Freestyle (monster trucks)

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Freestyle, in Monster Truck competition, is an event where the goal is to perform tricks and stunts with the truck in order to demonstrate driver skill and truck capability. Some freestyle events are judged competitions, while others are merely exhibitions.

History and development[edit]

The earliest monster truck competitions were rudimentary freestyle events. Drivers would crush cars and perform wheelies and would typically be judged by the audience in a "cheer-off", where the truck that got the most applause was determined to be the winner. As monster truck racing developed in the mid 1980s, freestyle was relegated to an exhibition exclusive event, and was almost non-existent for a portion of the early 1990s.

Freestyle entered back into the sport as some drivers, notably Dennis Anderson and Mike Welch, began asking promoters if they could bring their trucks out for an extra freestyle exhibition for the fans when they were eliminated from racing in early rounds from breakage. They were given permission to do so often and the positive crowd response was noted by the promoters, who then decided it would be a good addition to all shows.

In the middle of the 1990s, freestyle was added to most monster truck events as an exhibition segment for all trucks. The segment served two purposes: first, it gave the crowd the wheelies, long jumps, and donuts that they wanted and were not usually a part of racing; second, it brought the trucks out for a longer period of time in front of the audience, allowing for shows with fewer trucks and fewer rounds of racing.

By the end of the 1990s, freestyle had become an anticipated part of shows and the drivers had begun to develop their own individual tricks, as well as informally competing to put on the best show for bragging rights. This, combined with the Motor Madness television show format of one event spread out over two episodes, influenced the USHRA's decision to turn freestyle into a judged competition that would also count toward a championship. Currently, while not every promoter runs a championship for it, most promoters run freestyle as a competitive event at shows in conjunction with racing.

Rules and format[edit]

Freestyle competitions typically run in conjunction with racing events, and typically share the same basic track setup. Modifications can be made to the racing obstacles, however, to make them more suitable for freestyle. This usually involves removing ramps to give the trucks a more vertical take-off from the cars, and even stacking cars or adding vans to a set of vehicles used in racing. Separate freestyle obstacles are also usually placed in the competition area outside the boundaries of the race course. These obstacles can include dirt hills, extra rows of cars, recreational vehicles or trailer homes to drive through, or what are termed as "pyramids" - an obstacle that uses vehicles of increasing sizes to form a kind of stair set for trucks to climb up. A typical "pyramid" is known as a car-van-bus-van-car pyramid, called such because the trucks climb over the vehicles in that order.

There are several variations on the judging of freestyle (depending on the promoter), but they all share a common thread in that they usually involve the spectators having some say in who the winner is. Some promoters still use the applause-based "cheer-off" method, however scorecard based judging, as is done in the USHRA, is increasing in use. In this method, a set of judges is chosen to score runs individually on a scale from one to ten, one being the worst score and ten being the best. These individual scores are then added up to give the total score. At most events, three judges are used and the best possible score is thirty; at the Monster Jam World Finals six judges (all from within the industry and not fans) are used and the lowest and highest scores are thrown out for a maximum total of forty.

Basic judging criteria includes:

  • Amount of allotted time used
  • Amount of speed maintained during run
  • Aggression in hitting obstacles
  • Height, length, and verticality of jumps
  • Use of specific tricks (slap wheelies, donuts, etc.)
  • Getting the truck out of situations which would otherwise result in a crash ("saves")
  • Spectacular moments (can often add significantly to the score of an otherwise unimpressive run)

At smaller events, if the scored judging ends in a tie, a "cheer-off" is often used between the tied competitors. At larger events, the tie is broken by a secret judge called the "tie breaking judge".

Criticisms[edit]

Freestyle is not universally popular among those in the industry, notably Everett Jasmer (notable for USA-1). There are several criticisms of the competition. Among them is that, as a judged competition, freestyle is not legitimate motor sport because it is not racing, and that it adds to the reputation of the sport being more of a show than a competition, similar to professional wrestling.

The legitimacy of the competition is also criticized because, in the case of fan-judged events, inexperienced or biased fans can judge inconsistently or poorly.

Many also feel that pressure from both fans and promoters has forced drivers to push their trucks beyond their limits and too often is a breeding ground for crashes and excessively risky maneuvers. Branching from this is the criticism that freestyle is exclusively to create the crashes and roll-overs that casual fans enjoy, and events like the World Finals tend to reinforce the argument with multiple roll-overs and even trucks driving over each other. However, recent emphasis on using the full allotted time and scoring bonuses for making saves rather than crashing are reducing the trend.

See also[edit]