When Monster Jam announced an all-new format for the World Finals this year, fans already knew what the track would be for racing. They also knew that when fans and teams came back for the next day's freestyle competition, the track would be different. But it was unknown and unclear how different the track would be.
What fans and drivers got was something that no one could even expect. The fastest track from one night ago had become the most intense freestyle course ever constructed. It had everything you'd expect from Monster Jam, including multiple cross-thread ramps, cutoffs in the hillsides for skyward launches, a rail container connecting the backflip trailers, and two more trailers added to the far end. It was the most extreme course ever made for the World Finals, and the rumble in the pit area was simply one word: carnage.
With a capacity crowd in attendance, the 32-truck field would take to the track to see who would become the new champion. A new scoring system for regulation time would be used, similar to what has been common in years past, but would help from possibly using the tie-breaker system. The six regulation judges would score from 1-10, and would be allowed to give half-point incriments. The high score and low score would be dropped, making the high score after 90 seconds a possible 40. The bonus judge would give up to five points, with no half-point additions, making the official high score a possible 45. If tie-breakers were needed, the first add-in would be the low score that was thrown out. If there was still a tie, the high score would then be added. Should there still be a tie after all that, the secret judge would then determine the official winner.
The first truck out was Joe Sylvester in Bad Habit, and immediately it was clear that this track would be eating trucks for dinner all night. Sylvester would only get 16.5 points for his effort, but the night was still young.
The early highlights came from Nicole Johnson, who would be only the second woman to pull off the backflip. Shortly after, newcomer to the World Finals Devin Jones would do the same thing in Barbarian. He would get a score of 28.5 from the judges, but it wasn't enough to get the lead. The early leader with one of his strongest runs in Vegas was Chad Fortune in Captain America. His run included a sideways run across the containers at the entrance end of the track, but one he kept under control. That run would let Fortune sit atop the standings for the next 11 runs.
But, Scott Buetow then showed that Team Hot Wheels Firestorm was ready to back up his run from a year ago. Another backflip, and plus momentum on a course that up till that point was eating trucks alive gave him the lead with a 34.5.
Buetow held the lead for a long while. That is, until Todd Leduc hit the track. Leduc already was having a busy weekend as he was traveling to Arizona to compete in an off-road race earlier in the day, then coming back to Vegas to compete in Monster Jam. But, the Metal Mulisha team had been a group that was on a roll for many events leading into Vegas, so Leduc was ready, and he made sure everyone knew it.
On his first hit out of the tunnel, Leduc stood on the accelerator and launched the flat-black Ford over the container. The truck was in the air for over four seconds before hitting the ground, the same amount of time a football averages in the air on a punt. He would clear the same amount of distance as well, going a good 40 or 50 yards across the floor. The truck landed, and at that point, it was on.
Leduc hit every obstacle he could, and would be the first and only truck to pull off two backflips in the same run, and still continue. After tearing up the floor, and the truck, Leduc put up a score of 37.5, and took over the lead. But there were still some tough trucks to go.
Unfortunately, many fell early. Ryan Anderson lost a wheel during his freestyle in Son-Uva Digger, and his brother sadly only managed a score of 25, not getting into bonus time. The patriarch of the Digger family, Dennis, decided to announce his presence the same way Leduc did. Just one problem, as when the truck landed, it landed hard on the nose, tearing the entire front end out of the truck. Anderson was quite honest in his comment after the run, stating "That absolutely did not work." Grave Digger would only score eight points on this night, the lowest score a Digger truck ever had in 15 years at Vegas.
But the two previous champions were still to come. Cam McQueen came out on fire in Northern Nightmare, and then would try something that had not been completed at all in monster truck history. McQueen lined up at one of the trailers used for backflips, except it was the tailgate that was closest. Suddenly he roared in reverse and went for a reverse backflip, but the truck hardly rotated, and in the end the transmission would burst into flames. An exciting moment for sure, but not enough for a win.
The final truck out was Tom Meents in Max-D, trying to overcome the controversy of the previous night, and also trying to get fans to cheer him again, as when introduced for the finals there were more jeers for the 11-time champion. But, even going as big as Meents has done in years past, it still was not enough. Meents would score an impressive 34, which a year ago would have been enough for the victory. But alas, this year it was only enough for fourth, and Leduc secured his first-ever World Championship, taking home freestyle in Vegas.
But the night was not done, as the encore was yet to come. Suddenly the sirens went off in the stadium, and the red name blasted on the big screen. All year long, a mysterious Doom's Day truck would come out and perform encore runs at certain events, but at each one the truck would be either driven off the track, never revealing the driver, or if it rolled over a tarp would be brought out to cover the truck, while the driver came out and sneaked into the black SUV that would come by the truck.
Finally, it seemed like at the big stage, it would be the time to unveil who was under the helmet.
With the sirens blasting through Sam Boyd Stadium, out came the Doom's Day truck...then another...and another...and even more. A total of six trucks with the black body and red neon would roll out on the track, each one lining up at the backflip containers. On cue, each one went for the flip, with some completing it, some rolling, and one pulling an El Toro Loco moment by planting the truck on the rear of the truck right on top of the trailer. All six drivers then came onto the track, not one taking off their helmet, and escaped into the black SUV's once more. Sadly on this night, no Doom's Day driver would be unmasked, and the mystery continues.
And thus ends another first quarter of Monster Jam competition. So many moments that brought the crowd to their feet, and many that are sure to never be forgotten as the year goes on.
For information on Monster Jam's summer tours, including the popular "Summer Heat" tour that hits speedways and fairgrounds, plus the "Path of Destruction" tour that is making stops in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and now a debut stop in Foxboro, Massachusetts at Gilette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots, visit MonsterJam.com.