In all of motorsports, each form has its one event that is bigger than any other. The Indy 500, Daytona 500, Grand Prix of Monaco, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans are racing's marquee events for open-wheel, sports car, and NASCAR.
But, when you are a fan of monster trucks, no event compares to the one put on by the United States Hot Rod Association at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The NGK Spark Plugs Monster Jam World Finals is an event that is months in the making. Several huge stadium events throughout the country lead to this one moment for 24 of the best trucks and drivers in the sport. This is Monster Jam's version of the Daytona 500.
This year was the 11th annual event at this venue, and I was lucky enough to land a seat for the two-day extravaganza. So, let's take an inside look at what the World Finals was all about.
NOTE: All photos credited to the author.
The event started on Friday with the "Double-Down Experience." Exclusive to only 7,000 fans, this is their chance to get to have an early opportunity to meet the drivers.
Also, there were various activities that were only available through this ticket package. As you will see, it brings the fans closer to the people in this sport than any other form of racing.
For the first pit party and the stadium activities, the competing trucks did not run the bodies. Some added the nose piece to help them with their view, but otherwise all that was seen was the tube chassis.
Nearly 70 trucks were in the field on display, but for the 24 trucks that were in competition, they wanted to save the destruction for the following day.
The first display was the title sponsor of the pit party, Ford Trucks.
In their area, they had their new vehicles on display for fans to view and sit in. This included the new Ford Taurus, a Mustang GT, the 2010 F150 Platinum edition truck and the all-new 2011 F250 Super Duty.
This picture is of me sitting in the truck I wanted to see, the F150 SVT Raptor, which is practically a smaller monster truck.
Let's just say I wanted to drive it home.
In the show area, there were street bike performances and monster truck rides. But, the one everyone kept their eyes on was Megasaurus.
This huge dinosaur robot entered on a tank chassis and fed on helpless junk cars.
This machine is extremely powerful. In each of its claws there is 15,000 pounds of crushing force. The same amount is in its heavy jaw. Two flame throwers are inside the teeth that can easily torch the family sedan.
The creature chewed, tore and ripped a total of six cars completely in half. All I can say is don't get caught cutting this thing off.
How often is it that you can walk up to a driver and ask, "Can I have your autograph?" Usually it doesn't happen as they're running to the garage or into the hauler.
Not here. All the drivers are accessible to the fans and will take the time to sign autographs for each person. If you get there early enough, as I did, you can talk with them for a bit.
Linsey Weenk and Frank Krmel, both drivers of Blue Thunder, took time to admire my drawing of their truck and compliment me.
For them, money doesn't matter to them. Every driver admitted that if it wasn't for the fans, they wouldn't have a job.
The track walk was an exclusive to the double-down package. Fans could get on the dirt and view the obstacles the construction crews put out for the show.
This year, the obstacles were even more impressive. The left lane had a step-up jump of 12 cars and dirt hills while also having a bus and semi-trailer. A fountain was in the center, with a van at the back.
The right lane had two table-tops, with a launching ramp.
As in years past, the jumps were huge, but just how big did they go?
That's a simple answer. They went bigger than any World Finals in years past.
Look at this picture. I'm right against the largest table top in the right lane. I stand 5'11" and I was actually looking up at the jump. This plateau was 13 feet high at it's peak, the largest jump ever put in the stadium.
Only one thing came to mind as I gazed at the jump, "This is scary big."
After all the festivities, fans made their way into the stands for practice and qualifying. After a random draw, drivers got two practice runs to prepare for their money lap.
Each truck got one run in each lane, with their third run coming in the lane they ran during the first round.
Judging by how they were going, qualifying would be a tight field. Little did I know it would be tighter than ever at night's end.
The most critical part of this track is the turn. Trucks start outside the stadium, then come charging in on either side, hitting speeds at nearly 70 mph.
Somehow they had to slow down for the 180-degree turn and go over the finish line plateau.
On two occasions, a driver hooked too much and rolled in the turn. Most notably was Jimmy Creten and his 2,000-horsepower Bounty Hunter. His threat for the pole was thwarted, awarding Marc MacDonald the winning run.
His 16.00 second pass was tied by Adam Anderson in Taz and Tom Meents in Maximum Destruction. MacDonald got the pole because he had the best draw for qualifying.
The top-ten was within a second of each other, meaning the racing bracket would be tight, fast, and incredible.
In this sport, Dennis Anderson is considered the icon and legend. Being the driver of Grave Digger for 28 years, he's earned that reputation. His aggressive style has brought some haters, but has also given him the greatest fan base in monster trucks.
I've seen Anderson race live on two occasions, and watched him numerous times on television. However, I had never met him in person, nor seen him perform a freestyle live.
All that changed at the World Finals. I brought a drawing of his truck to the show for an autograph. After he gazed at it for a while, admiring the detail, he put his signature on the glass.
It's what I wanted most, and his "Right on, man" comment really meant a lot as I did it for him and his team.
Saturday's pit party had a different feel, mainly because more people would be attending. Plus, the trucks now had their race bodies in place for the show.
This gave everyone a chance to see the unique body styles that the teams had come up with over the years.
Among the most popular was the Monster Mutt. Originally a 1950s Mercury chop-top Coupe, it was fitted with floppy ears, a tongue and a tail. Two Mutts were in attendance, as the Dalmation was also competing.
Just one of many unique looks the USHRA has come up with.
Prior to the actual event, all the trucks at the pit party did a parade down the street and into their pit area.
Nearly 60 trucks long, it brought together nearly 120,000 horsepower for one huge parade.
The non-competing trucks made their way back to the grass area, while the competitors went outside the stadium to get ready for action. Immediately after, the fans made their way to the entrances and to their seats. The 2010 World Finals was nearly ready to begin.
Following the National Anthem and fly-over, the competitors made a few parade laps around the track. On the third lap, the trucks that didn't win a world title in the past exited, while the champions stayed out for another wave to the fans.
The lights were on, the trucks were prepared, and the cameras were rolling.
It was time to get the World Finals under way.
The course proved to be really sticky on this night as too much water was put down.
It created problems for some drivers, but the bigger issue came after the final jump as the drivers had to slow down in time to avoid some of the obstacles.
Some proved to be successful at it, while others had to hold on as they crashed into the stacks.
Among the casualties were Adam Anderson in Taz who hit the semi-trailer and launched like the space shuttle into the air. Others included Captain's Curse and El Toro Loco.
One of the drivers who tried to save it was David Smith in King Krunch. He won his race, but hit one of the launch ramps at the end, spinning into a roll over.
He tried to get the truck fixed, but axle damage and steering malfunctions put him out for the night.
All night long, the two trucks that had the best runs were Grave Digger and Maximum Destruction. It was only fitting that they met in the final round. Coming out of Thunder Alley, the trucks were even, but the turn made the difference.
Tom Meents slid wide in the right lane, while Dennis Anderson stayed close to the corner while holding his momentum. On this night, the Icon took the win, securing his third racing title.
Afterward, he thanked his fans and showed some good luck charms in his racing suit. These included a $2 bill, a lucky penny, but the important one was a locket from a young child. The locket belonged to his mom, who was a big Grave Digger fan, that passed away before the show. He gave it to him hoping for a win.
He got it. As his final words, he showed gratitude and made a promise to everyone.
"I want to thank you for every nut and bolt on that truck, and every shingle on my roof. I love all you guys. I will screw this truck in the ground tonight."
With that said, he took a victory lap, and the track crew got ready for the next competition...freestyle.
Just as I expected, the track proved to be damage headquarters for many trucks. The step-ups, the plateaus, and the semi trailer caught many trucks, rolling them early.
Some of the more spectacular rolls came from Chad Tingler in Spiderman after his attempt to jump both plateaus, Bounty Hunter who broke the frame and split the engine in two, and Medusa who tore a tire off in the pond.
But, the best run was yet to come.
For the last few years, Grave Digger driver Charlie Pauken has been summoned to drive the Monster Mutt at the World Finals. Every year he's put on an incredible show, but not enough for victory.
This year, he was on a tear. The dog was barking for his entire run as he had some of the best air, great saves and incredible speed throughout his run.
Out of a possible 45 points, Pauken got 39 from the judges. With six trucks left to perform, it would be tough to see if it would finally be the night he would get the world title.
Since the World Finals was introduced back in 2000, one driver has dominated the entire competition at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Tom Meents, the driver of Maximum Destruction, has eight titles to his credit, four each in racing and freestyle. This night already saw him lose the racing title to Grave Digger, but he came out ready to make up for it with a high-octane freestyle run.
Sure enough, he went big and went big often. But, much to his dismay, the run ended early with the truck on its roof. It just wasn't the night for the Maximum Destruction fans.
One famous line from the movie Cruel Intentions was, "A promise is a promise." For Dennis Anderson, when the Bad to the Bone music hit, he wanted to live up to his promise to the fans.
Despite a glitch early in the safety shut-off system, Anderson went for it all, keeping strong momentum early.
After about 45 seconds, he launched off the ramp and landed on one of the tabletops. But in doing so, his left rear tire snapped off, abruptly ending his night. With no way of beating Pauken, on this night it was Monster Mutt that barked his way to the freestyle title.
However, that didn't mean the night was over.
With a new decade of Monster Jam beginning, this World Finals was going to end with a huge bang. As is tradition, the show ends with a freestyle encore.
This year's show didn't end with one or two trucks. This would be a ten-truck encore, celebrating ten years of Monster Jam World Finals competition.
Among the drivers was Dawn Creten in her Scarlet Bandit, the Cult Energy Activator, and Wrecking Crew driven by Chris Bergeron.
But, the truck that had the biggest highlight, and biggest scare, was yet to come.
Frank Krmel brought out his Blue Thunder truck and made two jumps, until his right-rear tire broke off. Not one to disappoint, he broke into a three-wheeled donut, kicking up the clay.
Meanwhile, crews at the other end were setting up for the next truck. Suddenly, Krmel went for the van stack at the end of the track, but didn't see officials were still out on the dirt.
He launched his Ford into the air, and the officials ran for cover. No one was hurt or run over, but I think the official had a heartbeat of about 140 beats a minute getting off the track.
After seven freestyles, only three trucks remained. But, unlike the previous, these three would come out as a family.
First, Dennis Anderson brought out another Grave Digger and made a few jumps. Suddenly, his youngest son, Ryan, brought out a second Grave Digger, this one painted primer red and yellow, just like the truck his dad first drove years ago.
Then, out came his other son, Adam, in a blue and silver Digger, honoring the first panel truck. It was the past, present, and future of the Grave Digger. The three did an incredible tandem freestyle, but wanted to end with a huge bang.
Adam rolled his truck early, which meant Ryan and Dennis had to improvise how they were going to end the night as originally, all three trucks were slated to finish the festivities.
So, with a red Grave Digger at one corner and the black Grave Digger at another of the van stack. Both drivers waited for the cue in the music to go full throttle.
The note came, and both trucks went up the hill. The two collided with their tires hitting the cradle of the chassis. Both trucks seemed to pirouette in mid-air before coming down to earth on their sides.
It was an incredible ending to an incredible night.
If you want in on the biggest monster truck show of the year, visit MonsterJam.com for all the information on when tickets for next year's event go on sale.