end up in the Final race to settle the score. Noelke got the better of Blair the first time down the track, would Blair be able to turn the tables and send the Dawg back to the porch? The drivers were in the same lane as they were in Qualifying and inched to the line awaiting the flagman's signal. The green flag dropped and Noelke dropped his right foot and stood Big Dawg up with another big wheelie off the line. Blair launched hard as well but the huge weight difference in the front kept Bigfoot's noise on the ground and that difference would be seen quickly. Blair carried a great amount of speed and air over the first set and flew Bigfoot half way down the track as Noelke was trying to keep Big Dawg headed straight. Blair needed one quick bounce in no-mans-land and then hit the ramp incredibly hard sending Bigfoot into a HUGE leap across the cars with the rear of the truck higher than the front and all kinds of out of shape. Blair could of cleared 8-10 cars and powered past Noelke by a half-truck length to take the win! Blair showed the skills of a champion as he corralled Bigfoot at the far end, smashing into a box full of balloons, and got the truck stopped within inches of running out of room. Awesome, awesome race. The 5-week rookie took the 5-year pro to school on that one. Winner: Bigfoot.
Everyone needed a breather after that one and got a good half hour one from more tough trucks but then finally, after nearly 8 hours, it was time for Freestyle.
Monster Truck Freestyle
Unfortunately with all the love and devotion given to the tough trucks, the organizers failed to give anything extra to the monsters to hit so they were left with the two lanes of cars and then one small wheelie ramp down the middle of the 2-car sets.
Bad News Travels Fast-- Bruce Haney was out first to set the bar for freestyle and see what the track had to offer. Haney started with a couple nice jumps over the cars but then turned his attention to the slap wheelie hill. Haney hit the hill well and got the right bounce for a decent slap wheelie down the middle of the track. The hill looked to be set up nicely and would provide even bigger wheelies as freestyle moved on. Haney attacked each set of cars from the ramps and the back side getting some good air going both ways. He did not have much momentum going from jump to jump but had enough punch with each hit to keep the excitement up. He attempted another slap wheelie and improved greatly over his first try as he powered Bad News down the track and past the sets of 4 cars before finally gravity took over. Haney took two more hits on the cars and wrapped up a very solid freestyle run. Score: 6.
Big Dawg-- One of Noelke's famous freestyle moves whenever he has the room to pull it off is the slap wheelie and "walkin' the Dawg" down the track. With the wheelies we saw from Bad News, which is usually not a slap wheelie truck, I expected some spectacular wheelies in this run. Noelke roared out of the pits and sailed down the far lane to open his run. Now, I expected slap wheelies, but I don't think anyone expected the jump he pulled out next. Noelke went way down to the far end of the track and launched up and over the large dirt pile that was not intended for the monsters to hit but who's going to stop him, really? He came flying back down the track and lined up the near set and punched Big Dawg at the right moment shooting the truck near vertical across three of the cars, spiked it in the fourth and pogo 'd off the set! Noelke swung Big Dawg around to the middle of the track and lined up the wheelie hill and did...not...miss! Big Dawg slapped up off the ground and Noelke put his foot to the floor and held Big Dawg near vertical in a giant slap wheelie that he carried almost the entire length of the track! The crowd was pumped up and made some noise for what seemed like the first time all day. Noelke fed off that energy and was ready for more himself. He came back with more big hits on the cars but we all wanted to see another wheelie and he obliged and headed back to the center hill. This time he shot Big Dawg out even further which let the truck slap down harder and the front end came right up. The wheelie bar and tailgate dug into the dirt as Noelke balanced the truck perfectly down the track and between the racing lanes before finally hitting the brakes and stopping within inches of a bulldozer parked at the far end. People were out of their seats going nuts for that one and rightfully so. Awesome slap wheelies, great air on the cars, and good momentum all equal a freestyle that was going to be tough to top. Score: 10.
Bigfoot-- Blair fell to Noelke in Qualifying but beat him where it counted in Racing. Could Blair do one better and silence the Big Dawg fans with a freestyle run that topped that of Noelke's? If he planned on one-upping Noelke he started off in the right way by matching Big Dawg's run move-for-move in the opening minute with a fast run down the far sets of the cars followed by a strong hit on the near set of cars. But the proving ground would be the slap wheelie. A wheelie in #8 is not easy but it is certainly possible and was done on several occasions by former driver Brian Bertoletti. Blair was up to the task and got a great hit on the hill and a decent bounce but was a little slow on hitting the throttle and the result was not much of a wheelie. Blair would not be intimidated though and recovered with another excellent hit on the near set, not so much going vertical as Noelke did but instead played long ball and was really getting some distance under Bigfoot. Blair set his eyes on the wheelie hill again and hit it very hard getting the most distance anyone had off it. The big jump paid off and Blair nailed the throttle perfectly and yanked the heavy front of Bigfoot #8 into the sky and dragged the truck on the rear wheels down through the middle of the track in a slap wheelie that certainly rivaled that of Big Dawg's. Blair turned up the heat and attempted to get the truck spinning in a donut but it would not hook up properly right away. Finally, he found some traction and spun Bigfoot around a couple times but was back on the gas and headed towards the wheelie hill again. Big hang time again out of Blair and another slap wheelie to go with it. Blair went to round out the run with some more donuts, but only one revolution in, the rear tires hooked up too much and rocked the truck up on two wheels but Blair quick put the brakes on and slammed the truck back on all fours. He took a final hit on the far set of cars and brought Bigfoot to the front to salute the crowd. Score: 9.
Two phenomenal runs left the crowd very split on their freestyle winner and it took two votes to finally get enough separation in the applause to award Doug Noelke in Big Dawg the freestyle victory! I had to agree with that as Noelke was smoother his entire run even though it was a little bit shorter. He never missed a step while Blair stumbled a bit with the donut attempts and did not have as much luck with the wheelies. He did do a terrific job with the front-engine setup of Bigfoot #8 and I would love to see him in a rear-engine Bigfoot and have these two battle in the slap wheelies again.
Great showing by all three drivers, but it is a shame that the less than 10 minutes of monster truck action was spread out over the course of nearly 9 hours and certainly put a damper on what were three excellent performances all around.
No 10 minutes of monster trucks is worth sitting around 9 agonizing hours for and therefore I will bid farewell to Washington and plan to never return unless they get some true organization in there to run the event properly instead of wasting an entire day on tough trucks. In 2003 in was endless amounts of truck pulling classes that ran well into the early morning hours, this year it was boring tough trucks, most of which belonged sitting on blocks in someone's yard. I hate getting so turned off by a show that I vow to never return but enough is enough and I hope more people realize the poor quality of production put into this show and spend their money elsewhere. Then maybe, just maybe, there will be a change.