Friday at the Monster Jam World Finals since 2005 has been considered one of the more intimate days over the weekend. It was since that year that Monster Jam gave a limited number of fans the chance to see the qualifying for positions for the big event.
Since then, the entire day has become it's own event. A barbeque, a track walk, exclusive deals, and many other perks have made it a must-buy ticket for even the most die-hard fan.
Now, the day before Monster Jam's biggest night, now termed "Double Down Friday," included not only qualifying, but it's own competition. The Young Guns Shootout, pitting some of the up-and-coming stars in the sport, get to compete on the biggest, and fastest, course of the season. This year, the added incentive was to become the final competitor to go after the racing and freestyle championships.
Top qualifier for the Shootout, Donald Epidendio, made easy work of his first-round matchup, but then found himself with a very big challenge. His opposition in the semi-finals was newcomer to Vegas, Joe Sylvester in Bad Habit.
The two went nose-to-nose, and in the biggest upset of the night, it was Sylvester putting his orange and black Cadillac into the final round.
The final round would pit him against another driver with Shootout experience, who got upset in last year's semi-final round, Morgan Kane in Ironman. The fans were ready, and looked ahead to the race. After staging, the lights went green and the two went down the chicane and Thunder Alley.
The corners were close, but at the finish line, the winner and 28th truck to make the field for the World Finals, was Sylvester in Bad Habit. After not getting an invite for years, he showed everyone he had the truck that was capable of competing among the biggest names in the sport, and with the biggest stage awaiting, he got the job done.
While the crew took the truck to the back to get prepared for qualifying, Sylvester made his rounds to thank the fans, knowing his night was far from done.
The other 27 competitors in the World Finals had one practice run prior to the shootout, and already there was drama in that round. Tom Meents, the two-time defending racing champion, found himself in a bad spot. Earlier in the day, Meents and his team pulled the cover off the truck he would pilot in Saturday's event. Under the cover was a spiked body, but every inch that normally would be grey was chromed out like a mirror, including the skull.
It was the shiniest body he's ever had on one of his trucks, but he nearly threw it all away in practice. His first pass of the night down the track, he caught an edge in the corner, nearly rolling the truck not once, but twice, but still managed to complete the run.
In the first round of qualifying, times seemed to get faster with each run, but it was Lee O'Donnell near the middle of the pack that blistered the field, hitting a time of 16.438 seconds, which was a few hundredths faster than his closest challenger, Pablo Huffaker in Blue Thunder. But, it seemed like the track still had speed in it, and the pilots of each truck still were getting used to the track.
The second round saw some trucks boost their time, but no one saw anything until the final run of the night. Meents lined up against the fastest driver from a year ago, Todd Leduc in Metal Mulisha. Both trucks were fast, but it was clear Meents was focused.
After he landed across the line, the time flashed...16.409 seconds. In the final run of the night, it was the truck celebrating 10 years of destruction that was on top of the board, winning the Double Down trophy.
To end the night, the other 11 competitors in the Young Guns Shootout, minus Sylvester, all returned to the track, and just like one year ago, the entire field on cue cut into donuts across every bit of the track.
Now, the time has arrived. The first quarter of competition comes to a close tomorrow night with 28 trucks going after two titles, and one encore that will surely live up to the name of the truck.
For live updates, visit MonsterJam.com, and follow AllMonster.com via Twitter (@AllMonster and @DustinHartAM). And as always, look for full results right here, at AllAboutHorsepower.com.