Getting Acquainted With The Young Guns Shootout Competitors

By Monster Jam Media
Feb 19, 2013

So much excitement has been generated by the expansion of the field for the 2nd annual Young Guns ShootoutSM, featuring some of the best up and coming drivers in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam® along with Grand Prize to the eventual winner of immediately moving into the battle for both World Championships at Advance Auto Parts World FinalsSM XIV presented by NGK Spark Plugs, this week’s column is devoted to getting to know this dozen a little better.

BAD HABIT, JOE SYLVESTER: One of the sport’s most enthusiastic and likeable drivers, the native of Boardman, Ohio, first competed in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam in 2006, but this will be his first opportunity to race on the fastest and most treacherous race track in the game. Before building his first monster Sylvester participated in every type of motor sport he could throughout his teen years from motocross to drag racing to go-karts. All along his dream was to have his own Monster Jam truck, so much so that he says that every truck he owned was lifted. That dream became reality in 2006 as Sylvester finally created his own 10,000 pond machine, and he built the current version of Bad Habit in 2009. Away from the Monster Jam circuit Sylvester enjoys body building and “the simple things in life like being outdoors, riding ATVs and mud trucks, or just hanging out at the bonfire.” Before receiving the coveted invitation to compete in the Young Guns Shootout Sylvester says that one of his career highlights goes back to September 5th 2010, when he broke the world record for the longest jump in a Monster Jam truck by jumping his ReadyLift Suspension Bad Habit 208 feet.

BARBARIAN, DEVIN JONES: Oklahoma native Devin Jones debuted in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam in 2009 after more than a decade of racing Pro Stadium trucks, often at Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam events. Jones is an auto mechanic by trade and has been involved in motorsports his entire life, including truck pulling and go-kart racing when he was growing up to eventually racing Pro Stadium trucks, which then opened the door for the creation of the Barbarian Monster Jam truck. In his free time Jones enjoys hunting, fishing and going mudding. He lists among the highlights of his budding Monster Jam career the opportunities that he has already had to participate in Make-A-Wish events, calling the experience of making these special young fans’ dreams come true “amazing”. A true family operation, Devin and his father take great pride in the sharp look of the Barbarian, a 2010 Ford Super Duty with a 555 cubic inch engine that rocks the house with 1,500 horsepower.

CRUSHSTATION, GREG WINCHENBACH: Crushstation, AKA “The Monstah Lobstah”, is the creation of Jefferson, Maine’s Greg Winchenbach and the unique body design of the clawed monster has made Crushstation a huge hit at the Party in the Pits while at the same time Winchenbach has developed into one of the sport’s brightest rising stars on the track. Crushstation debuted in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam in 2011 with a Patrick chassis sporting the lobster themed body and became an instant hit with the fans. Before creating Crushstation Winchenbach spent years in the sport working on trucks and crewed for a series of drivers who helped build the sport like Jesse Birgy, Alan Tura, Todd Frolic and others. After learning the sport from the ground up as a hard working technician on those teams the transition to becoming a driver with his own piece was seamless, and Crushstation has been a popular addition to Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam. Along with spending time with his family Winchenbach has fun playing horseshoes and softball in the nice weather and going snowmobiling in the winter. This will be Crushstation’s first appearance in the Young Guns Shootout.

EL DIABLOSM, J.P. RUGGIERO: Looking like anything but a rookie, Ruggiero has wowed fans with his performances from day one. His ability to speak Spanish fluently and his great personality have made him the perfect fit to drive this awesome Monster Jam truck, named by fans during Hispanic Heritage Month at MonsterJam.com. With a background that includes lots of stunt driving Ruggiero’s transition into Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam has been impressive. Born in Hollywood, Ruggiero enjoys many activities lots of other Californians enjoy such as off roading in the desert, skiing and snowboarding, jet skiing in the ocean with friends, dirt bike riding on mountain trails, and street bike riding through the canyons. J. P. also does lots of design and manufacture of custom rigs and equipment that caters to the stunt and TV industries. A brand new truck and a pure rookie behind the wheel might seem like a long shot combination to win this high profile event but El Diablo has been up to the challenge of competing at some of the sport’s biggest events from the start and figures to be a popular addition to this year’s field.

EL TORO LOCO®, BECKY McDONOUGH: This popular young driver is back for a second crack at the Young Guns crown, this time in the new yellow El Toro Loco. McDonough won her first round race here a year ago, so that experience should be a plus as she returns to this event. Though still relatively new to driving, her Monster Jam experience dates back several years.  A big fan of Monster Jam growing up Becky began to establish a relationship through emails with one of the sport’s best known female stars, 2-time World Champion Madusa, who offered her advice on how to get into the game. McDonough then went through the necessary technician training to land a job working on trucks and eventually became the Crew Chief for Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus Monster Jam truck. McDonough worked hard to learn that part of the craft and showed her ability to work with a team attitude, developing a tremendous chemistry with her driver Cam McQueen on the Nitro Circus team. Despite her success as a Crew Chief Becky never abandoned her desire to be a driver, and she finally got that opportunity, competing in Costa Rica in 2010 behind the wheel of Donkey Kong, where her impressive debut performance landed her that coveted full time seat as a driver starting in 2011. In 2012 McDonough’s career continued to blossom when she joined the popular El Toro Loco team and for 2013 her truck was re-outfitted to show off her new yellow El Toro Loco design. The Minnesota native has in a few short years become a real fan favorite at events all over the world.

HOOKED, STEVEN SIMS: The next generation of the Virginia Beach based Stone Crusher team, the newest Sims to compete in the sport brings high expectations with his unique deep sea fishing themed Monster Jam truck. Another combination of a rookie team and a rookie driver that will compete in the Young Guns for the first time, Steven has been around the sport for several years now as a part of the multi-time Team of the Year award winning outfit created by his father. The Sims operation is known for fielding top level equipment and running the wheels off of it, and Stone Crusher has turned in several memorable freestyle performances at past Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam World Finals and now the younger Sims gets the chance to take the team into the Young Guns Shootout. Steven not only benefits from the best state-of-the-art equipment his teams provides, but also from the decades of experience of the team’s Crew Chief, Tommy Powers, considered one of the best technician’s in the business.

IRON MANTM, MORGAN KANE: The favorite to win this title a year ago, Kane lost in the semifinal round to the eventual first ever Young Guns Champion, Bari Musawwir and Spider-ManTM. That disappointment figures to be a huge motivator for one of the sport’s youngest competitors, and Kane will again be a top pick when I post the odds for this year’s event. A former college soccer player and a lifelong friend of Adam and Ryan Anderson, Kane made his debut in the sport at the age of 20 back in 2010. He had been driving a Monster Jam ride truck for Adam Anderson, who jokingly calls Kane “the greatest ride truck driver of all-time”, when he took advantage of the opportunity to join Steve Sims’ Stone Crusher team and shot straight to the top. Kane’s time on Sims’ team was highlighted by his victory in a star-studded 16 truck racing competition in December of 2011 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis where he drove Monster Magic to the racing championship at the Speed televised event. In 2013 Kane moved to the Iron Man team and has racked up a series of racing wins throughout 2013 to carry lots of momentum into his second shot at the Young Guns trophy. 

MONSTER MUTT® DALMATIAN, TARYN LASKEY: Laskey made her Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam debut behind the wheel of Tasmanian Devil in 2011 and she has really blossomed since joining the spotted Mutt team at the beginning of 2013, earning her first invitation to this ultimate event for the sport’s rising stars. Her motorsport career dates back to the age of 10 when she began racing quarter midgets and eventually moved into the lightening quick sprint cars. Motorsports was always a part of her life, her Dad’s side of the family was into motocross, while her Mom’s side of the family raced late model stock cars and sprint cars. The native of Tulsa, Oklahoma is not just a racer, having grown up also spending lots of her time in the gym as a competitive gymnast and a ballerina. Taryn has earned her degree in Psychology; she is also a painter and poet.

NITRO HORNET, DARON BASL: Arguably the most experienced driver in this year’s field overall Basl is new to the Sam Boyd Stadium course, never having competed on the sport’s most exciting track, thus his eligibility for the Young Guns Shootout. A native of Staton, Oregon, Basl has spent the past several years in Spring, Texas, as a driver and Crew Chief for the multi-truck Flame Motorsports team which fields King Krunch, El Matador, and Big Kahuna along with the brand new Nitro Hornet. Daron’s twin brother Aaron also drives in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam behind the wheel of an El Toro Loco for Pablo Huffaker’s RaceSource team. Basl actually drove a Monster Jam truck for the first time when Jimmy Creten hired him to pilot the legendary Bearfoot for a brief time, but he has become best known in the sport as the accomplished pilot of El Matador. Team owner David Smith decided to debut a pair of new trucks in 2013, Nitro Hornet and Big Kahuna, and tabbed Basl to get behind the wheel of Nitro Hornet, although later in the year it is expected that this busy driver will split time in the cockpits of both Nitro Hornet and El Matador.

RAZIN’ KANE, J.R. McNEAL: The Floridian is set to make his second appearance in Young Guns coming off of an ambitious schedule so far in 2013 where Razin’ Kane has competed in some of Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam’s biggest stadium events. The owner of a 4x4 shop, his years of building and fabricating trucks of all kinds led him into Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam where he debuted in 2012. McNeal’s two-truck team also includes the unique Ice Cream Man and the pair of trucks has made a big impact in a short time in the sport. McNeal calls Paisley, Florida home, and stays busy with three other businesses along with his top level Monster Jam operation. His motorsports background includes 15 years of mud racing with lots of major victories racked up in that genre and the likeable McNeal has done a great job with his new team in Monster Jam. A real hands-on driver, McNeal believes that his experience in building and fabricating trucks has made for a natural transition into driving at the sport’s premier venues. 

TITAN, DONALD EPIDENDIO: Another of the competitors back for a second shot at the Young Guns trophy, Titan arguably brings the strongest resume into this bracket based on his breakthrough 2103 season that includes major stadium racing championships, twice, at Angels Stadium in Anaheim against huge fields of some of the best racers in the sport. Epidendio is from Lower Lake, California, where his family owned construction business keeps him busy when he is not competing in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam events. Epidendio is another driver who entered the sport after years of building and working on lifted trucks who then created his own monster and took advantage when the opportunity to race and freestyle against the biggest and the best came about. His impressive racing performances thus far in 2013 along with his experience of having competed in the inaugural Young Guns Shootout makes Epidendio and Titan likely to be among the favorites when this year’s battle begins as part of the Double Down festivities in Las Vegas next month.

WOLVERINETM, DUSTIN BROWN: The longtime Crew Chief for Dennis Anderson’s Grave Digger® has finally achieved his dream of becoming a Monster Jam driver and Brown has been impressive behind the wheel of the Marvel Comics Wolverine throughout this, his rookie driving season. Brown may not have experience on the Sam Boyd Stadium race track but his inaugural season’s schedule has been packed full of big stadium races at some of the sport’s highest profile annual events, so he is already used to the biggest spotlights. He has achieved World Champion status as a Crew Chief multiple times with Anderson’s Grave Digger and now works on reaching that status as a driver as well. His years as the Crew Chief of the sport’s most loved truck not only prepared him mechanically to transition to the driver’s seat but also allowed him to learn from the best, “The Icon”, Anderson himself, as well as being tutored by a another World Champion, Charlie Pauken, during his extensive tours internationally.  Brown has always enjoyed spending time with sport’s youngest fans, and now that he is the father of a young son himself, Brown relishes the chance to drive for the Marvel team in the Wolverine truck that is so popular with the sports youngest fans. Despite not having experience on the Sam Boyd Stadium race course Brown’s wealth of experience at the sport’s zenith, both as a Crew Chief and now as a driver, makes him a rookie to keep your eye on when the Young Guns arrive in Las Vegas.

This is an outstanding line-up ready to do battle in the 2nd annual Young Guns Shootout, and with the stakes even higher since the winner advances directly into the World Finals, this is sure to be a riveting race bracket start to finish. Be sure to tell us on Facebook and Twitter who you are picking to win this year’s Young Guns Shootout, and be on the lookout for my odds on the entire 12 truck field coming soon here at MonsterJam.com.

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