The first quarter of the Monster Jam season is already two weeks in, with huge stadium events on both the first two Saturdays of the year. But this weekend, the Maple Leaf Tour, exclusive to Canada, kicks off in the huge Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, a very popular spot for many Monster Jam drivers.
Aside from those that were born in Canada, there is possibly no driver more popular in Canada than the man known as "Mr. Excitement," Jim Koehler.
For the second straight year, Koehler brings his 1957 Chevrolet, Avenger, to Toronto for competition, and after two successful weekends to open the year, Koehler is looking forward to the caliber of drivers coming to the Rogers Centre, including some he has already competed against during his first two weekends on the road.
"I didn't do to bad in Kentucky, then ended up in Detroit last weekend and had a pretty good show. We had the Max-D (Neil Elliott) that will be in Toronto with us and Grave Digger that will be in Toronto with us (Jon Zimmer), so we'll have the same guys I battle with in Detroit," Koehler said.
To the same degree, Koehler feels a lot of pressure when he's in Canada, because it's nearly a hometown feeling. The previous weekend, in Detroit, was his hometown show as he is a Michigan native, and for Koehler it's a lot harder to compete in front of the home state simply because of the familiar faces in the crowd.
"It's tons more pressure. All your buddies, family, relatives, local sponsors, neighbors...people you see everyday are all there rooting you on," Koehler said. "Most shows you don't see everyone afterwards. You don't see people from Tampa a week later because you're not there."
But, Koehler is extremely thrilled to be heading back to Toronto, as he's been a fixture in many Canadian shows. In 2011, following his World Finals victory, he did an extensive tour with the Chris Arel Monster Spectacular, hitting cities such as Montreal, Quebec and Calgary, and was among the top winners at each show.
Koehler is glad to be heading back to the Rogers Centre, as prior to 2012, he really didn't get the chance to compete just because of the schedule.
"Definitely happy to go back there. We love going there," Koehler said. "For the last bunch of years, prior to last year, it had fallen on the same date as Ford Field, and it's kind of a bummer.
"Both are close to home, and there's a lot of good fans in Canada. I'm excited because we had great track, and I hope they have the same track as last year."
Koehler mentions the track as being one of his favorite to run on because it is notably different than what is normally seen in many stadium events. For the most part, Monster Jam will usually run a "Chicago-style" track, which is three jumps, two turns, and always turning left. Last year, the track crew did the unique "Southern-California" style track, which included a tabletop and both left and right turns.
For Mr. Excitement, it's a no-brainer as to which he'd rather race on.
"I definitely would rather run on the So-Cal style track. To me, it's a lot more driving, more chances to make a mistake, more chances for the other driver to make a mistake to gain ground," Koehler said. "I've been kinda bored of the Chicago-style myself.
"These guys get in a groove, and get good at the Chicago-style, now it's a twist because it throws everyone out of what they're used to, and you have to actually drive it."
Koehler has been one of the most popular drivers in Canada, but his international appeal goes beyond the Maple Leaf Tour. He has traveled down to Australia to compete in the Aussie Avenger, which runs the same body style and paint scheme as his own truck, and won shows against top names like Kreg Christensen and Dan Patrick.
More recently, Koehler was given the opportunity to make a trip to Aruba with his Avenger to compete against five other top trucks, including former Monster Nationals champion Bobby Holman in the Stabilizer, and the top two Bigfoot drivers in the country, Dan Runte and Larry Swim.
Koehler could not be happier to both get the opportunity to go, and also have as much success as he did.
"It was pretty cool, they hadn't had a show in about eight or nine years. To be able to go down there, the fans hadn't seen monster trucks in a long time, and they were all sell-out shows. We did five shows there, and every one was a sell out. They packed the place to capacity where they had to turn people down everyday," Koehler said. "I didn't win racing till the very last show. I won freestyle every show there, and won four out of five...maybe five out of five wheelies."
The reason Koehler couldn't be exact on how many contests he won was simple: the language barrier. Even during the Maple Leaf Tour, sometimes the teams get lost in translation. But for him, whether the language is English, French, Spanish or any other form, he can look at the fans and know he's doing well.
"We do a lot of shows in Quebec, where they speak French, so there is a little language barrier there as well," Koehler said. "But I can see the crowd as I'm running, and you know if they're smiling, waving at you, you know they're doing something right."
His Canadian fans will be happy when he makes his return to Toronto this Saturday and Sunday. Two huge events will take place. Saturday's kickoff will be at 7 p.m., with the pit party lasting from 3:00-5:00. Sunday's show will be an afternoon matinee, with a start time at 2 p.m. and the pit party only lasting from 11-Noon. Doors to fans not attending the pit party will open one hour before showtime.
Tickets for both events are available at Ticketmaster.ca, and the full line-up of trucks outside of Koehler and more event information are on MonsterJamCanada.ca.
Be sure to visit NewsFromThePits.com for complete coverage of both events from the Rogers Centre and exclusive photos.