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Monster Jam World Finals 23 Preview

The biggest weekend in the sport of Monster Trucks has arrived, with the 23rd running of Monster Jam World Finals out in Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium. What's been a very newsworthy year for the sport ends its main slate out on the West Coast for the first time since the final Sam Boyd Stadium World Finals in 2018, doing so with the best non-Vegas Style racing layout to date, a rock solid 24 driver field, and the return of a Last Chance Qualifier racing event to determine that final spot in the big show. Even so, a ton happened leading up to this weekend, so here's a recap and some thoughts on all things Monster Jam before tomorrow night.

State of the Sport: 2024 Edition

With the main portion of the 2024 tilt coming to a close, I figured a good way to start this would be to look at some storylines and happenings from this year, starting, of course, with the relatively recent switch to live stream events on YouTube on the part of Feld, which includes World Finals 23. This is something that they've needed for a long, LONG time, but hey, better late than never. The nearly two-decade-long strategy of airing events several months after the fact (sans-Atlanta 2010) was beyond archaic. As far as "wins" for Monster Jam go, this is probably the biggest in about a decade. They needed this desperately; never a bad idea to get more eyes on the product. Having watched the Seattle event live, I think having a dedicated professional stream broadcast instead of using the in-stadium cameras and live event staff in certain instances would be a good change. However, what they have now is by no means bad.

New corporate sponsor JCB got their own truck earlier this year, dubbed "DIGatron," a backhoe-designed monster truck. Furthermore, something I was told several months ago, and now confirmed directly from both Feld and JCB in a recently released mini-doc, is that they got the driver they wanted in World Racing Champion Tristan England. Elsewhere, Kayla Blood is switching to a new toy-designed truck dubbed "Sparkle Smash," which'll begin competing starting next month, but is also having a stunt tomorrow to push a new toy set.

Also, Marvel is back in the fold with four IPs, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Thor, having trucks run the bulk of the International event tilt this year. I'm not a big fan of the new Iron or Spider-Man designs, but the Black Panther truck is one of the best 3D/Character trucks ever slotted into the Feld fleet. Those trucks will make their U.S. debuts later this fall during the now-typical Glendale, Houston, and Dallas swing.

Next, Feld also announced just yesterday that World Finals 24 will take place in Salt Lake City, which is the clear outlier among the five total cities where the World Finals has taken place. Not a destination city or a big stadium floor, but the Utah Sports Commission was willing to nab this event by any means necessary, and they did just that. Judging by some initial social media reactions, the reception isn't super positive by fans, but we're over a year out at this point.

Lastly, Tom Meents' second-ever absence from World Finals looms as large as humanly possible. It's hard to say what his future is after his injury in Indianapolis, but having both Dennis Anderson and Meents not get the chance to walk away on their own terms would be devastating. If the stars align, the best driver in the history of the sport, a distinction he may never lose, deserves the chance to go out on his own terms. Hopefully, that will be the case, but based on a recent Facebook post, it might not. In any case, Tom Meents was a guy who came in during this industry's boom period back in the 90s, became a mainstay almost instantly, was dominant across several eras, pushed boundaries in the stunt department, and had success that'll never be duplicated ever again. One in a million doesn't even begin to describe him.

Event Format

As was the case last year, the main portion of the World Finals is all on one day. Racing, Freestyle, Skills, High Jump, and a Promotional Stunt occur on Saturday, with a 24-truck main field. The lesser of the two competitions, featuring only a third of the main field in each, will run about four hours before the main tilt, the third time each has been considered a World Championship competition. Personally, I think it's hard to consider either of the day competitions on the level of a Racing and Freestyle title for several reasons, skills having run its course as a stadium event competition for some time now and high jump being a disaster waiting to happen from a truck damage standpoint. I don't think you'd see many people upset if both of those events disappear moving forward.

As far as Freestyle goes, fan judging still exists, and while getting fans more involved isn't bad, the batting average for its use on the biggest stage isn't exactly great. Dating back to World Finals 16, the only two winning results I can recall that felt close to universally agreeable were Ryan Anderson's win at World Finals 19 and Tom Meents' at World Finals 21. Even last year, I thought Colt Stevens's run wasn't that night's best, but it certainly wasn't the worst winning run in the fan-judging era, for the lack of a better phrase. It's impossible for Feld to come up with a system that'll satisfy everyone, and from that standpoint, you can empathize with them. That said, a four-person panel of drivers scoring 1-10 with quarter intervals in between, then fans determining a score 1-5 under those same parameters, would be a good sweet spot.

Lastly, "encores" have slowly devolved into getting as many trucks on a track simultaneously for backflips, jumping over x number of trucks, and even backflipping over x number of trucks in recent years. However, by how they phrased things on their website, it sounds like this'll be a jump through some large cardboard cutout like at World Finals 21.

The Track

Since leaving Sam Boyd Stadium, Feld has done an excellent job of making World Finals Racing layouts stand out from your typical stadium event, and 2024 is no different. This year, they went with a Wildwood Monsters on the Beach S-Style layout, utilizing the bowl corners they've used in stadiums over the last few years. Lane choice will matter, throttle management will absolutely matter in those first two sections, and some drivers will like having preferences on what corner they want coming to the finish. Top marks to everyone involved here on the racing front; I'm a big fan of what they settled on.

With that said, I worry about how much they will be able to do in a limited time to make this a worthwhile freestyle track, which has been a massive problem in recent years. Dating back to World Finals 19, they've probably been on the worst run of freestyle layouts for the big dance they've ever been on, with 20 being the outlier of the four (loved the ski jump idea even though it didn't work). World Finals 19 looked like if you asked someone to recreate the previous year's track from memory but mirror it. The rain hurt 22, but everything flowing through one giant section in the middle led to many similar runs. Lastly, if you had told me 21 was for a fall Glendale show, I would've believed you; it was that lackluster.

There's a fine line between what they have been doing and what they did at World Finals 11, where every jump was 30 feet tall, leading to Dennis Anderson famously asking for changes post-event, and what they've done in recent years. TLDR: stadium track designs have been Feld/Monster Jam's biggest issue for years, and a change in philosophy would be good. Also, this isn't a car/bus/etc. issue. Tracks primarily utilizing dirt are viable from a logistics and show standpoint. However, sticking with only a few stadium layouts for an entire year makes tracks feel more like sets than anything else. However, if we are strictly talking about the World Finals, the pitfall would be that they have to make one track work for four separate competitions (two of which don't matter) and a stunt.

Every year, the World Finals Freestyle track should try to accomplish three things: 1) Stand out from everything else they do from a track design standpoint (within floor size restraints, of course). 2) Strike a balance between giving drivers breathing room on track while not leaving most of the stadium floor unaccounted for. 3) Make the track with only Racing and Freestyle in mind.

I can't say how much this year will hit those three benchmarks without knowing the freestyle layout in advance, but I have doubts based on recent years and the racing layout.

Qualification Process Inconsistencies

Even with Tom Meents sidelined, there's still some star power out in LA this weekend. All four of the Anderson kids, Tyler Menninga, Jim Koehler, defending World Champions Tristan England, Colt Stephens, and Coty Saucier, all jump out instantly, plus some other relatively newer names (think the last half dozen years) like Zack Garner, Armando Castro, Bryce Kenny, and Camden Murphy are some other standouts.

One of the issues with this field, and something that I heard from a source a few days before the entire field was announced, was that no first-year drivers would be getting an invite to SoFi Stadium by design. Looking at the Main Show and LCQ fields, that is indeed the case.

Fernando Martinez, the El Toro Loco driver on the Central Arena Series, was the biggest loser of this decision. Despite finishing second in the final standings, the two drivers who ended up directly behind him, Brianna Mahon and Jamie Sullivan, got into the Main Show on at-large bids, then breakout independent Brandon Tkaluchka made the LCQ field (he should be in the main show as well if you ask me).

Then, of course, there was the whole Matt Cody/Brandon Vinson and Dalton Widner points situation out west, in which Feld ultimately did the right thing. Widner got the most points on that tour as a driver; he won in all but name. In the future, dumping the system of points going to the driver instead of the truck would probably be best to prevent something like that from happening again. Moving forward, I also think a points system overhaul would be a positive change—something akin to Supercross, where there's more emphasis on winning. Sponsor trucks will always get it, which is fine, but a cut-and-dry system to get in would do a lot of good.

Racing Championship Contenders

Ryan Anderson - Son Uva Digger

Despite being the first driver listed here, picking up 9-of-14 Racing wins to kick off the year on the West Stadium Series, Ryan Anderson hasn't won a Stadium Racing Event in two-plus months. Although he had a wonky schedule with many arenas later on the calendar, I wouldn't say he's exactly coming into the World Finals with momentum. That said, his track record in the sport's biggest event is rock solid, and he was likely a Florida monsoon away from winning what would've been World Racing Championship No. 2 in Orlando a couple of years back. I'd give him a fair shot out in Tinseltown this weekend.

Cole Venard - The Black Pearl

In the absence of John Gordon's Bad Company, Venard's '79 K10 Chevy out of the Jamey Garner camp becomes the best-looking truck in this field by a good margin, and he has a good shot to pick up the biggest win of his career this weekend. Despite a notable arm injury sidelining him for a little bit this year, he's done very well in World Finals racing action, with all four of his losses coming to the eventual Champion or runner-up (Todd LeDuc in '16, Tyler Menninga in '18, Ryan Anderson in '22, Tristan England '23 [C]). I would guess he catches a good stretch of races sooner or later.

Cory Rummel - Megaladon

Although on a much larger course and an entirely different track surface, the Team Scream driver comfortably has the most amount of success in this racing style, winning King of the Beach honors in Wildwood in 2018 and 2019, tied for the second-most ever with his boss Jim Koehler and Hall of Fame Bigfoot pilot Dan Runte. Coming off of a semi-final birth a year ago, Rummell winning the big one wouldn't be all that surprising.

Camden Murphy - Bakugan Dragonoid

Murphy is probably already at the point where fans can call him this generation's Jimmy Creten: an undeniably great Monster Truck racer, but he cannot win the big one. For Creten, he had to run into either the Dennis Anderson or Tom Meents buzzsaw in three of his five World Title losses between 2002-2011; that hasn't been the case for Murphy, who, despite having just one World Championship Race appearance (last year), has had plenty of golden opportunities slip through the cracks. A red light at World Finals 20 took him out of a Finals birth, and then last year, a transmission issue in the Championship race made that pass a formality. Is this the weekend it all clicks?

Tyler Menninga - Grave Digger (No. 39)

Leaving England off this list was tough, but considering Menninga doubled his racing win total on the same tour (12 to England's 6 in 22 Stadium Events), that's tough to ignore. You could say some of the same stuff about Murphy you can with Menninga, but if you asked me who wins the big one first, I'd go the Digger driver out of Iowa 10 times out of 10.

Honorable Mentions: Bari Musawwir (Zombie), Tristan England (JCB DIGatron) and Coty Saucier (Dragon)

Freestyle Championship Contenders

Weston Anderson - Grave Digger (No. 37)

Kicking off the freestyle contenders list is the driver who, after a quick rewatch of World Finals 22, I thought should've won a year ago. Currently, in year four, Weston is probably in a better spot talent-wise right now than his oldest brother Adam was by this point, which is a scary thought. His level of truck control is already off-the-charts good, and he's as capable in stadiums as he is in arenas despite heavily competing in the latter. He'll be a Freestyle Champion sooner or later, so why not this year?

Tyler Menninga - Grave Digger (No. 39)

Menninga is the only driver listed twice here, and for good reason. He's another guy out of the Digger camp with elite truck control ability and can do some stuff in the skills move department that few drivers can, which could serve him well, depending on what this freestyle track looks like. Momentum is another thing the Iowa native has in his favor this weekend; Menninga won 10 Stadium Freestyle Events this year, including 4-of-8 to close out the East Stadium Championship.

Jim Koehler - Avenger

The only Stadium Freestyle event I saw in full this year was some time ago in Seattle, won by Mr. Excitment in the prime of his youth at 57 years old with an instant classic performance. With both of his sons (Chris and Jon) in the mix as drivers, it'd be a fair assumption to say we're closer to the end than the beginning of Koehler's Hall of Fame career, and I wouldn't be stunned if he goes for the jugular in LA this weekend. He has as good a chance as anyone in this field as long as his stuff holds up.

Todd LeDuc - Megalodon

LeDuc picked up three Freestyle wins this year in three separate Florida venues but is another guy who typically does well at World Finals, no matter what. It's hard to say if there'll be something on that track that'll allow him to do some big air transfers like in years past, but if there is, you can take it to the bank that he'll probably give it a go.

Adam Anderson - Grave Digger (No. 35)

It's been a hot minute since AA has taken home a World Title to add to his collection of five, and close to a decade since he brought home a Freestyle Championship. Missing a chunk of time this year with an undisclosed injury, Anderson is entering his 17th World Finals on what may be his worst stretch of freestyle outings. After winning World Finals 17 and coming up in fourth a year later, AA hasn't placed better than 11th in Freestyle, finishing 26th (final year of 32 trucks), 18th, 18th, and 11th in order. Long story short, he's due.

Honorable Mentions: Colt Stephens (ThunderROARus), Bryce Kenny (Mohawk Warrior), and Armando Castro (El Toro Loco)

Main Image via Feld Motorsports


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