Last year, Steve Koehler came to Rogers Centre with the mission to put on a show. He delivered on the promise, performing a wheelie that is still talked about a year later. The wheelie that allowed Koehler to bring home the Stadium Wheelie of the Year award at the Monster Jam Awards Banquet (the video is attached at the bottom of the screen).
When Koehler hits the dirt with Wrecking Crew on Saturday and Sunday this weekend at the Rogers Centre, the promise is the same - to deliver a show as he plans to go non-stop.
"My foot is going to be to the floor," Koehler said. "I’m going to jump everything as hard as I can, jump as high as I can and like I said, that wheelie I did last year – if the track is the same, I want to try to do it again, if not a little crazier and change it up a little bit."
Koehler added that it may be a little different this year as track designers have been doing the tracks different than past years with higher hills and steeper angles to jump.
"I love it," the Michigan native commented. "A lot of guys will complain about it because it’s hard on the trucks, it’s hard on the body – but as far as the show goes, when you jump that truck 30, 40 feet in the air, it’s amazing. Their jaws drop and that’s what they should expect from this weekend."
When it comes to planning what will make the fans impressed, it's not about planning the order to do the run, but rather knowing the different angles that you can hit a hill at as Koehler says every hill has different angles in which it can be hit.
"Different angles, depending how you hit it, some will send the truck straight up in the air, which you can do a sky wheelie off of it," Koehler explained. "Other ones are set up with a little less of an angle where you hit and the truck will launch in the air and just fly across perfect. Then there’s other ones that are real mellow and you can hit them as hard as you can and they’ll launch you across the stadium for distance."
He also added that it's good to note the spots that the dirt is softer so you can do some donuts or cyclones.
Like many drivers in the sport, Koehler got his start not behind the wheel - but by wrenching on the trucks. His brother came up with the idea to build a monster truck - which eventually turned into what fans now know as Avenger.
"Since I was a little kid, he’s always had bigger trucks, off-road vehicles," Koehler said. "Our dad was a drag racer so building motors is part of our family heritage. He talked about building a monster truck and by the time he put his mind to it, started buying parts and built it, it took 10 years to actually build the first one – which is the truck I am driving now.
"Once he got the thing built, I started helping him out. It turned into a lot of work because show after show, we tear the trucks up so basically there’s a lot of work involved so I started helping him out on it."
In 2010, Team Scream Racing built a new truck for Jim Koehler and as a result, Steve Koehler started driving the old truck at shows alongside his brother. He said the idea of him driving simply came about due to the gearhead inside of him.
"It’s cool to build something and work on something – but you’re building something that you can drive and to make the thing and not drive it is kind of pointless," Koehler added. "So basically that was the next evolution.
"Me doing all the work and he having all the fun wasn’t working. Now we’re both doing all the work – we’re working like crazy because we build them from the ground up ourselves – it’s just rewarding to go out there and jump the thing and get these fans pumped up to see what we can do with them."
The name Wrecking Crew seems to fitting to many fans to see on a monster truck. Koehler said the name came about for the simple reason - they're always wrecking things.
"My brother being a two-time World Freestyle Champion, freestyle is his game and you’re not going to win a freestyle without crashing here or there," Koehler said. "We’ve done shows where we’re basically pushing the truck into the trailer with a loader, axle laying on floor separately and the body is shredded into pieces. The amount of carnage we put the trucks though, basically Wrecking Crew just kind of fit the name.
"To go along with that, when I think of Wrecking Crew, I think of a wrecking ball and just made a construction theme and put it together. It is what it is. I just drive the truck hard and hopefully live up to that name.
Each year it seems Koehler gets stronger as a driver, jumping higher each year, going bigger and that simply is due to being more comfortable with the truck.
"I don’t know if you’ve ever played a monster truck video game or a racing game or done any kind of racing but it’s just having the faith in the vehicle that you can go in a turn real fast and having faith it won’t flip over on you," he explained. "Sometimes it ends up flipping over, but it’s faith in it. The more faith you have in it, the more comfortable you are in the vehicle and the better driver you are going to be."
The unique factor with a Monster Jam show is there's the head-to-head racing, followed by the all-out freestyle where everybody tries to perform the biggest tricks to impress the fans.
For racing, it's all about concentration, having a cool head, knowing what you need to do to win and not being afraid to push it in the turns.
"Just hammer down," Koehler added. "The throttle pedal is your best friend in racing and the more you can push it down, the faster you’re going to go and the first one across the line wins."
For Koehler, though, he enjoys the freestyle portion of the event more.
"To me, it doesn’t matter if I win freestyle or not, but if I went out there and did some of the coolest jumps – or like I said last year, I won an award for the wheelie I did across the stadium floor and over the table top and still rolled it down, the fans loved it - that's what matters," he said.
For those wanting to get involved in the sport and be a driver, Koehler says to start working on a project now.
"In order to crew, you have to have a mechanical background," he satrted. "You got to know what a 9/16th wrench is, what a socket is – all that type of stuff. If you want to start into it, start working on something, whether it’s repairing a lawn mower, building a go-kart, an RC car or something like that. That’s just how I started.
"First race I was ever in was the Soapbox Derby when I was cub scouts, which is a little wooden car that slides down tracks. Now I’m driving a monster truck. You just build from there."
The Maple Leaf Monster Jam Tour kicks off this weekend at the Rogers Centre with an all-star line-up this weekend including Cam McQueen in Northern Nightmare, Chad Tingler in Grave Digger, Ryan Anderson in Son-Uva-Digger, Neil Elliott in Maximum Destruction, Jim Koehler in Avenger, Steve Koehler in Wrecking Crew and plenty more trucks. With Pizza Pizza Kids Tickets just $15 for both the Saturday January 18th show at 7pm and the Sunday January 19th show at 2pm, the entertainment for the whole family is there.
Also, for only $10 per person, be able to show up before the start and walk the track while collecting some autographs at both shows at the "Pit Party".
For more information on the whole show, check out http://www.monsterjamcanada.ca.