Category: 4th of July

All of us have times when we need a little boost. Maybe it’s a bad day at work or a personal problem. Everyone has bad days, myself included. When I have a down day I am fortunate enough to have so many good memories to draw from that I can quickly replace my frown with a big smile. Great friends help as well. I am blessed that I have a large group of friends and a few special ones to help cheer me up when I need it. When I need a good memory I have one in particular that not only cheers me up but reminds me of the power of friendship.

When I was 5 years old my dad and I headed to the local fairgrounds on the 4th of July. Not for the carnival or the food but for the demolition derby. My dad loved them and soon I found myself rooting right along with him. It became our yearly ritual. I found myself getting to know who some of the drivers were and cheered for them as they took to the track. The man who was the M.C. for the derby’s was George Marshman. He was able to keep the crowd entertained between the heats and every year between the 3rd and 4th heats he would pull the same gag. While he was making announcements of upcoming events, someone would come up to him and bring him a plastic shopping bag. They would tell him it was found in the woman’s restroom under the grandstands. He would tell the crowd he was going to look through the bag for some sort of identification. He would pull out a dress and pair of shoes and then, as if right on que, he would pull out a 3-cupped bra. Even though he did it every year he still got a laugh from the crowd and me as well.

The drivers I knew at the derby, Lefty, Mark, Bill, Dennis, Tom, Moe and Barry, dominated their heats and all would usually make the feature race making it very exciting. One year, a kid in a big black car pulled onto the track. During his heat, he seemed to destroy every car he hit. He won his heat and in the feature, he had the same result. Every year, this same driver dominated the competition. I finally found out that his name was Alan and he quickly became one of my favorites. A couple of years later I discovered he lived right around the corner from me. I would ride my bike down and watch him and his buddies work on the derby cars. Shortly after my 12th birthday I started to hang out. The guys would let me help strip out a car or hand them tools.

Alan next to one of his Monacos numbered and ready to go. Around 1985

Alan next to one of his Monacos numbered and ready to go. Around 1985

My mom found out and quickly put the kibosh to me going to the garage. After a few days of hurt feelings and not speaking, my dad secretly went down and checked it out. After talking with Alan and the other guys, he was able to assure my mom that there were no drugs, alcohol or other shenanigans going on. Reluctantly she allowed me to start going back down with the stipulation that my chores and other responsibilities were completed before I did anything else. At first I got in the way more than I helped but by the end of that first summer, I had learned how to strip out a car’s guts and even how to use an acetylene torch. I still wasn’t allowed to travel to the derbies with the guys, but dad and I would go no matter where they went. As the years moved along and I got a little older, I was allowed to go to the derbies with Alan. His nephew Robert was a friend of mine from high school and we became part of the “pit crew.” When I turned 16, I took some money I had, $35 dollars to be exact, and bought my first derby car. It was a 1973 Plymouth Fury. Robert got a car from Alan and we got ready to start construction of our own cars.

My first derby as a driver

My first derby as a driver

My first car ever ran. 1973 Plymouth Fury III

My first car ever ran. 1973 Plymouth Fury III

When July 4th rolled around, I was no longer a spectator, I was part of the show. Mom and dad went to the derby as well. I was in the 1st heat. As we waited for the start time I couldn’t sit still. Finally it was time and we pulled the cars onto the track. They gave us the command to fire the engines and I think my heart was beating faster in my chest than the car was. When they dropped the green flag my foot went to the floor and I hammered across the track, destroying the first car I hit. I also damaged my car pretty significantly, too. By the end of the heat my car had sustained far too much damage to continue, but by virtue of that first devastating hit, I was awarded Crowds Choice and $25.00. I had been bitten by the derby bug and couldn’t wait to run my next one. I eventually found out that the big black car Alan ran all those years ago was a 1964 Chrysler Imperial. It was considered the Holy Grail of derby cars at that time. Alan has had a few since then, too. When I turned 18 I was lucky enough to acquire an Imperial as well. I took it to New Alexandria and was ready to do battle. I got stuck in the first heat and was counted out. In the second heat, the car got gremlins and shut off. I took it back to the pits and we got it running just in time for the 4th heat. As I pulled out onto the track the last thing Alan said to me was “Keep the car running…” I heeded his sage advice and did

My first New Alexandria Win

My first New Alexandria Win

everything in my power not to let the car shut off. I was hitting anything and everything and finally, I had made it down to the final two. My car was trying to stall with every hit I made but I would drop the transmission (you aren’t allowed to say tranny anymore) into neutral and clear the carburetor out. Finally I had done it; I won my first heat at New Alexandria. I was ecstatic. I got the car off the track and pulled into my pit stall and shut it off. I ran to collect my money and trophy. I ran back to the pits to get ready for the feature but the car wouldn’t start. I really didn’t care. I had winner’s money in my pocket and even though it was only $100 dollars, it felt like a million. Alan congratulated me and said I did good job keeping the car running. It was good to get a compliment from my mentor not to mention that I was a success at something I loved.

The heat win also qualified me for the Season Championship in August. That, however, was going to be missed by me as I was in Army Basic Training by then. On Championship night when they announced the drivers who were already qualified, my friend Dennis ran to the announcer’s stand and told them I wouldn’t be there because I had joined the Army. He said that when the announcer told everyone in attendance that, it was met with a standing ovation.

Now fast forward 29 years from that July evening. I hadn’t seen Alan or his wife and family for nearly 15 years but when I walked into his shop after moving back to Indiana, it was like I never left. Our friendship was obviously strong enough to survive time and distance away. Alan told me that his son, my name sake, Bob, was running derbies and doing quite well. It didn’t surprise me. Alan always did great at the derbies so Bob must have gotten that gene as well. Bob asked me if I wanted to help him and his friend Frank and his dad work on the cars. Bob said they needed another Old Guy’s experience. Of course I said yes. It was nice to get back to my roots and see I still had the skills Alan taught me that first summer 35 years ago. Plus it was nice to know my knowledge and experience meant a little more now.

It was also great to see a 35 year friendship still strong. It makes me thankful to know that Alan thinks of me that way too. So thanks, Alan, for 35 years of a great friendship and here’s to 35 more. Jeeze some people don’t take care of what really matters then they wonder why they don’t have such long time friends … And they call ME crazy.


The end of school marks the beginning of vacation season. With the weather we have been having for the last few months, along with the brutal winters of the last couple of years, people are dying to get away. People flock across the country to find the spot for the perfect get away.

Are they dropping for a long run?

Gas prices have been the biggest reason for people to curtail their vacation plans this year. In some places they have been well over $4.00 a gallon. Of course the government says there is nothing they can do. We all know it’s a bunch of crap. Needless to say I am, as well as most others I know, in the same boat. Instead of a week-long get away like we normally do, we are planning a long weekend somewhere. There are many places accommodating the shorter stays because everyone is feeling the pinch these days. Well, except for those in Washington, Harrisburg, and other State capitals. In the past week or so prices have started to come down but not nearly as fast as they went up. Poor Exxon was lamenting just the other day that if gas prices continued to drop they would make less than $100 billion in profits. Yes, that’s correct, I said Billions. What the eff is going here? How can the government sit idly by when VOTERS are hurting in this time of economic upheaval, and oil companies are making billions. It’s simple, they are in on it.

Virginia Beach

Ocean City

Okay, back to the subject at hand. Vacations. There are many places you can go for a long weekend. Many beach resorts have hotel accommodations that don’t require you to stay for a set number of days. Two nice beaches are Virginia Beach and Ocean City Maryland. They are a little more commercial than I like, but they are still very nice beaches. My wife and I would go to Virginia Beach for two nights after attending races. The first time we went to the Bristol night race on Saturday night, then Sunday morning drove to VA beach. We did the same after the Richmond race. There are a million ways you could do a vacation and you can do it without breaking the bank.  State Parks have lots of amenities that they didn’t have years ago. When I was very young, my family would go to either Clear Creek or Cooks Forrest, rent a cabin for a week and do that as a family. Once in a while we would go to Geauga Lake and Sea World for a long weekend. There are a million ways to blow off a little steam and recharge the batteries.

The Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania

Cheat Lake in West Virginia

Another idea for a possibly inexpensive get away could be going to the mountains or a lake for a weekend. The Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania have long been a favorite vacationing and honeymoon spot for years. It is a popular spot for skiers and avid outdoorsman. The Pocono Speedway is close in nearby Long Pond Pa. You could spend a Friday and Saturday relaxing and enjoying the time off, then catch the Sprint Cup race on Sunday. The boys race there twice a year and in prime vacation time, July and August. Cheat Lake in West Virginia is another vacation Get away that comes to mind. Yes there is some commercialism but you can find everything you might be interested in. Biking, hiking, golf, swimming, it’s all here. If you have it in your mind to get away you can make it happen. Sometimes you have to be creative.

A mid-summer County Fair

To the end of being creative, you could try a county fair. I grew up in Indiana County, Pa and we had a great fair every year. I have also traveled and been to a few state fairs. I will grant you, it’s no 6 Flags or Busch Gardens, but they are very entertaining and have something for just about everyone. Crafts, games, rides, grand stand attractions, specialty shows, and the list goes on and on. When money is tight sometimes the simplest thing can be the best thing you have ever done. I know growing up we always looked forward to the 4th of July celebration and the fair. There were so many things for us to do as kids and a family that it was the high point of my growing up. Yes, when I was older I looked forward to those events because I knew I would get to drive a demolition derby or 2.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina

Finally, I get to talk about my favorite place on earth to go. The outer Banks of North Carolina. From Currituck to Cape Lookout, the Outer Banks has something that everyone will like. When we go we try to plan out our week. Not like an itinerary but when we eat in or go out and things like that. During that week we just shoot from the hip and do what we want to do. Yes, we have a few things we love to do when we are there. The North Carolina aquarium in Manteo is one of our stops. We also like to go to Bodie Island and visit the light house as well as Cape Hatteras light house and the light house in Currituck. In fact, in the late 90’s the Hatteras light house was moved 200 feet inland because the sea was slowly eroding the beach away and the light house was in a danger of falling into the sea. Mostly though, when we are at the Outer Banks, it is just a wonderful, relaxing time. We have a menu that isn’t really complicated but it helps us plan. One night we will have a Mexican night, then Italian, hamburgers and stuff and one night maybe left overs or something like that. Usually our first night there we eat out because after we have done the grocery shopping for the week and unpacked the car, no one feels like effing cooking. We will have game night and movie night as well. I guess in closing, what ever you do for your vacation it has to be what you want it to be and can afford. It will do you no damn good to go into debt just for a week away. I hope all of you have a nice vacation where ever you go with what ever you choose to do. Everyone needs a break and not taking one can be more hazardous than doing nothing at all…

You’re all probably sitting there saying, “Is he really doing a piece on his first time? He must be crazy.” Well, yes I am. Oh, come on, none of you out there ever think about your first time? Please. It’s not fresh in my mind and I don’t remember all of the intricate details but I do have pictures so it helps. I know you’re all saying that if I am really going to write about my first time, it must still be right there on top of everything else. Geeze guys, I mean I was only 16, and yes that was 27 years ago. My hair is a little thinner and grayer, my joints bump and grind like a stripper on Friday night, and I’m 50 pounds heavier. However, your first time is something that never leaves you.

Before you decide to stop reading now and lump me in with the rest of the pervs out there, read on and I think you might be surprised at how many gutter brains there are in the world. I’m talking about the first demolition derby car I ever smashed. At 16 most of my friends were either thinking about girls or cars. I, of course, was thinking about both but cars came first. I had already been working on and learning about derby cars for 4 years. My best friend at the time was 9 years older than me but had actually been as great a role model, other than my dad, anyone could hope for.

Alan, friend and mentor

I started going down to Alan’s house after school and on Saturdays. Sometimes he was there, sometimes he wasn’t but when he was I tried to help as much as I could. When my mom found out where I was going she had a conniption. She pretty much forbade me from hanging out down there. “Those guys are way too old for you. Besides, they are probably drinking and doing drugs and I don’t want you involved in that,” she told me. After a few days of silence from me my dad decided to check the situation out, on the sly, of course. He reassured my mom that there was nothing like she was afraid of going on down there. My mom gave in and eventually let me back down there. I was warned though that my chores had better not get forgotten or I was done going there.

In the time that passed from there on out I managed to learn a great deal from Alan and the other guys. Brad, Bob, Mike and Artie were the regulars that helped Alan build his cars. In the beginning I got in the way more than I helped but the guys saw that I had a real interest in learning so they took me under their wing, so to speak, and taught me how to do different things. I found out that one of the things I was good at, besides stripping the cars guts out, was brazing. Alan told me that it took a certain knack to get good at it but he showed me how to do it and I got really good at it. By the time I was 15 I did most of the brazing on Alan’s derby cars. Alan’s nephew Robert also started to hang out with us and we became good friends as well. For the last 2 years we would help Alan work on his cars on the night before the July 4th derby or the fair then we would sleep in the cars that night. We started walking home from school together and that was when we hatched our plan. We would get a derby car and run it July 4th.

In 1984 I was working at Giant Eagle and Robert was working at McDonald’s. We looked high and low for a derby car but weren’t having any luck finding one in our price range. There weren’t a lot of cars in the free or next to free area of the scale that was suitable for a derby. We learned what kind of cars to use and we were set on finding one. Sometime in May after I turned 16 Dennis, another buddy from the derbies, put us on to an old Fury III sitting out on Route 119 next to the Meadowbrook bar. We drove out there and sure enough there she was. I had passed there a hundred times and never noticed the car. We walked up and started looking it over. Between us we had $50 dollars. The man saw us looking at the car and came out. We chatted for a few minutes and he said the car was indeed for sale. He bought it at an auction and it didn’t run right. He was asking $50 for it. I asked him if it would start. He handed me the keys and I fired it up. It did sound horrible but a motor wasn’t a big deal because we knew Alan had a few up behind his father-in-law’s garage. I shut the car off and climbed out. The man looked us over and finally told us that he knew the car was a piece of junk but he wanted it off of his property. He offered it to us for $35. Needless to say we snapped it up.

My first car ever ran. 1973 Plymouth Fury III

We got the car up to Alan’s garage and went to work on it. It was just getting ready to turn to June so we knew we only had a little over a month. We began in the methodical way that Alan had taught us. Since we still had jobs and school wasn’t out for the summer yet, it took us about 10 days to get the car completely stripped and the battery and gas tank re-located and mounted. It was my job to braze since Robert wasn’t real good at it. Somewhere about the middle of June Alan gave Robert his wife’s old Ford Montego. We got both cars done. With around 2 weeks before the derby Dennis had told us that a guy out where he lived had a Chevy Malibu wagon that he stripped but decided not to run. I gave him $25 dollars for it and now I had two cars to get ready. Everyone pitched in and we got them ready in stellar time. Artie knew a guy that had headers, 8 straight pipes that would come out of the hood, and he wanted to know if I wanted them for the Fury. I accepted and we got them put on. The car sounded great.

Damage from the first hit

The first hit

It was coming down to it. It was a few days before the derby. I was nervous as hell. I had been to a lot of derby’s I had just never smashed a car in one. The night before, we finished up all the cars and ate Bob’s pizza. Dennis also had a bottle of Thunderbird wine. (Sorry mom.) It was a tradition the night before a derby. Robert and I crashed about 2 o’clock in the morning. Alan was out to wake us up about 6.  A local guy we all knew crashed his car and he needed a tow. Alan woke us up to go help. When we got back Robert and I ran home to get a shower and get changed. Once we got all of the tools loaded and the cars situated it would be time to go. The derby started at one o’clock and we were at the track by 11. My mom and dad said they would be there to watch and sure enough they were, right in the front row.

The Fury, DOA; Dead On Axles

My $25 dollar 75 Malibu for the feature

I got my cars inspected and was in the first and third heats. When it was time I got the Plymouth set at the ready line and was directed onto the track. There were so many emotions running through my mind I didn’t know whether to scratch my ass or wind my watch. My gut was churning and I was sweating like a pig. I was nervous, scared and excited all at the same time. I wasn’t sure how long I could stand waiting. Of course I had waited 4 years to run my first derby car. a few more minutes wasn’t going to kill me. There were only 8 or 10 cars in my heat. Back then you went until there was only one car running. Now they shut off the last three running to put more cars in the feature. It was time. The crowd counted down from 10 to 1. I was revving the motor and it sounded really good with the headers on it. When they waved the green flag I dropped the gear shifter into reverse and held the pedal to the floor. I rocketed across the track and crushed the car I hit. I had knocked him out with one hit! I did a fair amount of damage to my car as well. I was in third near the end of my heat. Robert and a guy named Tom Pease from the neighborhood were still running as well. My car finally shut off because of the pounding I put it through. Robert won the heat and Tom took second. Crowd’s choice was still up for grabs. That was where the crowd would cheer for the driver they thought put on the best show. Blacklick usually won it every heat and there was a guy from Blacklick in my heat. The official went to his car and the crowd went nuts. I figured that I was sunk, but when the official came to my car the place went crazy. I won crowd’s choice. That first hit I made put me over the top. It didn’t matter though. I was in the feature and I had been bitten by the derby bug and I had the fever.

Since that time I ran many, many cars. Sometimes I did good, sometimes I didn’t. Life continues to move ahead no matter what you try to do to make it slow down or stop. I lost touch with a lot of the guys from back then. Of course I still see Alan a few times a year. He now owns an auto repair business so that is where I take my cars to get work done on them. For 31 years Alan and I have remained almost as good of friends as we were back in the day. Like I have said before, some people thought the derbies were pointless or a waste. To us they were much, much more. They were the glue that bonded all of us together and made us friends. Some people never know what that is like and I am thankful I got the opportunity to have a rich time in my life. As the weather warms I know it’s getting on that time of year again. The derbies will begin and last well into the fall but I won’t be there. As I stated earlier, life moves on. Responsibilities take top priority and sometimes things have to give. I am glad for the friends I made over the years and will never forget my first time.

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