Photos by Don Claussen and Eric Stern, MonsterJam.com
The wait and anticipation for the monster truck season to get under way began growing with each passing week since the last event in Minneapolis that occurred in early December. Teams began the teardown to get their trucks ready for the three-month haul for first quarter.
For Monster Jam, it's a new beginning, as the biggest change has happened at the top. The Minneapolis event was the final one with Advance Auto Parts as the title sponsor. This year, the slogan of "As Big as it Gets" takes over, with every track taking the hues of yellow and purple. It also means new pieces coming out for the new season.
Norm Miller takes over driving the "New Earth Authority" piece, which debuted on Friday night in Tacoma, Washington. Last year's World Racing Champion, Adam Anderson, now has a brand-new chassis for his Grave Digger The Legend piece, but also had big news for his fans. Last year, Monster Jam set out to debut a grey and purple look for his truck, however the backlash from fans began to be intense, as hatred for the look and cries to "keep it blue" came from every corner.
But, the biggest backlash came from the Anderson family, as they also didn't like the look. It didn't take long, but when Anderson brought the new chassis to Nashville, the body remained the same. It showed that fans, young and old, knew the history of the Grave Digger, and wanted the truck to remain the same.
It seemed to do the trick as the second-generation driver would win both racing and freestyle in Nashville, showing that the new piece is just as strong as the previous one, if not better.
But, no show on opening weekend would turn out to be bigger than the one inside Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. This was where a huge 24-truck field would go to battle. In attendance were Lupe Soza, who for the first time since 2010 would not be in the Grinder. Instead, he was back in the truck he won a world title in, the orange El Toro Loco. Also in a new look was Rod Schmidt, who was in a redesigned Monster Mutt Rottweiler. J.P. Ruggiero now had a very unique-looking "El Diablo" piece, and also making it's debut was the special Fox Sports 1 piece Cleatus, driven by Frank Krmel.
Also making it's official debut in Houston was Dennis Anderson with a brand-new Grave Digger. His performance in Minneapolis was the final ride for his Digger #20, a truck that debuted in 2006 and has two championships under his belt. It underwent change after change to make it a better piece, but eventually it ran it's course.
The new truck, Digger #30, is a mirror image of what Adam's truck is, and also has upgrades that the Legend is running, and also some handling characteristics of his other son's truck, Ryan, and Son-Uva Digger.
In an ironic twist, it would come down to father vs. son in the racing finals. Ryan seemed to take to the So-Cal style track really easily, taking down Xtermigator, Captain's Curse, Mohawk Warrior and the Lucas Oil Crusader to make the finals. On the opposite side of the bracket, Dennis went through Ice Cream Man, Nitro Hornet in both the second and third rounds, and then Mohawk Warrior.
Last year, Dennis held the 3-2 advantage in head-to-head racing over his son, but with a new piece under him, it would be hard to see who would win. Off the line, they were even, and stayed that way through the first corner and the second. But back down the straightaway, for the first time, Ryan lost the handle, giving his dad the lead.
Not a bad way to start the year, as Dennis would take the first stadium victory of 2014, as Grave Digger #30 would now have an undefeated record the first weekend out.
But then came freestyle. The 24-truck field would come down to incredible performances across the board, but in the end came down to those that have consistently been at the top of the sport for the last few years. Both Andersons had strong performances, but neither filled the two-minute clock. Instead, it was the defending World Freestyle champion taking top honors on this night.
Sure, the Decade of Destruction was done, but the spiked body remained, and so did the Max-D name. Tom Meents rolled into Houston hoping to start the year on the right foot, and even after having a roll in racing that tore up part of the body, he would bring the futuristic SUV back out to put on the performance of the night.
His rival may have won the racing portion of the night, but Meents took home the second trophy, assuring the fans that the biggest rivalry in monster trucks is still just as powerful now as it was when it started.
More events continue today for Monster Jam in Tacoma, Tulsa, OK, Birmingham, AL and Rochester, NY. To see where and when the "As Big as it Gets" Tour will arrive in your hometown, visit MonsterJam.com.