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Linsey Read reflects on her 2019 Monster Jam freestyle victory

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Before the COVID-19 outbreak paused live sports, NBC Sports caught up with one of the top Monster Jam female racers and Linsey Read recounted what was needed to win the 2019 freestyle competition in the Monster Jam Finals. 

When Read arrived at Monster Jam World Finals in Orlando, Florida last year, she had no guarantee of performing in the big show.

The El Paso, Texas native Read was invited to World Finals because of the her performance in the Monster Jam Arena Tour, a tour that features smaller venues across the United States. She had to battle seven drivers with better-known names, competing in larger tours, simply to get the 24th starting spot in the freestyle competition.

In 2019, for the first time, drivers lined up at the top of grandstands and made their initial run down into the stadium. They entered the track virtually blind.

On any given weekend, Read takes a track walk to familiarize herself with the course. She usually has a family member in tow. That reconnaissance walk proved to be incredibly important.

“My husband always goes out and walks the track with me,” Read told NBC Sports. “He gave me all the words of encouragement that he could. Having (the family) there by my side, cheering me on, definitely helps me. I would say they are my biggest supporters.

“So I went into the competition and they gave me their good luck and good blessings. We went at it and every single turn, every move that we made ended up being flawless. It was the most amazing experience ever, I couldn’t ask for better luck that whole day.”

Read won the last chance showdown. That qualified her for the feature as the 24th driver. The driver of the Scooby-Doo truck wowed the crowd. It was not without drama. As the second driver on the track in the finals, she rocketed to the top of the leaderboard.

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“I was super excited for it,” Read said. “That’s my style of racing.

“I knew going into it that I just had to calm myself and get my nerves down so I could do exactly what I know how to do. I went to Monster Jam University and trained so hard before becoming a driver. I just needed to take all of those skills and put them into one run to put the best show possible for everyone. Really when you go out there you cannot let your nerves get the best of you. I just took a deep breath, got in my truck, looked out at the competition and knew that I could do it.

“I had the confidence to go out there and do it.”

Then the waiting game began.

Twenty-two drivers still had to take to the course. There was the risk that any one of them might perform a better freestyle. Drivers with bigger names and larger fan bases knocked out great runs, bringing their unique flair and bags of new tricks.

But every time, they fell short of Read’s initial run. Read knows, because she nervously stood and watched every run.

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“So many of them have already won the World Finals and so many others were doing great on their tour that year.” Read reflected on watching the competition. “On one hand, I was their biggest fan ever because before I started driving I was already the biggest Monster Jam fan. I watched them all the time. So I’m sitting there cheering for them and thinking ‘oh my gosh, I’m cheering and they’re doing such a great job. Are they going to take it from me?’ And every single time they kept saying that I was in the lead.”

Calm and collected when sitting behind the wheel of five tons of metal, Read was more nervous while watching and waiting for the final results.

“My nerves were shot by the end of it.” Read said, but she had the best companion to calm her. “I was holding my daughter in my arms and seeing how excited she was watching the trucks and everything was calming. Something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994