Lee O’Donnell just made history. In this year’s Monster Jam World Finals in Las Vegas, an annual event of monster truck racing and freestyle competitions, he managed to land the first front flip the event’s ever seen.
Even though he followed up the trick with a failed back flip, the incredible front flip was enough to win him the championship. It was a moment of physics brilliance, which maybe explains why O’Donnell is nicknamed the “Mad Scientist,” and why he’s scrawled that across his truck.
So, how did O’Donnell land this crazy feat? Although some have been calling it a lucky accident, it wasn’t. (UPDATE: O’Donnell has since clarified that the trick actually was an accident.) He accelerated across half the track, using a giant mud pod as a ramp to gain momentum. He used the bounce from landing off that pod to put his truck into a wheelie as he approached the next barrier.
When the back wheels of his car hit the barrier, their forward-moving force was suddenly obstructed. But without the same impediment, the rest of the truck remained in inertia (the tendency of objects to maintain their state of motion unless they meet resistance), so the front of the truck moved forward with unequal force, propelling the vehicle into a beautiful rotation in midair.
Physics explain the trick, but it’s still an act of genius.