Monster Jam University professor Tom Meents wins World Finals

Meents Monster Jam University
Feld Entertainment, Inc.

Known as “The Professor” for his role at the Monster Jam University, Tom Meents, schooled the field last weekend in the Monster Jam World Finals, piloting the Max-D to his 14th finals’ win.

Meents was disqualified from Saturday’s racing after missing a ramp. He bounced back with two wins on Sunday in the Great Clips Skills Challenge and BKT Tires Freestyle and barely missed a perfect day after a second-place finish in Lucas Oil High Jump behind Ryan Anderson, who reached almost 39 feet in his jump

“Honestly the day I put in on Sunday was a first and a second in the most competitive field that there has been,” Meents told NBC Sports. “I had an extremely good Sunday.”

With 19 years in the series and seven years spent running Monster Jam University, Meents’ career has lived through the growth and history of this sport as much as any of the legends that precede him. Meents’ 14 Finals wins come in different eras of the sport – and as it’s grown and expanded into maturity the competition has leveled up, forcing “The Professor” to continuously improve.  

MORE: Kayla Blood to the Stadium Series in 2022 and into the Monster Jam World Finals

“At this time, I think my favorite ones are the current ones, just because the competition is so much tougher than it used to be,” Meents said of his World Finals wins. “In the very beginning you were facing about 11 other competitors and now you’re facing 23.

“The entire field of trucks is better than it’s ever been. The equipment is better and the drivers are all trained at Monster Jam University. It’s gotten so good and to be able to walk out of there with two (championship wins) in one day is pretty much impossible.”

Meents has spent the last seven years training the new class of Monster Jam drivers and making sure the veterans are continuing to learn and improve.

He uses the University as a place to define and remove weaknesses in fellow drivers’ styles, working out the kinks that can be hard to see on one’s own. This puts him in a bit of a predicament. As he keeps making his competitors better, it makes his job more difficult. 

“A couple of things come with (helping the competition),” Meents said. “It’s really neat to practice what you preach and get the job done, … whether it’s at an event or here at Monster Jam University.  If they have a question, the first thing I want to do is make them better. … Because I can see some of the stuff that they’re not able to see themselves. I can watch and create a drill that I produce and come up with to make them better. It’s a great problem really. Whether I win or one of my students wins, it’s very rewarding.”

Meents spends his season pulling double duty between training and racing, often feeling tugged between the two worlds. 

MORE: Mark List rediscovered his passion for Monster Jam ahead of the 2022 World Finals

“It’s tough, I can tell you that,” Meents said. “Running the school and getting people talented and seeing them succeed in things has really made me a better driver.

“At the same time, I have a lot of weight on my shoulders because I don’t want to go and run fifth and have it look like the professor isn’t able to do his job.”

Meents’ time in Monster Jam is far from over and the legacy will be lasting, Of the 24 drivers in this years’ World Finals, Meents trained half of them and his impact is seen in every run and fan engagement they have.

But after winning the World Finals championship in 2022, Meents doesn’t have to worry about being schooled any time soon.

MORE: Weston Anderson becomes first Monster Jam title holder of 2022

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”