Over the last three years, Monster Jam has seen the battle to win the freestyle championship in Las Vegas not only be some of the closest in recent memory, but also has seen some of the most insane moments in that quest.
In 2010, it was Charlie Pauken skying Monster Mutt to eye-level of those in the highest seating. One year later, Jim Koehler stunned the field by winning a tie-breaker, but had his incredible run shown up by the debut of Ryan Anderson in Son-Uva Digger, who made sure the Anderson name was remembered on a night when nothing went right for the Digger crew.
One year ago, the first international champion was crowned as truck after truck went flipping, literally.
Now, a total of 28 trucks will compete on the most intimidating, challenging, and technical track that is built each year. Teaser photos have already been released, and fans already making the trip to Sam Boyd Stadium are jacked up (you will see one of these photos later).
But who is going to win the biggest title this year. Here's who I predict could walk away with the freestyle championship this season, plus a look at what could be the biggest encore to date for Monster Jam.
Dennis Anderson, Grave Digger
It just seems like every year this man gets better, like a fine wine. But, despite being the driver with the most experience on tour, the patriarch of the Digger dynasty just out-does himself every year.
This year, in his final stadium run prior to Vegas, Anderson pulled off what possibly was the wow-factor of the season, twisting in midair, almost like a monster tornado, to win the competition in Syracuse, NY.
However, Anderson has not won a freestyle title since the first World Finals back in 2000, despite having strong runs each year.
But, the time is coming. Anderson wants to do one big thing before he hangs up the helmet, and that's not to just win freestyle, but Double Down in Vegas by winning racing as well. Look out, cause the "Black and Green Wrecking Machine" will be loaded for the biggest night Monster Jam has each year.
Ryan Anderson, Son-Uva Digger
It is simply unbelievable that this young man is only in his third full-time season, second behind the wheel of his own truck. Two years ago, it was looking like Ryan was going to debut his own Digger, but an off-season injury caused it not to go down.
But in Vegas in 2011, he stole the show with his encore. But, heading into this year, it seemed like Ryan may not get a full season in, as he spent all summer recovering from a near catastrophic neck injury. Yet, when he got back behind the wheel, it's as if he was never gone.
The Son-Uva Digger machine was nearly impossible to beat this year, and heading into Vegas he's once again a favorite to win.
Cam McQueen, Northern Nightmare
There is no doubt that this man deserves to be a favorite to win this title. In essence, he's won it the last two years. The only reason he did not win back-to-back is due to the fact that the tie-breaker was what decided that title.
It just seems like when Las Vegas rolls around that McQueen steps up his game. From his time in Nitro Circus to his new Canadian machine, Northern Nightmare, this man brings the best he's got to Sam Boyd Stadium.
There is no question he's bringing the best he's got to Vegas, including his hockey puck that will be glued on the hood of the Ford body. A nightmare may come true, two years in a row.
Jim Koehler, Avenger
Despite a few big stadium wins this year, I'm putting Mr. Excitement in the sleeper category as the last four years, he's only been able to put together one full run for the World Finals, that coming when he won the title.
At the same time, there is no doubt that this independent driver can get the job done. He doesn't care that the expenses come out of his own pocket, he will put the truck on kill if needed to win the competition.
The one guarantee is that Koehler will have an incredible look for the Avenger, just like he does each year when he travels to Vegas. Photos have already leaked of what it looks like this year, and speaking as a fan...it looks incredible. "Mr. Excitement" is ready to make Vegas scream.
Lupe Soza, Advance Auto Parts Grinder
As has been traditional since 2011 at the World Finals, the sponsor's truck is going to be splitting driving duties for both racing and freestyle. John Seasock has been tabbed for the second straight year to go after the racing title.
But when freestyle comes around, it will be former champion Lupe Soza taking over driving duties. Rightfully so, as he's a former freestyle champion. He's represented Advance Auto Parts for a long time, way before getting into the Grinder truck. His most infamous moment, splitting through the tires of Bounty Hunter in 2004 to capture part of the world title that season.
The people will be waiting, and Soza will certainly try to put the "People's Truck" atop the board at night's end.
Pablo Huffaker, Blue Thunder
Now why exactly would I put a Grave Digger driver in the category of underdog? Simple...different truck, different chassis.
Huffaker won the 2007 freestyle title in a chassis he built, and knew very well. But, last year when Captain's Curse returned, it was in a chassis he hadn't sat in. So, he was at a disadvantage.
Once again this year, he's doing the same thing. This year, Huffaker will be behind the wheel of the truck normally driven by Dan Evans, the returning Blue Thunder.
Is he capable of getting it done, for sure, but at the same time he will have only a few days to get used to the different chassis, and get used to a different view. This will mark the sixth different truck Huffaker has driven in Vegas, but no matter what he's driving, he will be a contender.
George Balhan, Mohawk Warrior
Following up a championship-winning run is impossible. So, following up a run that didn't win should be easy, right? Not in the case of the driver behind the Mohawk Nation.
Last year, despite not winning the show, Balhan certainly stole it as he put his Mohawk Warrior machine in a category that one never thought could be reached.
Balhan was the first truck to perform back-to-back backflips, something that stood the crowd on it's ear one year ago, and likely could not be topped.
This year, Balhan as well has been working with a new chassis, so he's also still learning what will and what won't work. But, at the end of the night, as long as his fans are cheering, that's what he wants to remember.
Every year, at least since 2001, after the competition is over, fans still stick around because the tradition has been to end the night with one big encore performance. In 2010, in honor of the first decade of the World Finals, 10 trucks came out to perform.
The encore of 2011 will always be remembered for Ryan Anderson's debut in Son-Uva Digger. And last year's celebration of 30 years of Grave Digger will never be forgotten.
But this year, it will be destruction...it will be destruction multiplied. This year's encore, I predict, will see without question, MAXIMUM DESTRUCTION.
As you can see by the photo, the track construction for this year's course includes not one, not two, but three "backflip" ramps. The two trailers at the entrance to Thunder Alley will be key, as long as they hold up through the night. But, should they still be standing, a celebration of 10 years of Max-D will commence.
All year, team drivers Kreg Christansen and Neil Elliott have drove their own Max-D trucks, that have been spiked and look mean. I see each entering the track, doing their own show, and on cue will line up facing the trailers, and when the signal is given, each go into a backflip, and will either land successfully or go over on their lid. But, there's still one driver remaining.
Keep in mind, Tom Meents will already be competing for racing and freestyle, and it's a guarantee his truck won't make it back for that encore. However, the other truck in his stable, the one he used in MetLife Stadium last summer, will be there.
The center flip ramp is steeper, a sharper angle, and that means one thing...Meents is going for it again. All year he's teased in some stadiums by doing backflips with his other truck. Now, I can see him going for it all one more time.
Mark it down, Tom Meents is going for the double backflip. A perfect way to celebrate a decade of destruction.
There you have it, a full run-down for the World Finals 2013. An incredible 28-truck field is set to go after the two biggest championships Monster Jam has to offer. Qualifying for the racing bracket is this Friday night, and will also include the Young Guns Shootout to determine the final spot in the 28-truck field.
One day later, the final and biggest stadium event of the season will welcome fans from the US, Canada, Europe and many other countries.
For full information on the World Finals, including how you can be a part of next year's event, visit MonsterJam.com, and stick with AllAboutHorsepower.com for more updates during the competition.