Photo credit goes to Eric Stern, MonsterJam.com
On a cold Saturday night, the town often nicknamed "Hot Lanta" became a hotbed for the Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam Series. With a sold-out crowd of over 65,000 people, the Speed TV cameras made their live debut inside the Georgia Dome.
A total of 14 of the top trucks were set to compete on a "Chicago-Style" race course and tackle some of the biggest freestyle obstacles ever brought to Atlanta.
The two biggest names in Monster Jam were in attendance. Up first was Dennis Anderson, beginning his 28th year driving Grave Digger. At this event last year, he won both the racing and freestyle portions, his first of five in the year. He was looking to accomplish the same feat in front of the live audience.
But, to get that done, he had to face off against a driver whom I have seen in person on just two occasions. That is eight-time Monster Jam champion, Tom Meents in Maximum Destruction.
Last year, Meents could not be in attendance as he was at another event. The other Maximum Destruction driver from last year, Kreg Christensen, went into the Georgia Dome to put on a show. Unfortunately, a blown motor cut his night short, so Meents had a debt due to the fans in Atlanta.
To get there, he had to beat many of the top guns in the business. Also in attendance were two-time racing champion John Seasock in Batman, Anderson's son, Adam, in Taz, Linsey Weenk in the Built Ford Tough Blue Thunder, and George Balhan in an Escalade.
Once introductions were complete, it was time to go qualifying on a very tacky clay surface. The course was three different hits across the cars, with two tight corners to complete the lap.
The driver that had the track figured out right away was Dennis Anderson in Grave Digger, as he blistered the track in a sub-20 second run. No other driver was near that mark, even Tom Meents was over 20 seconds on his lap.
Qualifying also saw Weenk struggle and not complete his lap, which put him at the bottom of the bracket and to a meeting with Grave Digger.
The first round had the usual cast of characters win their respective races, as Dennis Anderson, Meents, and Balhan moved on. The spectacular moment came after Adam Anderson won his race against Batman. He carried so much speed after the final jump, he cut the wheel to the left and the truck flipped on it's roof, destroying the body.
The first round also saw Randy Moore in War Wizard beat Alex Blackwell in Captain's Curse because of Blackwell flipping in the first corner.
Because of the 14-truck lineup, a fast loser from the first round came back to make an eight-truck bracket in round two. This time, it was Cam McQueen in Nitro Circus who got the reprieve to come back and race.
Unfortunately, his reward was a run against Grave Digger, and the icon of Monster Jam did his job, moving to the semifinals.
Adam Anderson made it back for his race, but was defeated by an Escalade. Also winning were Maximum Destruction and the big surprise, Paul Cohen in Monster Mutt.
The run of the Mutt came to an end as Meents took the win. On the other side of the bracket, Grave Digger kept the momentum high as he took out Escalade, making a matchup of the greatest rivalry in monster trucks.
As they pulled to the line, the focus could be seen on Dennis Anderson's face, who did not get out of his truck all night long. Meents had a dead stare in his eyes as they pulled to the line. When the green light came on, it was full throttle for each driver.
Coming to the line, it was close but Meents was able to get the victory by the length of a wheel. Meents came out and celebrated with his fans as he stood on top of his truck.
As Meents accepted the winner's trophy, the track crew began preparations for the second half of the event, freestyle. The track had a large bus stack, a double jump containing six cars, a step up hill, and a van stack sitting on a four-foot tabletop.
Right away, it was Cohen and the Monster Mutt setting the pace with big jumps and good momentum. His run finished with a crossed up jump that saw the truck on its side before he throttled out. He set the bar with a score of 22.
The first big run of the night came from Scott Hartsock in the newly repainted Gunslinger. Over the summer, Hartsock made some shock changes to his truck, and it worked incredibly well as his truck landed well after some big jumps.
He was also the first truck to pull off some strong wheelstands and the crowd loved it. His score would be a 30.
Hartsock would remain in the lead until Blackwell brought out Captain's Curse. His roll in racing did not hurt the truck and he came out showcasing his horsepower. Some great crossed up jumps, two saves from rolling over and a donut later, it was time for Hartsock to step aside as Blackwell got a 31 from the judges.
The first real breakage came from Randy Moore in War Wizard as early in his run, the spindle on his passenger front wheel snapped after a leap over the bus. The truck balanced on the left side for what seemed like an eternity as he landed, but finally came to rest on its side.
More rollovers soon followed as Superman, Escalade, and Taz all wound up on their roof. But, then came the hardest hit of the night as it was time for Weenk to bring out Blue Thunder.
After some great jumps, Weenk set up for a leap over the step up hill. Hitting the ramp at full throttle, the truck landed on the other side of the Georgia Dome, breaking off the left front tire.
The damage was extensive as he broke off the spindle, the shock mount and tore the steering ram right out of its shell. The run was spectacular, but he did not get the lead.
Then, out came Meents in Maximum Destruction. Following his win in racing, Meents was set to live up to his truck's name and went crazy on the track. Big air, crossed up jumps, an attempt at a cyclone donut and some insane saves made up the first part of his run.
With about 10 seconds left in his regulation time, the rear steering in the truck went out, locking in a left-hand turn. Meents did not care as he just kept going. His run ended with a twisting roll over, but not before the entire crowd was on its feet.
As the scores came in, Meents made his way into the stands to find a fan holding a Maximum Destruction sign. As a reward for being one of his followers, that young fan got the helmet Meents wore for the event. The score would be a 40, enough to fly into the lead.
But, one truck remained. George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" hit the speakers, and the Grave Digger fired up. The first official invite to the 2010 Monster Jam World Finals was ready to go, and Dennis Anderson was ready.
His throttle rhythm was unbelievable and his momentum was huge. Every obstacle was hit on the track. As his bonus time began, Anderson went for a major leap across the floor. He hit the step up ramp and landed on the double car jump on the opposing side of the floor.
The truck rebounded rough on the rear shocks, and the truck flipped over. The fans were in awe, and loved the run. But, the score would be only a 36, which would give the win to Meents and Maximum Destruction.
For not having drove in the Georgia Dome last year, and knowing that his truck didn't perform well that night, Meents knew he was on a mission to satisfy the fans.
He did that as he got his first Double Down trophy in over a year as the winner of both racing and freestyle in Atlanta.
If Saturday night was any indication, the 2010 season for Monster Jam is going to be more competitive and more exciting than any in history.
The season concludes at the Monster Jam World Finals in Las Vegas from March 26-27. I will be at Sam Boyd Stadium to attend the two-day event.
This will be an incredible year for Monster Jam. Strap in, because it is going to be an awesome ride.