September 10-11, 2004
I hope you like a good story...
What would you do without the Internet? There are several answers to that but my response to that is I would be doing something else, something probably not pertaining to monster trucks. Why? Because the Internet has opened to door to the monster truck community, especially for promoters and fans. Without it, over 80% of the events I've been too in the last 3 years I never would've found and I never ever would've imagined that such an incredible and thrilling event was awaiting me in Topeka, Kansas. I only found out about it with the help of one person and for that I shall publicly thank him. Jeremy Dawson aka Metalicagod, you are my hero for asking if I was going to Topeka and my response was "What?" Five minutes later I'm already trying to make plans to go and next time you had better make plans to go as well!
On the weekend of Sept. 10-11, I had originally planned on going to the Washington, MO event on Saturday as I had last year but I never could get all the info I needed such as show times, what trucks, how much, etc. I got that information within a matter of minutes for Topeka though and the pot was sweetening to go. There were two very big factors that weighed on the decision though. 1. The distance--Topeka is over 5 hours away from Edwardsville while Washington was less than two hours away. 2. School--Homework was piling up at an enormous rate for me this semester and of course I got hit hard the whole week before and I really didn't want to start falling behind already. But it just kept calling to me and I wanted to give in so bad. The line up was stacked compared to almost any show I'd been to this year and I knew the program's Rich puts on are top notch. It took me one more day to decide and finally I said I'm going!
But then the second thoughts set in. I found out one of the trucks I really wanted to see, American Guardian, wasn't going to make it after all. Then I realized it was going to cost me a lot of money there and back. Finally, I remembered I'd already made plans with people to do stuff that weekend. Ah screw it, I'm still going, just not alone. I talked Jackie in to coming as she didn't really want me going but encouraged her to join me and she went for it. Besides, I needed someone to video tape :-) So the plan was finally set to leave Edwardsville right after class on Friday at noon and haul asphalt to Topeka to make it by the 7:30 show time, goal was no later than 6:00. I had all my maps printed out and figured, yeah, long drive but should be easy...whoops.
Started off by locking the keys in my truck at Jackie's apartment as well as locking the spare key in! So that was a half hour set back to have the cops come open the truck up. We made good time from there on, cruising around 80mph through western Missouri but then got held up entering Kansas City with rush hour mess. Busted through there and kept on truckin with 70 miles to Topeka. Then within 10 miles of the track all hell, I mean roads, broke loose. Exits that didn't exist, roads that didn't connect and turn offs that were actually gravel roads. Oh the joy of Kansas. It was nearing 6:00 and I finally admitted that we were lost and that the maps were of no help. We just kept going down this gravel road and finally popped out on some pavement and wouldn't ya know it, it was the road the track was on. But I still couldn't see the track, I just knew the name so it was a 50/50 guess, right or left? I went left and over the hills peaked Heartland Park and we both let out a huge sigh of relief.
We wound through the entrance roads and made it to the pit entrance. We were greeted at the completion of the journey by seven big monster trucks staring us down in the pits.
I dialed up Rich Schaefer and he came over to welcome us. I parked the truck and with time to kill we just wanted to walk around after sitting in the truck for so long. We checked out the track first and WOW! Just like Rich had speculated the day before, the track was a 1,000 foot long Z-track! Incredible! We headed onto the track to take a closer look and figure out possible places for shooting pictures. There was no one good spot to get great shots on everything but thought that by the light poles in the grass between the back stretch and middle section would be good, just had to approve it with Rich if we were allowed down there. Graciously we were so I didn't have to worry about shooting over the huge fence in front of the stands. For freestyle we would head up into the flag stand on the front stretch.
I strolled around the pit party talking with drivers and getting some pictures signed to kill some more time as fans began filing into the pit party. I took extra time to check out the new paint jobs on King Krunch and El Matador, really love those flames. Also had to bug just about everyone for WMTRL stuff. Also met up with Brian Manson and Ryan Seddon and the whole MTC crew and chatted for a while.
Time ticked away and it was nearing show time as the sun set over the rolling hills of Topeka and Heartland Park. Jackie and I headed down to the infield and were met by the track photographer Daryl Hurley and also swarms of mosquitoes! Did we have bug spray? Nooooo! Jackie got chomped about a dozen times on her legs and I escaped with only a couple. We put bug spray on the shopping list for Wal-mart after the show. With my position on the track and the weird lighting setup, I would have great settings for the first two jumps but from there on, forget it. Shots on the rest of the track are not that great but I did what I could. Main problem was the dust! Drivers suited up and strapped in and it was time for the monsters to roar in Topeka!!
Maximum Destruction--Phil Foster
Hot Wheels--Rob Knell
King Krunch--David Smith
El Matador--Daron Basl
The trucks would start on the back stretch with a roller hill a few feet off the line then a short dash to a ramped one car jump. Then it was into Turn 1 and a short drag to the big table top jump which led into Turn 2. Then it was flat-foot time down the front stretch over the five car final jump. Each truck would qualify one at a time and get to run in both lanes. The second jump on the back stretch was really launching the trucks as you can see by that RAMmunition picture. The near lane either wasn't as steep or drivers were laying off to be able to slow down for the tight inside turn. Mark Hall in RAMinator would set the fast time but wasn't running away with it by any means, times were very close. Phil Foster was the last to go and he pushed Max D to the limit and in Turn 2 was going too hard and rolled the truck! Only body damage and Phil would be back for racing. But before racing, the horrible dust ended up delaying the show after Qualifying as MTC made the call to wait on a water truck to arrive as the dust was blowing into the stands and also making it difficult for the drivers to see.
Racing Round 1
Hot Wheels vs. RAMmunition-- I'd never seen Knell race live before but obviously knew the skills he had. As far as Benear goes, well we all know he's a threat anytime and anywhere. Would this track throw the rulebook out the window though? Benear on the inside, Knell on the outside. Hole shot went to Knell by just a little bit as they cleared the roller and headed to the second jump. Benear hit the car off center and tilted way to the right and the rims actually dug into the ground.
Benear recovered and made a very nice inside turn and took a commanding lead as Knell went way wide. But looks can be deceiving on this Z-track. Benear had the lead over the table top and into the final turn but out of the turn Knell was back in front!
Then in one of the biggest horsepower displays of a monster truck I've ever seen, Dale Benear put his foot through the freakin' floor and blasted past Hot Wheels as they hit the ramp and sailed across the finish line a winner! But the ride wasn't over yet as RAMmunition landed very hard and the rebound sent the truck up on its right tires and the bank of the track didn't help either but Benear stayed cool and pulled the truck down after one of the wildest races ever! Race of the Year nominee hands down! Winner: RAMmunition.
El Matador vs. King Krunch-- The two teammates would be stuck paired together in Round 1 and it has already proven to be a tight race. Rookie Daron Basl has been battling David Smith all summer and both have knocked each other out as well as several top teams all over the country. El Matador on the inside, Krunch on the outside. Slight lead off the line and over the hill to Smith in King Krunch. He maintained it over the second jump as they split up into the turn.
Basl took over as they exited the turn and had a big lead over the table top but we already know the Z-track can make a lead look like nothing. Basl cut a good corner around the far tires as did Smith in the near lane and it was a drag race to the final jump.
Smith got a little crossed up coming out of the turn and Basl put the power down, kept it straight and flew by the boss in Krunch to take the win. Winner: El Matador.
Maximum Destruction vs. Nitemare-- Last time I saw Phil Foster he ended up on his lid in Qualifying in St. Louis as well only in the Hot Wheels truck. He is rapidly improving with every event and he would've won the big turning course in St. Louis if his truck would've stayed together. On this night, he's already rolled once but Max D is back together for now minus the front clip of the body. Andy Hoffman hasn't been on the big outdoor tracks much this year and it would be a real test to see if he could keep up. Maximum Destruction on the outside, Nitemare on the inside. Hole shot to Foster but not by much as they rolled the hill and headed to the second jump. Foster pulled away off the car and took a lead into the first turn.
As they approached the table top, Nitemare had the lead but Max D was closing in fast. They both hit the jump very hard and Foster went bouncing all over the place on the landing, nearly clipping Nitemare who had its own problems. Nitemare landed hard on the rear end and sparks came flying out from underneath. They both regained control and seemed to be in one piece as they entered Turn 2.
Foster was still fighting the truck and had a sloppy turn while Hoffman kept Nitemare smooth around the tires and had a lead initially out of the turn. But Foster stomped on the gas no matter where it was pointed and pulled Maximum Destruction around in time to edge out Nitemare by a truck length. But again it wasn't over as Nitemare landed hard on the back tires and popped the left rear sending the truck every which way but Hoffman kept cool and corralled the truck without harm. Winner: Maximum Destruction.
Racing Round 2
Maximum Destruction vs. El Matador-- Two of the rising stars of the monster truck world clashed in Round 2. El Matador on the outside, Maximum Destruction on the inside. Dead even start and over the roller they remained even. They powered to the second jump and both trucks got some big hang time. Basl coasted into the corner while Foster got on the brakes hard, cut the corner and knocked down the stacked tires used as the turning pole!
Basl opened up the big Chevy and pulled even out of the turn which meant he was basically ahead on the inside. As they hit the table top, Foster was back in the lead but hit the jump way out of shape and bounced all over the place on the landing nearly hitting El Matador. Basl stayed cool and hurried into the corner knowing he had an advantage. Foster over drove the turn and went way wide and then spun to the inside handing the victory to Basl. Winner: El Matador.
RAMinator vs. RAMmunition-- Hall in RAMinator took a BYE with his fast qualifying time and got to sit back and watch as teammate Dale Benear had a heck of a fight on his hands just to make it to Round 2. RAMinator on the inside, RAMmunition on the outside. Hall burst off the line first while Benear spun his wheels, literally. Only 2-wheel-drive on Benear's truck as something went away in the rear axle.
He tried to keep it close even in 2WD but Hall pulled away in the middle stretch. Benear finished the run but well behind Hall. That Round 1 victory may have cost Benear his shot at winning it all. Winner: RAMinator.
Intermission followed but it wasn't a long one considering the water truck delay at the start of the show. Jackie and I vacated the track and headed to the front stretch flag stand for the rest of evening. The Finals would kick off the second half and then Freestyle would immediately follow.
RAMinator vs. El Matador-- Ole'! The most consistent truck, El Matador and Daron Basl would go up against Mark Hall in RAMinator who has skated by rather easily thus far with a Bye run and beating a crippled truck in Round 2. Hall on the inside, Basl on the outside. Holeshot went to Basl and he kept the lead over the second jump by about a truck length but Hall was already on the brakes for the turn. Hall cut a good inside turn as Basl went way wide and hit a small lane tire and got the truck crossed up before the table top as RAMinator began to pull away.
Hall widen the lead as they entered the second turn but the Z-track played tricks on that lead again and Basl was dead even with Hall as they exited the final turn. Hall was dirt-trackin' it on the high stretch and mashed the Hemi for all it had and blew by Basl in El Matador to snatch a truck and a half length win. Winner of Night 1: RAMinator!
Another excellent race to round out the night's action. That bobble in the first turn by Basl easily cost him the run. He had drove the track perfect but that slight mistake was all RAMinator needed to secure a win. Nothing to be ashamed of for Basl as I knew coming in he was going to be good but this kid is something else and there is still a whole nother night of racing for him to get another shot at it. But there's also Freestyle!
In one of the largest track setups I've seen, Rich Schaefer wasn't about to let the track space go to waste. The course was stacked everywhere you looked with stuff to hit and crush. Not in a junkyard looking way either, everything was strategically placed and crafted. Here's what the trucks had to work with: All the jumps from the racing course, a single car on the Turn 4 embankment, a launching ramp/hill jump right out of the pit entrance, a 5-car pyramid in the Turn 2 infield area, the tuff truck ramp in between the final sets of cars, and finally, a towering dirt ramp in the center of the track that was over 6 feet tall! Plus wide open dirt and grass for donuts and speed. And remember, in Monster Truck Challenge there are no crappy time limits and no idiotic judges...its what freestyle should be. Free of time restraints and free of people deciding who was the best because they're sitting in a lucky seat. Its up to the drivers to use this freedom to push themselves and their truck to impress ALL the fans!
Up in the flag stand I could not get a shot of the trucks on the big set of cars because they were too close with my lens. With so much on the track I wanted to be able to reach everything else and sacrificed the ironwall shots on the cars. I did keep one of Nitemare so you can see how up close it was.
Hot Wheels-- Rob Knell was lucky number 1 for freestyle and got the first crack at the bonanza of obstacles on the track. Knell drove by and waived to the crowd before opening his run with a big launch of the cars on the back stretch. Rob ripped off a real nice set of donuts in the middle of the track and eventually worked his way over to the car pyramid and blasted over that with a nice jump. He took on the massive launch ramp from the back side and was already innovating new moves for the other trucks to top. Solid opening run. Score: 4.
RAMmunition-- Dale Benear's
truck was fixed and ready to roll in Freestyle. He wasted no time in testing the truck and
rocketed out of the pits and off the dirt hill. He stood the truck way up in the air over
the car pyramid but landed with a nasty impact yet the truck held. Benear was liking the
dirt ramps and got some more air off the smaller hill before cutting loose with some wild
donuts. He combo'd up his moves and launched off the back of the tuff truck ramp and
yanked up a small slap wheelie! Always a plus to combo up moves and this track is perfect
for it, won't be the first time.
Good run for Benear. Score: 5.
El Matador-- The Racing runner-up was next and Basl kicked off his run as pretty much every truck does now with a leap off the ramp right out the gate. Basl grabbed some big air off the car pyramid and focused some jumps on the racing lanes which I have no shot of. Basl really opened the truck up with some great long jumps on the back stretch and combo'd up with another leap off the ramp. Good, consistent run and evening for El Matador. Score: 5.
Nitemare-- Hoffman's truck was back together for the second time on the night and was ready to tear it up in freestyle some more. Hoffman hit the single car which no one had touched thus far and stood the big Chevy straight up in the air, rolled the car and popped up a little slap wheelie on the rebound. Andy threw in a real nice set of donuts and some good sky wheelies off the crush cars to fill his run. Score: 5. Lots of solid runs in Freestyle so far but nothing to really separate from the pack.
King Krunch-- That whole thing about no one really breaking out from the pack yet, yeah, that was about to change. David Smith burst onto the track and flew off the ramp to start his run. He also went for that still fresh single car and stood Krunch up higher than Hoffman did and slapped up a bigger wheelie as well. Smith grabbed the biggest air of the night so far off the car pyramid and I kept thinking something was going to snap off he was hitting it so hard. Smith lined up the giant ramp from the back side and floored it sending the truck way up in the air with an awesome jump. Smith used every inch of the track and flew down the back stretch comboing up moves as well. He came back to the single car with another nice hit, didn't get the wheelie he wanted so he lined up the launch ramp and went for it! Massive air from King Krunch along with a stiff nose dive. Smith shot the truck over the pyramid again, bigger this time and then went right into a barrage of donuts on the front stretch to finish the run. Excellent use of track and easily best run so far. Score: 9.
RAMinator-- I wouldn't want to follow that run Smith laid down but Hall is the perfect man to do it. He roared out of the pits and launched off the first ramp and followed up with a titanic air shot off the table top ramp. Hall eyed up the car pyramid and blasted off the top car getting RAMinator nearly vertical and clearing the stack. He went right into a crazy set of donuts, actually shifting gears mid way to crank out more speed. The moves didn't slow down as after clearing the crush cars he lined up the giant ramp in the middle and took it on full throttle and got a ridiculous amount of air, sailing up higher than where we were in the flag stand! The truck held together on the landing and Hall kept on going. Another ballistic set of donuts on the loose dirt followed by a leap off the tuff truck ramp and a short wheelie to finish the run. Back to back killer runs but Krunch had just a little bit more than RAMinator this time but not by much. Score: 8.
Maximum Destruction-- The nose-less Maximum Destruction was the final truck to take a run at the track and try to dethrone King Krunch. Foster started strong with a nice leap off the entrance ramp and wasn't going to wait to go big! In Max D style, Foster hit the car pyramid harder than anyone had all night and got some incredible air but came with a rough landing. Foster kept Max D moving and wanted to go even bigger! He charged for the giant ramp and blasted Max D into the sky and slammed down very very hard snapping the axle and wheel knuckle assembly on the right front tire and immediately ending his run. A sweet leap no doubt but three jumps aren't going to get the job done. Score: 4.
Refresh if Max D jump sequence doesn't play
A rough night for Foster in Maximum Destruction...rolls in qualifying, over drives the truck and loses in racing and now shatters a front end in freestyle. But there is always tomorrow! The Max D team assessed the damage and knew it was fixable during the daytime on Saturday so they packed up like we did and headed to Denny's!
The 2004 Monster Truck Challenge points championship wrapped up in the way it should with a down to the wire fight for the title. The track fights back, trucks take flight and I couldn't wait to go back. All the drama and excitement leading up to Night 2 and all the monster truck racing action from Topeka, Kansas is just a click away!
Topeka MTC Night 2