Extreme Monster Truck
August 20th, 2004
All was quiet at the Springfield Fairgrounds in 2003 as monster trucks took a year off after two stellar shows from Rich Schaefer's Monster Truck Challenge in 2002. But 2004 turned over a new leaf and monsters were back at the Illinois State Fair! It worked out perfect for me because I was moving back to school in Edwardsville the day before and theorettically could go to all three shows over the weekend with Springfield only an hour away. Jim Morris's Extreme Monster Truck Nationals would be putting on the show and he welcomed me up to the show so no better way to start off a new school year that with some monster trucks!
When Steve Maver and I went in 2002, the monster trucks were the only thing going on at the massive fairgrounds facility and even with getting lost within the complex, it was no real problem getting to the arena. Well this time it was different and to make it more of a joy, it was 90+ degrees out. The town was in chaos because of the fair and I had not bothered to figure in that traffic would suck. Parking was a free for all of property owners lining the street trying to waive you in to their lot. After passing a bunch and realizing I'm going to get anywhere and really don't know where I am, I might as well just pick one, so I did. Of course, it just happened to be on the other side of the freakin' fairgrounds as the monster truck arena was! I had to walk over a mile to get to the arena from my truck! And then get lost in the process of trying to get into the arena and find Jim Morris and oh geez what a mess. But I finally got in there and crews were still in the process of drying out and building the track as all week the area was hit hard with rain. I hit the track to see what was going on.
Bennett Clark had his truck re-skinned as a Kevin Harvick #29 truck, he ditched the Black Label Society body back in Valpariaso.
The other legend in the field was Jesse Birgy in Playin' For Keeps. Birgy has been running hard all year at these smaller shows and has never skipped a beat from 20 years ago. His truck is out of date and out of style and under powered but he still whips the competition every chance he gets. And thats just racing, come freestyle, anything on the track had better look out!
Bill Chapin would be driving the Austin 3:16 truck which also out dated in a different way, as in the body. Hadn't seen this one run in a few years and I thought it was done with but here it is.
Vance Laroux would pilot the Goldberg truck, another driver I hadn't heard much about. Robbie Dawson drove a different truck with this body on it back in March but they body switches seem to take place every day in the Carrington stable.
As I said, the crews were in a mad rush to finish the track in time which left everyone else just kind of milling around and talking. I met up with event announcer Mike Clark and we talked for awhile and continued to throughout the show, even dropped a few website plugs which was much appreciated.
Finally it was time for some action and to give the 50 some people in attendance something to watch. Qualifying would kick it off and they were suppose to go one at a time but you know how that goes, it never turns out that way. First up were Playin' For Keeps and Goldberg and, yep, they both ended up running down the track. The first car was definitely not a roller of any kind, there was not much dirt on the car so it was popping the trucks in the air over it. They got some pretty good speed down the long straight-a-way as well and big off over the final 5 cars. Birgy had the faster run but both trucks were pretty even. I'll keep a little tally here on each trucks victories because as you keep reading, these trucks race off more than just a couple times. Playin' For Keeps: 1 Goldberg: 0
Bennett Clark followed next with his run and had a really good one going until he landed off the final set and sparks went flying. He limped the truck way back to his hauler and took about 5 minutes to get there just slowly rolling along. Turns out his inner front axle shattered on the run and would require some massive work. So much that Bennett would not return until hours later in Freestyle. Not a good way to start.
Bill Chapin rounded out Qualifying with a solid run in the Austin 3:16 truck.
Two, count them, two FMX riders were also on hand and instead of becoming a filler act, they turned out to be the backbone of the show making jump after jump for long periods of time during the show. Only one of them was half way decent, the one in the red, the other guy didn't have a clue.
Monster Truck Racing was to be next and look who kicked it off...
Playin' For Keeps vs. Goldberg--
Birgy took it easy over the first car will Laroux hammered it and got too much air
and bounced around in between the sets. Birgy poured it on and got some big air on the
final set blowing the doors off Goldberg.
Winner: Playin' For Keeps: 2 Goldberg: 0
With Bennett's truck down and Austin 3:16 not being able to start, more FMX was on tap...lots of FMX.
Time ticked by and people starting getting ticked off as it had been over an hour and only 1 monster truck race had happened and there were periods in the show when absolutely nothing was going on and no one was telling us anything. Eventually some more monsters hit the track.
Playin' For Keeps vs. Austin 3:16-- Birgy pulled away instantly as the Austin 3:16 just wasn't running anywhere near what it should be. Birgy coasted over the last set and still beat him by 1/2 the track length. Winner: Playin' For Keeps.
Playin' For Keeps vs. Goldberg-- They sent Birgy right back to the line to match up yet again with Laroux in Goldberg and again so difference in the results. Laroux made more of a race of it this time but Birgy was still too much for him to handle. Winner: Playin' For Keeps: 3 Goldberg: 0.
After what had already seemed like an enternity of a "show" and many people had gotten up and left and I was tempted to do it myself, it was now time for, of all things, intermission. The whole showed felt like an intermission to me. And there was no time frame for it either...just a "whenever" as to when it would end. Several people were complaining to Mike Clark down where I was and wanting answers. Only thing we could say is that this stuff happens and stuff breaks. It went a little beyond that but niether of us were going to get into it then and there. Jesse Birgy came over and chatted and said it was ridiculous and that he could only beat these guys so many times. I told him to just go freestyle and let's go home.
Nearly a half hour later, intermission came to an end and we could go back to racing.
Austin 3:16 vs. Goldberg-- Hey, alright! A new match up! Chapin left Laroux at the line and rolled the first car very well. Laroux had a big jump on the last set to try and catch Chapin but wasn't enough. Fast run by Austin 3:16, surprisingly. Winner: Austin 3:16.
Sure, why not
Playin' For Keeps vs. Austin 3:16-- Looked like racing was finally going to come to an end and it was no surprise who took it. Birgy was even with Chapin off the line but once they hit the flat land, it was all Playin' For Keeps. Chapin couldn't keep up and Birgy coasted to victory again. Winner: Playin' For Keeps.
...And some more FMX...
Monster Truck Freestyle
All the trucks had to play with were the sets of cars as well as that giant FMX landing dirt hill but I seriously doubted anyone could get up it or would even try.
Austin 3:16-- Chapin roamed around the track with not much speed and only hit the cars three times before packing it in and those three jumps weren't much of anything. Score: 1.
Goldberg-- Seemed like Vance Laroux finally found that gas pedal he missed in racing and unloaded with a solid freestyle. He kept up some very good momentum and hit every jump at least twice. Grabbed some sweet air off the back of the single cars and nearly took out the pit area with a couple jumps. Not a bad run at all. Score: 5.
Kevin Harvick/ Kid Rock #29-- Bennett finally had his truck back together after about 2 hours of work. He came out and was noticeably taking it easy on the truck and rightfully so as he had to suffer through two more shows on the weekend. He had one good jump off the cars and threw in a real nice donut to get some applause of the the 28 people left in the stands. Score: 4.
Playin' For Keeps-- Birgy was the final man out and his objective looked to be to just destroy and hit everything he could without stopping. He hit cars from every angle and nearly rolled the truck a few times with the awkard jumps. He wasn't getting much air though and needed to mix it up. Birgy charged towards the hill and I freaked out because I thought he was going to hit it head on but steered right and skimmed along the side of the hill.
He came back to the cars for a couple more hits but then went back to the hill and this time was taking it head on. He didn't charge it though and instead tried to climb it. I didn't think there was anyway he was getting up it but he proved me wrong and dug Playin' For Keeps into the hill and toppled the mountain!
He wasn't finished with the hill and roared up it from the other side and then nose dived the truck off the steep end. The small crowd was loving it and Birgy charged towards the stands to finish his run. Easily the freestyle winner. Score: 8
Birgy's truck was spitting and spewing out smoke and steam from all over the place after the run but Jesse didn't seem to mind and was already greeting the fans.
Well, what can I say but, bleh. A mess of a show that really can't be blamed on anything but a bunch of bad luck and all piled together made for a real crummy afternoon. I thanked Jim Morris and headed out for the trip back home. Which the highligh of the trip may have been stopping at two Wal-Marts and spending $100 on new toys! Thanks to Jim Morris, Will & Becky Gill, Bennett Clark, Jesse Birgy, Mike Clark and everyone for reading!