4 events over the course of 8 days culminated with my 7th trip to the midwest summer classic: Valparaiso. Another great lineup of trucks plus a switch back to an expanded track layout definitely had vintage Valpo written all over it. Half of the trucks were in Grayslake, IL the previous night and, as I stated in that coverage, the drivers needed a place to really bust out and Valpo would provide that opportunity. A jam-packed, completely sold out crowd filled the stands in anticipation for what we all hoped would be yet another memorable night of monster trucks.
Bad News Travels Fast--Bruce Haney
Bearfoot-- Charlie Miller
Monster Patrol--Rodney Tweedy
Kevin Harvick Kid Rock #29--Amber Walker
The track was crowded with trucks and it was equally crowded down near the course as that was where Andrew Pellegrine, Elliott Miller, Jackie and myself all would have cameras pointed to the action. Add into that mix the FMX riders, track announcer and track crew and we were going to have a great time trying to stay out of each other's way the entire night.
As I mentioned, this year was a change back to a larger track after the condensed down straight light track of 2004. A tricky J-drag track, much like the one from 2003, provided a challenging environment for all the drivers. At the starting line was a very small roller hill that eventually would erode away into almost nothing as the night wore on. Then it was a flat drag to the turn which looked to be easier to navigate than in 2003 as it was not a "3-point" around three barrels in a triangular shape, instead it was just a wide swing around one marker. From there it would be about two truck lengths to the next roller hill, much bigger than the one at the starting line, and the course finished with a jump over 4 cars. The entire field would get a chance to try the track out and get a feel for it as Qualifying would be up first!
**Apologies from the sometimes poor picture quality. The dust played havoc all night and in combination with the usual low light, it was tricky enough in Photoshop to get some kind of viewing quality out of these.*
Monster Truck Qualifying
Overall, the nine trucks stayed fairly even in the timed session but there were certainly some standout runs that separated drivers from the pack. Bruce Haney in Bad News Travels Fast scorched the track in his pass against Bearfoot with no falters around the track at all. Kyle Chandler in Dominator had a tight battle with Rodney Tweedy in Monster Patrol but Tweedy took the faster time of the two with a good run. Bob Shea in Nemesis3 would be the shocker of the Qualifying session as this was his FIRST run ever on a turning course and he could not have been any smoother. You can watch video of Shea's run in the Valparaiso Video Theatre as he defeated Demon. The Number 1 spot though went to 2003's champion Bill Wirth in Smoke.
Joie Chitwood traveled to Valpo with the monsters from Grayslake the night before and performed his truck balancing trick again. The larger track area allowed Chitwood to run the truck on two wheels from one end to the other, nearly right out the pit gate. Another excellent job. Chitwood will return at the end of the show to light up the sky with the Chitwood Thunder jet truck!
Monster Truck Racing
Dominator vs. Monster Patrol-- They paired up in Qualifying and had the chance to go at it again. They stayed in the same lane but would the result be the same? Strong start in the near lane for Tweedy and he jumped to a small lead over Chandler in the far lane. Dominator caught up though as they reached the turn and were nearly dead even around the pole. Chandler swung his truck a little too much into the turn and was not lined up for the next jump properly. He backed out of it just a bit as Tweedy regained a solid lead. They dashed to the final jump and it was Tweedy in Monster Patrol holding off the young gun in Dominator for the win. Winner: Monster Patrol.
Kid Rock #29 vs. Ballistic-- Plecker had the better go of it in Qualifying than the lady in #29 but never count Amber out. Neither truck made great runs their first time down the track and had very similar elapsed times. They bolted off the line fairly even with maybe a slight lead to Ballistic as the trucks approached the turn. Both drivers dove into the turn at the same time but neither of them hit the rear steer properly which led to a near collision in the middle of the track! Obviously a very slow turn in both lanes because of that and once back in the right direction it was Ballistic with the slight edge again. Plecker stood on his truck for all it had and nipped Walker at the line in a very close finish. Winner: Ballistic.
Nemesis3 vs. Bearfoot-- Rather odd feeling to say that Bearfoot was not the favorite in this race but that was definitely the truth of the matter. Shea had a phenomenal Qualifying effort while Miller struggled to keep any kind of pace in the drop-belly Bearfoot chassis. Hole shot went to Shea in the far lane and he immediately lengthened that lead down the straightaway. Miller fell behind and did not get to the turn until long after Shea was already heading down the home stretch after another fantastic turn in the far lane. Shea put the peddle down and soared over the cars to another win and was now 2-for-2 in turning tracks. Winner: Nemesis3.
Demon vs. Bad News Travels Fast-- The finals from the flat drags the previous night in Grayslake would get a rematch on a much larger scale. The two trucks packin' the most punch on a course where every ounce of horsepower can be utilized certainly had the making for a great race. Our feet shook as the trucks roared off the line at full throttle towards the turn. Blackburne in Demon made it to the far end first and looked to have the advantage out of the turn but he cut the turn too tight and was crossed up for the next jump. Haney gained ground on this mistake and took a straight line over the hill and bolted towards the final jump. Blackburne hit the Hemi power in Demon and was closing the gap but ran out of track as Bad News flew across the finish a truck length ahead. Winner: Bad News Travels Fast.
Monster Truck Racing
Nemesis3 vs. Monster Patrol-- After some FMX jumps, it was right back into the monster truck action. Shea in Nemesis3 looked to add another notch in his belt and pull the upset over Monster Patrol but it would be no easy task with Tweedy having 3 solid runs already. Hole shot surprisingly went to Shea in the far lane and he immediately put the pressure on Tweedy to catch up. Tweedy entered the turn too fast and over shot it for the first time on the night and was way out of shape as he hit the next jump. Shea hardly let up at all with his approach and seemed to have that far lane down packed. Tweedy tried to use the big power to reel Nemesis3 in but it was not enough to top the smooth and cool-headed racing in the other lane by Shea. Nemesis3 was quickly becoming the truck to beat. Watch video of this race in the Valparaiso Video Theatre! Winner: Nemesis3.
Demon vs. Smoke-- Demon gets back in as the Fast Loser from Round 1 but must take on the #1 Qualifier, Bill Wirth in Smoke, who received his Bye run in Round 1. The trucks were staged on the line and looked ready to rock but when the green flag dropped, Demon went no where! Wirth paid no attention to Demon and ran his race regardless and for a minute it seemed like Wirth had just received a gift into the Semi-Finals. But that was not to be as a re-race was ordered due to the fact that the flag man was standing in the wrong position and Blackburne was never able to see the flag drop! So, Wirth brought Smoke immediately back to the line and prepared to do it one more time.
This time it was evident that Blackburne saw the flag as he left Wirth sleeping at the line and took a gigantic lead down the straightaway. Wirth got on the gas and played catch up and had closed in at the turn. Wirth nailed the turn and pulled even with Blackburne who stumbled just a bit on lining up for the hill. They were dead even after the hill and it was a drag race to the finish. Wirth held onto his momentum that he picked up out of the turn and drove by Demon right before the ramp and picked up the win in the closest race of the night! Winner: Smoke. Upon review of my pictures and video, it is questionable as to whether or not Wirth got the front tires up the ramp correctly. The win stood but there is definitely evidence to argue Demon's case.
Bad News Travels Fast vs. Ballistic-- The brothers-in-law would do battle against each other for the second night in a row. Haney took out Plecker in the flat drags the previous night, could Plecker get some revenge? Haney drilled the start yet again and opened up a big lead as Plecker struggled to keep up. Haney showcased his best turn yet and left Ballistic in the dust and put down probably the quickest run of the entire event. Smooth pass for Ballistic, just not enough speed to keep up on this night. Winner: Bad News Travels Fast.
Monster Truck Racing
The final four looked to be set after the last round but an unexpected breakage to the standout truck from the first two rounds would leave a spot to be filled. Nemesis3 suffered a broken drive shaft yoke in the rear end and would not be able to compete the rest of the night. A true bad break in every sense as Shea had a stranglehold on this course; most impressive considering it was his first turning track ever in 15 years of monster trucks. Rodney Tweedy in Monster Patrol, whom Shea defeated in Round 2, would get back into the bracket as result of the breakage and would be paired against Round 2's fast loser, Demon.
Demon vs. Monster Patrol-- The time came for one of these trucks to get back on the winning side of the bracket and secure a spot in the Final. They have both been hit-and-miss down in the corners and lining up for the final jump and if there was a time to get it right, it was right now. Good start for both drivers as they were hard on the gas down the first stretch. Both entered the turn at about the same time with a slight lead to Demon. Tweedy hit a great turn to hang right with Blackburne and took the lead away from him as Blackburne never got the truck straight for the hill. Demon hit the hill still in a turning angle and because of that was never lined up for the final set and missed it completely. Tweedy nailed a solid run. Winner: Monster Patrol.
Bad News Travels Fast vs. Smoke-- These two turned the heads in Qualifying and with Nemesis3 out, we had to believe one of these trucks was going to win it all. But, only one could move on. Haney pulled a great starting line launch and took a quick lead over Wirth. Smoke appeared to only be in 2WD off the start line and was not showing the speed from the previous rounds. Still, on the flat ground Wirth was keeping pace. He reached the turn about a half truck behind Haney and then pulled even as Haney blew his first turn of the night and fishtailed the truck. But Wirth got sideways in his effort and it was now obvious there were drive train issues. Both trucks managed to get straightened out after the hill and from there it was full speed to the finish with Bad News leading the way by over a truck length. Winner: Bad News Travels Fast.
Joie Chitwood rolled out Chitwood Thunder and lit up the sky just as a tease for later when a couple vehicles would meet their melting point.
Monster Truck Racing
Monster Patrol vs. Bad News Travels Fast-- Haney has been the faster of the two the whole night with limited screw ups in the turn but has used the big power plant to overcome any deficits. Tweedy was smooth at the beginning of the night, had a bad second round race, and then seemed to right the ship in his gift Semi-finals appearance. An X-factor to this race was that Haney did a little lane swap! He's had lane choice all night and looked smooth as glass in that far lane and the one time he was in the near lane, his run was definitely slower. But, that also put Tweedy in a lane he had not touched all night on the near side! The battle for Valparaiso came down to this! Would Haney deliver some bad news to Tweedy or would the Monster Patrol gun down the paperboy?
Strong start for both trucks as they roared down the stretch. They were dead even on the approach to the turn as they both hit the rear steer and made the pivot. Haney looked to have a lead but the truck went WAY wide! Haney's poorest turn of the night by far and it put Bad News almost into Tweedy's path. Tweedy was right there at the same time, nearly the same place and cut a hard right hand turn to avoid any potential contact and in turn killed any chance of winning the race. Haney slowed down, lined up for the hill and gunned it towards the finish as Tweedy completely missed the 2nd half of the course. It was nearly Ecology Eliminator vs. Bigfoot on the Anaheim Z-track all over again (for those that remember that classic). Winner: Bad News Travels Fast.
Would the two have collided? No, it doesn't look that way, but from Tweedy's view it may have seemed like Haney was about to t-bone his truck and decided better dive out of the way than risk it. Saved the equipment but lost the race in a controversial ending. Regardless, both drivers raced very well on this track and still created excitement the entire night.
Monster Truck Freestyle
A car-van obstacle was added right near us on the front stretch for freestyle and besides that it was the cars from the racing lane for attacking. They were still pretty fresh looking as only a couple trucks actually touched them during racing. A bit of a downfall to freestyle was that due to time constraints put on the show by the fair, the show needed to be completed by a certain time and to make sure of that, freestyle was ran with two trucks at a time. Nemesis3 would not freestyle due to the breakage.
Kid Rock #29 & Bearfoot-- Walker and Miller kicked off their dual freestyle run with a pair of nearly perfectly timed dual jumps off the van and far set of cars. Cool opening and glad I barely squeezed it into the camera frame. They began to chase each other around the track hitting a jump opposite of the other one. Miller nailed the van stack pretty hard each time and completely cleared it on one attempt. Walker did not get good air off the van but launched the truck completely vertical on the near set of cars and spiked it into the last one as the truck fell off to the left side and she made a great save to pull out of the bad landing. Speaking of pulling out of a bad situation, Miller hit the open dirt for some donuts but got much more than what he expected. The truck immediately rocked up on the right two tires and Miller proceeded to walk Bearfoot completely around in a 360degree circle in what felt like slow motion to bring the truck back down safely. A donut would've been great but that was equally as cool! Good freestyle's from both drivers.
Dual Score: 6.
Monster Patrol & Smoke-- Two guys that had hopes of a racing victory dashed too early now have a chance to rebound in freestyle and rebound they did! Each truck tackled the rows of cars first with some decent air and then lined up for the van. Wirth lead the way and and nearly cleared the van completely but the back tires just nipped the van and threw the front end down to the ground hard. Wirth stabbed the gas and rebounded a slap wheelie and carried it down the track in great fashion. Could Tweedy top it? He took a slower approach to the van and got Monster Patrol more vertical than Wirth had Smoke and the front end dropped too early than what he probably wanted but Tweedy nailed the gas and mustered up a small wheelie regardless and rode it out as long as he could. Wirth hit long jump after long jump on the cars, clearing the four cars with ease each time. Tweedy hit the sets several times with greater speed than Wirth and launched Monster Patrol in impressive form each time. Neither driver got the wheelie rocking anymore after the first attempts but the runs were solid nonetheless.
Dual Score: 8.
Dominator & Demon-- The two big, bad Dodge Rams rolled out to the track next for their tandem freestyle. Rich Blackburne took the first hit on the near set with some decent air while Chandler flew into our view with a big hit on the van which he slapped up into a great wheelie and rode it as far as the truck would go. Blackburne did not head to the van yet and instead beat up the cars from both ways including unloading with the largest distance jump of the night off the far ramps. Chandler took Dominator to the cars next and hit some nice sky wheelies on both sets. He came back to the van once more and tried to clear all four tires across the van but the rear end caught slightly and shot the truck up into another wheelie. Accident or not, it was working! Blackburne went for his first jump on the van with Demon and hit it a ton but was unable to get a wheelie of his own going. Chandler pulled to the front of the track ending his run but Blackburne took two more big hits on the cars to round out his run. Well paced freestyle from both trucks. Didn't try to do too much and put forth solid efforts which the crowd responded to.
Dual Score: 7.
Bad News Travels Fast & Ballistic-- The last pair of trucks hit the track and it would be a brother-in-law battle. Bruce Haney was the aggressor from the beginning with quick hits on every set of obstacles including a nice wheelie off the van. Plecker was having trouble finding a rhythm and instead of going for the big air and really attacking the cars, he opted to try for the rolling wheelies like the previous night in Grayslake. On a small track with only a 4-car set to work with, the wheelies looked great and were near perfectly done by Plecker the night before. But on this track, not nearly the results anyone was looking for. Plecker never got the rolling wheelie going and really never got any kind of air. Throttle rhythm was off again and the run suffered. Seat time...seat time...seat time...it will all come around very soon for Mac. Meanwhile, Bruce Haney lit the place up with a faaasst run hitting stuff from every end on the track. He ripped off a dust billowing set of donuts to conclude his run that hid the truck from view as he continued to spin and spin. The crowd was covered in dirt but was loving it! Haney probably took the freestyle win in some fans' mind but I was scoring both trucks in a combination for these purposes. Dual Score: 6. Haney had an exciting run at times but was out gunned in the air on many jumps. The best combo run on the night, in my mind, was Smoke and Monster Patrol.
Watch a highlight video of Freestyle featuring a part of every truck's run in the Valparaiso Video Theatre!
The Valparaiso legend lives on with another great show top to bottom. The talents of several new-wave monster truck stars came to the forefront to battle season vets. Nemesis, Ballistic, Demon, Dominator...take note of those names as I predict Valpo will not be the last you hear about them. Other drivers better make themselves aware too. If you pull up to the line against one of these guys, you better be on your best game or they'll be the first ones to knock you off it.
The veterans in the lineup had their trouble throughout the night with the young guns but eventually prevailed as Bruce Haney showed pure dominace and endurance over the past two days to put Bad News Travels Fast into the winners circle both times.
Hopefully this show is the start of an upswing to renewing the quality of Valparaiso for years to come. Big Thanks to Shafer Motorsports, specifically Paul Shafer, Bobby Paul and Elliott Miller. Also, thanks to Jackie for being my video camera girl and to all the drivers for a great effort that sent everyone home happy.