Previewing The First Half Of The Field For The Monster Jam World Finals
Feb 26, 2013
PREVIEWING THE FIRST HALF OF THE FIELD FOR ADVANCE AUTO PARTS MONSTER JAM WORLD FINALSSM XIV PRESENTED BY NGK SPARK PLUGS
Last week we used this space to get better acquainted with the Young Guns ShootoutSM line-up, so continuing to get ready for the biggest weekend in the sport, Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam World FinalsSM XIV presented by NGK Spark Plugs March 22 and 23 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, this week we’ll take a closer look at the first half of the expanded 28 Monster Jam truck field that will compete for the two World Championships, and next week we’ll examine the rest of the roster.
Advance Auto Parts Grinder® – driver To Be Determined: This team has lots of options returning to Las Vegas. The three drivers who campaign “The People’s Truck” in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam are all available, and we could see any combination of them competing at Sam Boyd Stadium this year. The prevailing wisdom is that 2004 World Freestyle Champion Lupe Soza is most likely to be the pilot selected to freestyle the Advance Auto Parts Grinder in Las Vegas. Soza has been running a big stadium schedule throughout 2013 and took the freestyle trophy against a World Finals caliber freestyle line-up last month in Houston, so Soza would seem to be the most ready to attack the intricate freestyle obstacles that will be set up for the championship battle. In the race bracket the team has great choices, and a tough decision to make. Two-time World Racing Champion John Seasock brings the title credentials and certainly seems like a logical pick, but veteran Frank Krmel with plenty of World Finals experience and a sparkling 2013 won-loss record would also be a hard to argue with choice. Or the Advance Auto Parts Grinder team can make the call to use one driver, in this case it would probably be Soza, to compete in both racing and freestyle. The great thing here is that all of the available options are good ones.
Avenger – Jim Koehler (2003 and 2011 World Freestyle Champion): Mr. Excitement will extend the record he shares with Tom Meents as the only two drivers to compete in every Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam World Finals and looks to become just the third driver to win more than two world titles. Along with the thrills he always provides on the track, especially in freestyle, Team Scream always is a big hit at the Double Down festivities and the World Finals Party in the Pits because fans are always excited to see what special design the Avenger will be sporting for this year’s championship battle. One of the sport’s most enthusiastic personalities Koehler is a fixture at this event and brings a large number of followers, many from his native Michigan out to Las Vegas each year to cheer him on. And of course all World Finals fans watch the end of the Avenger freestyle closely to see where Koehler can find the necessary body of water to take his annual post-World Finals plunge.
Bounty Hunter – Jim Creten (2005 World Freestyle Champion): Jimmy Creten is back to doing what Jimmy Creten does best, winning big stadium racing trophies and he again will be among the favorites to claim another World Championship. At this moment Creten has won more stadium racing brackets than any driver in the sport. The powerful Bounty Hunter has marched through the toughest bracket in the game so many times but his best finish in racing has been 2nd on multiple occasions. Creten has been the fastest qualifier, he’s been the favorite to win the racing title, and he has been oh so close. His racing record at Sam Boyd Stadium of 23 round wins against 12 losses all time in World Finals competition is the third winningest mark in history, behind only Tom Meents and Dennis Anderson. Bounty Hunter is having a great 2013 and Creten figures to be in the mix all night long for this year’s World Racing Championship. Known first as a great racer with maybe the most powerful engine in Monster Jam, Creten’s previous world title came in freestyle and he annually excels here as well. The technicality that it takes to win the World Freestyle Championship fits perfectly into Creten and Bounty Hunter’s ability to execute amazing performances.
Captain America – Chad Fortune: Another veteran of multiple trips to the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam World Finals, Fortune has taken big steps forward since he joined the Marvel Comics based team at the start of 2012 and so far this has been one of his best years on the track. Fortune captured a huge breakthrough win when he drove Captain America to the racing championship against a superstar laden racing line-up at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis earlier this month and he has plenty of runs logged on the wicked Sam Boyd Stadium race course. A popular and exciting freestyle shoe, Fortune has previously turned in several Vegas Wow factors and memorable performances in World Finals freestyle competitions and always rates as one to watch there. One of the sport’s most athletic drivers, Fortune’s varied backgrounds includes a Division One college football career, professional football experience, and a stint in professional wrestling before finding his true calling as an Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam truck driver.
Captain’s Curse® – Alex Blackwell: The native of Frackville, Pennsylvania has been close to grabbing the gold here before, finishing in the runner-up spot to Maximum Destruction and Meents and boasts the third best winning percentage all-time in rounds of racing in World Finals competition. Returning to Captain’s Curse in 2013 and sporting an awesome new black design, Blackwell remains a top contender week after week in Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam competition. Like many in this group Blackwell is a well balanced competitor able to win races and rock the house in freestyle as well and has grabbed the coveted Double Down award for winning racing and freestyle on the same night at events in past years, so his potential to be a player in both Las Vegas competitions is without question.
El Toro Loco® – Marc McDonald: Like Captain’s Curse, McDonald’s El Toro Loco was given a complete facelift for 2013 and the new black El Toro Loco has been a big hit with fans throughout the sport and McDonald loves the look of his revamped ride. Marc has had his share of wins during rounds of World Finals racing competitions in the past and has made it far as the semifinals before but has not yet earned a berth in the World Championship final race, a goal he will try to accomplish this time out. Expect El Toro Loco to be among the top qualifiers during the Double Down festivities on Friday March 22nd and McDonald is one of those pilots that everyone knows has the potential to leave Las Vegas as a World Champion. McDonald has had a strong racing season so far but has had the misfortune of being teamed with Son-uva Digger, the truck that has beaten El Toro Loco in three UTI Championship Round races this season. No doubt McDonald would find his series of narrow losses to Ryan Anderson a whole lot easier to take if he can get his revenge should the pair meet at the 14th edition of Monster Jam’s greatest event.
Grave Digger® – Dennis Anderson (4-time World Champion, 2004, 2006, and 2010 World Racing Champion; 2000 World Freestyle Champion): The Icon has been on a roll lately and he’ll look to keep the momentum up in his quest to head west and add a fifth world title to his legendary story. Anderson’s Grave Digger has claimed two Double Down trophies in 2013, joining Son-uva Digger as the only teams to win multiple Double Downs at stadium events this year. He is on a streak of three straight freestyle championships at stadium events as well, and has a total of 5 freestyle championships in dome/stadium events this year. Dennis loves to win the hardware and he has hauled away more winners’ pieces than anyone in the sport at stadium events in 2013, having won 5 freestyle trophies, two racing trophies and a pair of Double Down awards as well. In racing his round record of 14 wins against only 3 losses is among the best in the business this year. Dennis has rarely been beaten on the race track this year, but a couple of times mechanical problems have kept him from even competing in the race bracket as happened last week in Jacksonville when a broken fuel pump before qualifying sidelined Grave Digger until freestyle. Obviously Anderson will be a major contender for both titles as long as the equipment holds up.
Grave Digger The Legend® – Adam Anderson (2008 World Freestyle Champion): After becoming the youngest World Champion ever in 2008 Sam Boyd Stadium had turned into a house of horrors for the next generation of the most famous name in Monster Jam. There was the infamous racing crash into the tree that ended his hopes early in 2009 followed by a series of surprising losses and freestyle problems that kept Adam from making another run at the gold in the years that followed his historic World Freestyle championship. Last year however was a turnaround trip to Las Vegas for Adam as Grave Digger the Legend made it to the semifinal round in racing before being eliminated by Max-D in Meents’ run to title number 10, and then Adam ripped the floor up in freestyle, posting the third highest score at the WFXIII freestyle battle. Adam has the advantage of his continuing driver-Crew Chief relationship with one of the best, Cole Venard, and the pair functions as well as any team in the sport. 2013 has been excellent for Grave Digger the Legend with five stadium trophies claimed already this year, two in racing and three in freestyle, so The Legend should bring plenty of momentum back to the World Finals hoping the bad breaks of 2009 through 2011 are well in the past.
Lucas Oil Crusader – Linsey Weenk: Considered by many to be the best driver in the sport who has not yet won a World Championship, Weenk is another having an absolutely phenomenal 2013 season and will rate as one of the favorites to get to the World Championship level this year. Weenk has powered Lucas Oil Crusader to a 17 and 4 record this season in stadium rounds of racing, those 17 wins second only to Bounty Hunter’s total of 18. Weenk is one of a handful of drivers who has been able to win trophies in both racing and freestyle at the sport’s biggest events this year, a testament to his versatility. His move to the Lucas Oil Crusader has proven to be the ideal fit and Weenk is another driver with the benefit of a longstanding working relationship with a top level Crew Chief, Mike Christensen. Weenk is a native of Devils Coulee, Alberta, Canada, who now calls California home. Linsey is also among the all-time leaders in racing round wins at the World Finals, having advanced as far as the semifinal round in the past.
Madusa® – Madusa (2004 World Freestyle Champion, 2005 World Racing Champion): Still the only woman ever to win a Monster Jam World Championship, Madusa joins Dennis Anderson and Tom Meents as the only drivers to have won both a World Racing Championship and a World Freestyle Championship. Started slow in 2013 but has been coming on with a vengeance in recent weeks including earning her way to the Championship Round in Miami where she suffered a controversial loss to Bounty Hunter. The “Queen of Carnage” has been burning up the track in freestyle as well and will get to Las Vegas with a full schedule of stadium runs under her belt in 2013, those stadium and dome battles always serve as a great prelude to the World Finals. If you want to meet the former wrestling champion at the Double Down or at the World Finals Party in the Pits, then you better get in line early. She has never been more popular and she has served as a mentor to many of the women in the sport today as well as a great role model for so many little girls who dream of being a Monster Jam star themselves someday. With three women ready to compete in this year’s World Finals and another two in the Young Guns Shootout it’s clear that the women’s movement in the sport that Madusa has helped to build is stronger than ever and getting stronger year after year.
Max-D® – Tom Meents (Reigning World Racing Champion; 10-time World Champion, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2011, and 2012 World Racing Champion; 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2006 World Freestyle Champion): It says Sam Boyd Stadium on the marquee, but in the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam world it might as well be renamed “Tom Meents Stadium.” The Max-D driving legend holds every World Finals record imaginable, including most World Championships overall, most World Racing Championships, most World Freestyle Championships, most round racing wins in World Finals competition and the highest winning percentage in World Finals racing history. This 10th Anniversary season for Max-D has not seen the number of wins we’ve become used to from Meents and Max-D but this is one team where momentum doesn’t really mean anything. Tom has come to Las Vegas off of great regular seasons and won, and he has also come to the World Finals in the midst of struggling seasons before only to turn things around with more Vegas magic. Believe me there are going to be 27 others dreaming of winning a World Racing Championship on March 23rd and all 27 of them are well aware that any road to the world racing title almost assuredly has to go through Max-D at some point.
Monster Energy – Damon Bradshaw (2009 World Freestyle Champion): Already with a World Freestyle Championship on his resume Bradshaw was inches away from adding to that his first racing title when Monster Energy finished about two-one hundredths of a second behind Max-D in the final race last year. This Monster Energy truck was rolled out just weeks before last year’s World Finals and after a few tweaks Bradshaw and Crew Chief Coty Saucier hit on the combination that has seen the popular team post a slew of racing wins over the past year. Monster Energy has won 3 stadium racing brackets in 2013, the second best total of any team in the sport. Bradshaw has always been considered a natural talent, making a quick transition to the 10,000 pound machines following a championship level career in motocross and Supercross. Called the “Beast from the East” in his two wheel days Bradshaw now calls Idaho home. Monster Energy is another team that is as big of a threat to win racing as they are to win another World Freestyle Championship.
Monster Mutt® – Charlie Pauken (2010 World Freestyle Champion): Pauken’s performance in 2010 that finally elevated this wildly popular veteran to the status of World Champion remains one of the most talked about freestyle runs in the history of this gala event, Monster Mutt’s 2010 championship remains one of the most dominant victories in this battle known for its razor thin margins of victory. The team Grave Digger driver is a World Finals fixture in the brown Mutt. A native of Ohio Charlie spends any free weekend he can get with his son, an aspiring racer as well. This has been another huge season in the win column for Pauken and when you combine the totals of his racing rounds in both arenas and stadiums Pauken is one of the sport’s biggest winners in 2013 with a sparkling record of 47 wins against just 6 losses, although he has not won a stadium racing bracket this year, he has grabbed 12 racing trophies in arena events. Pauken’s freestyle wins are also as impressive, having taken 10 arena freestyles and 1 stadium freestyle trophy for his part of the Grave Digger team. Pauken is always going to go big and he is sure to be among the favorites to win this 14th battle for the World Freestyle championship.
Northern Nightmare® – Cam McQueen (Reigning World Freestyle Champion): The pride of the Monster Jam Maple Leaf Tour will have a huge number of fans coming to Las Vegas from Canada in hopes of cheering northern Nightmare to a second straight World Freestyle Championship. This is the competition that is the toughest to win twice, not to mention doing it in back to back years. Only once has a driver successfully defended the World Freestyle Championship, which was when Meents won the crown in 2001 and 2002. No one though has ever had the two year run that Cam McQueen has had in freestyle at the World Finals. No one has topped his score the last two years, only a tie breaker in 2011 keeping McQueen from being a back to back world champ. Think about it, over these last two years McQueen has posted big numbers early, gone to the hot seat as the leader and over the course of those two years he has watched 40, that’s right, 40 of the world’s best do everything they could do yet none of them could top his score. That is arguably the most impressive freestyle streak in the sport’s history. The flamboyant McQueen first competed in the World Finals behind the wheel of his buddy Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus but it was in his first appearance representing his native Canada in Northern Nightmare that he won his first ever Monster Jam World Championship and his incredible run in Vegas the past two years makes Northern Nightmare the truck you have to beat to win the 2013 freestyle title.
Some pretty impressive capsules for sure and there are more of them to come when we look at the remainder of the field for Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam World Finals XIV presented by NGK Spark Plugs in this column next week.