Monster Spectacular Tour Update – Ottawa

(Chris Arel Motorsports PR – By Doug De Nance) So it had all come down to this. Six long hard fought months with the best monster trucks in the world… all across Canada from Saint John, New Brunswick to Victoria, B.C.… all competing to be the best of the best… all wanting to be the most spectacular of Monster Spectacular. The points had earned five trucks the chance to be the top truck in Monster Truck Wheelie, Racing and Freestyle – maybe even the top truck overall. Now it was the moment of truth. One night. The Night of Champions.

The drivers were all jumpy throughout the morning and afternoon of the Saturday night show. They acted like there was no pressure – joking around and apparently having fun. But careful observation revealed an inordinate amount of attention by the drivers double checking every little thing on the trucks. When they thought no one was looking, the eyebrows would lower and the eyes would go blank as they visualized their greatest performances. To paraphrase the great American football coach Vince Lombardi “… at this level winning is 90% mental”.

Fans began to flood into Scotiabank Place the moment the doors opened. They wanted to be close to the best of the best. The drivers did their best to hide their nerves and the fans helped put them at ease taking pictures and giving autographs on the exclusive Monster Spectacular souvenirs.

Jim Koehler lived up to his nickname of Mr. Excitement, revving the fans up in a pre-show interview to cheer for Avenger. Steve Koehler took a page out of his older brother’s book and shouted out his desire for the fans to get behind Brutus. Joe Sylvester flexed his massive arms for the cameras and took a more low key approach to seek support for his 2010 Cadillac truck Bad Habit. Bob Robbins was as friendly as ever, but noted that he’d waited 12 years to win a title for Aftershock and was short of patience to wait any longer. The one man who had trouble expressing himself on the mic due to his struggles with English and French (after all, it was his first time in Canada) was the Russian hired gun driver for Krazy Train, Sergei Kurishnikoff, known as the Siberian Express. The muscular man from Moscow had no language barrier when it came to his skill behind the wheel and he let his driving do the talking. He had won monster truck racing the night before in Kingston and had earned his way straight into the finals.

Three monster truck disciplines were on the agenda, each with the Monster Spectacular Championship going to the winner. Would there be an overall champion if one driver could be a multiple winner?

When the Wheelie Contest was announced, it looked like Avenger would be that truck. Mr. Excitement had the most experience at the top levels of competition, being a former Monster Truck Freestyle Champion of the World. Koehler had pulled the coveted last spot in the order draw and was strapped in his truck form the moment show introductions were over, just waiting to milk it for all it was worth.

Kurishnikoff didn’t have the same break he had in racing, drawing first. But he stood Krazy Train perfectly vertical in a classic 12 o’clock wheelie to start the competition. Bob Robbins did the same thing with Aftershock to essentially tie up the first two places. Then Bad Habit hit the cars. Sylvester took the new school wheelie approach and launched Bad Habit into a massive sky wheelie with all four tires off the ground. Steve Koehler knew he had to make the big dog sit up and beg and tried to do the same thing with Brutus. But the cars slipped slightly on his approach and he twisted off to the side, barely missing the dasher boards as he smashed down to the ground.

Avenger eased out of the pits and drove slowly past the fans, as Koehler waved from his center seat. He deliberately turned the ’57 Chevy in a 3 point turn to line up the cars. He paused for a moment, allowing the big block engine to quiet to an idle, and then blasted Avenger to the car stack. A huge straight ahead sky wheelie was the result. But the question formed on everyone’s lips – was it bigger than Bad Habit’s wheelie?

The drivers tried to swagger with confidence as they made their way to the arena floor for the cheer off. When the sound meter was calibrated, there was no doubt this was the loudest crowd of the season. Who would they give that same level of cheering for to award a champion? Well it wasn’t Krazy Train, or Aftershock or Brutus. But it was impossible to decide between Bad Habit and Avenger. It had to go to a second cheer off. The noise was deafening for both but the sound meter told the tale. By a couple of decibels, Avenger had won the Monster Spectacular Monster Truck Wheelie Championship for 2010.

While Jim Koehler basked in the glory of his Wheelie win, Avenger is not known as a truck that dominates racing. As a matter of fact, Team Scream is known more for freestyle than straight ahead drag racing. That meant that the big man from Moscow just might have to learn to speak something other than Russian if he had to conduct a championship interview. Kurishnikoff was the one to beat, yet would have to go into the finals cold with no preliminary race to warm him up.

If it seemed that Brutus was just warming up, Steve Koehler proved he was hot from the get go. Yet after easily besting Aftershock, the younger Koehler brother seemed almost surprised to be facing Bad Habit in the semi-finals, as Sylvester had defeated the older Koehler and Avenger. Once the flag dropped the big dog took a bite out of Bad Habit and Steve Koehler had Brutus in his first championship final.

During the half time VIP party in the pits, Steve Koehler was mobbed by fans, thinking the same thing that the Brutus driver was thinking – is this the moment when he steps out from his brother’s shadow and wins his own championship? After the remote ignition interrupter was tested on the two trucks, the silence was deafening. The younger driver in Brutus looked across at the Russian in Krazy Train, but Kurishnikoff stared straight ahead, seemingly willing his truck to be first across the finish line. But once the flag dropped there was no doubt, this was Steve Koehler’s moment; Brutus had won the Monster Spectacular Racing title.

Steve Koehler could barely contain himself during the Championship interview, shouting his excitement to the fans. Mr. Excitement came to the track to congratulate his younger brother and team mate and then left the winners circle to let his former crew chief have his moment of glory. Steve celebrated the best way he could, tossing collector edition souvenirs to the fans.

Now it was time to toss caution to the wind, because Monster Truck Freestyle would decide if there would be an overall Monster Spectacular Champion. The points were just that close, that it would take a double down win for one driver to be the overall winner. But as Jim Koehler pointed out, the real winners were the fans, there to see such tight competition.

Running in the intro order mean that Krazy Train and Aftershock were the first two trucks out. Both drivers did an admirable job of hitting all the obstacles and working the unique variable clock of Monster Spectacular freestyle competition by showing their ability to get creative with extra time.

Then Bad Habit hit the floor. Roaring out of the pits, the big man from Ohio rammed the Cadillac into the van stack and launched his 10,000 pound truck into the biggest air of the night. Sylvester had to jam his brakes on hard to drop the front end in time to land the truck and not crash into the other parked in the pits. Bad Habit pulled every trick in the book including a cyclone donut. When Sylvester realized the variable clock was working in his favor he knew he’d have to wow the judges and the fans. He did just that with not one, but two huge reverser wheelies, his last one sending him air born backwards over the van stack.

Steve Koehler knew he’d have to drive on the ragged edge to beat Sylvester and he took Brutus there in a hurry. But this time it was the dog that got bitten as he went up into a bicycle on the two wheels on the driver side and then rolled the truck. Avenger appeared to come to the rescue and was chained to Brutus to turn the turn upright, but Koehler waved them off and left Brutus upside down as a potential obstacle for Avenger’s freestyle.

The former World Champion knew his freestyle must be of that caliber to been Bad Habit and Koehler pulled out every trick he could. Hugh sky wheelies, slap wheelies up on two wheels, it was a run of epic proportions. He was so aware of his surroundings that Koehler saw the time end as he as in the middle of a massive donut. So he took the steering wheel and tossed it out on the track floor as he continued to spin.

The judges debated and argued as the fans ran to the track floor for the post show VIP pit party. Would they be congratulating an overall champion or would they be celebrating a different winner? Finally the word came down. Bad Habit had won the Monster Spectacular Monster Truck Freestyle Championship for 2010.

Congratulations to all the drivers and truck teams who made the 2010 Tour the best with the tightest competition ever in over 20 years of Monster Spectacular. As Jim Koehler said – it’s the fans that are the real winners with Monster Spectacular. One more finale show to go in 2010 in Montreal this fall and then look out – here comes the 2011 Monster Spectacular Championship Tour!! Check out for more information.

Monster Spectacular Tour Update – British Columbia

(Chris Arel Motorsports PR – By Doug De Nance) It was the best of times and the worst of times. There were many moments of gladness and some moments of sadness. The yin and the yang of motorsports entertainment were both in play during the far west stop on the 2010 Monster Spectacular tour.

Despite the incredible excitement of Bill Payne and Rockstar living up to his reputation as the Washington Wildman and the exuberance of the California Kid in his ’34 Ford Sedan hot rod monster truck, there was an undercurrent of sadness in the pits. It emanated from the Sudden Impact team. While it was thrilling to see Chris Ryan having the opportunity to drive Ground Pounder to allow Bobo Winslow some time off the road, his team mate was the source of both the pall and the festivities.

Earlier in the week, the Cajun Kid had quietly announced his retirement. Sean Duhon, the fantastic driver of Cult was hanging up his helmet. The Ragin’ Cajun would be ragin’ no more after these final two shows. After 7 years of 50 weeks a year on the road, Duhon was taking an extended leave of an undetermined length – perhaps permanently. While the all the friends in the pits were choked up, it certainly didn’t show in the shows, as every driver seemed to be raising their game to make the Cajun Kid’s swan song sweet for Duhon and extra sweet for the fans.

Abbotsford was first on the tour stop and another first for Bill Payne, rocking Rockstar to a huge Reverser wheelie win in the Monster Spectacular Wheelie Contest. The two pass format for the weekend worked well for Payne as he could rev the decibels up to rock concert volume in what is perhaps the loudest truck on the circuit. The sight of Rockstar flying backwards over the cars sent the fans into a fanatical frenzy that was fueled to fever pitch when each of the drivers took collector edition Monster Spectacular cowboy hats into the crowd after the cheer off.

Payne looked like he was on a Rockstar roll to spoil the party for Duhon with the fastest time in time trials. With a 2:00 flat time over a five car stack, Rockstar had the pick of the brackets. Strangely, Payne chose to race against Ground Pounder who had the third best time – leaving an easy bracket win for Cult against California Kid. Payne had to work hard against the “round mound of renown” as the 260 pound Chris Ryan, better known as “Panda”, is a great young driver. Ryan has raced everything from BMX to quads to RC cars and knows his way around a monster truck drag race. But Payne was very fast on the green light and had the advantage of a front engine mount truck to get a bit better trajectory over the cars.

One had to speculate that Payne’s point was to set up a racing final that the fans would love. How could they not love seeing Rockstar versus Cult as the racing final for the first place tour stop points? While Payne is fast on the draw, he doesn’t have the experience of Duhon. The Ragin’ Cajun parlayed that savvy into a clear cut Cult victory in Monster Spectacular Monster Truck Racing.

When the van stack was set and the crowd whipped into a whirlwind of cheers for Monster Truck Freestyle, Payne again surprised everyone with his next move. He jumped ahead of Cult to run third in freestyle. While one could hypothesize that Payne might have been inspired by the incredible runs of California Kid and Ground Pounder, it was hard to believe that Rockstar would give up his last position and the best chance at the points on the line.

Payne took Rockstar to new heights – literally – catching massive air off of the cars and even bigger air off the van. He suffered the kiss of the remote ignition interrupter radio off of a van stack slap wheelie that saw him heading to the arena wall at full speed. But then it became clear as to the motivation of Payne’s madness. At the end of his run, Payne jammed the brakes on, dropping the nose of Rockstar almost under the bumper of Cult. He was “bowing” to Duhon as a show of respect after setting the bar at the top of the game for the Cajun Kid to do what he does best – drive monster trucks.

Cult roared onto the track and proceeded to shred the last semblance of cars and vans as Duhon literally tore the track to pieces. Hitting the cars in a cross thread, he took the 10,000 pound truck up into a bicycle on the passenger side two wheels and then drove out of what would be roll over for a lesser driver. That was the moment that epitomized what a fantastic driver Duhon is. Anyone can roll a truck – it takes a great driver to run it to the ragged edge and then pull it back rubber side down. The crowd knew it too and screamed their approval when Duhon wrapped up his run.

The drivers had to tire down and load up immediately after the show as they had a long ferry ride to the island for the Victoria Sunday matinee show. Bill Payne arrived in the beautiful city and almost immediately managed to find the most unique pub in Canada – Big Bad John’s, complete with various forms of autographed female undergarments donated by patrons over the years. Payne truly appears to live the Rockstar lifestyle (although he rarely drinks alcohol and was serenely sipping on orange juice during his visit to the legendary establishment).

Rockstar again took the Wheelie Contest win with a Reverser Wheelie. But this time the Washington Wildman got a little too wild. Up onto two wheels and up onto his roof went Payne and Rockstar had rolled over for the 59th time. The crowd ate it up and Payne exited the truck by tossing the steering wheel out onto the track. He explained what many had wondered about over the weekend, that his black eye was caused by him smacking the bridge of his nose through the gap in his helmet onto his steering wheel during his 58th roll over the week before – and he didn’t want to have two black eyes.

Racing took a much different twist in Victoria, as the final was at least 50 per cent unexpected. Due to a broken pin, Garrett Ladelle was unable to run his time trial, so the California Kid dropped to the bottom of the brackets. But the hot rod monster pounded Ground Pounder in the brackets and moved into the final. As happened in the previous show’s racing final, Cult played a power chord on Rockstar and a potential Cinderella story was now waiting to be written.

During the VIP Half Time Pit Party, the California Kid was surrounded by beach babes. Ladelle glowed with the female fans attention and at the thought of winning racing. But while Duhon was choked up at driving in his final show, he certainly wasn’t choked on the starting line, handily beating the rookie for another racing win for Cult.

What looked to be a perfect afternoon almost ended up in tragedy as Freestyle Motocross star Bruce Cook crashed on a his third backflip of the day. What was even more terrifying was that he was leading a two man FMX train with his mentor Kris Garwasiuk riding behind him. Thankfully, the original FMX champion is an incredibly skilled rider and Garwasiuk managed to avoid Cook on his landing. And even more thankfully, Cook suffered only bumps and bruises and was none the worse for wear.

Not surprisingly Duhon was the final truck out for freestyle, thanks again to Bill Payne’s show of respect and giving up his final freestyle position. While Duhon’s run to the red light was nothing short of stellar, it was what went on after the red light that was truly delightful. Duhon knew that the competition was over, but he gave the fans their own exclusive freestyle show, giving the cheering fans twice as much freestyling out of Cult as was required. As Duhon emerged through Cult’s sky roof, the fans leapt to their feet, knowing they would tell their grandchildren that there were there that day – the day that Sean Duhon drove Cult for the final time.

While it may be over for Duhon, the Monster Spectacular tour is not over yet. There is one more stop in the nation’s capital. What could be a more fitting place to crown the 2010 Monster Spectacular champion?