What’s the best way to send-off a trusted, old metallic friend?; Smash the bejesus out of it in a figure-8 demolition derby!; Read the story in our December issue, and check out the video and more photos here at automobilemag.com
Last August, beneath a torrential shower of rain, mud, and stadium lights, I killed my beloved first car for the benefit of this magazine.; My 1993 Plymouth Sundance Duster served me well for nine years, but Michigan’s halite-heavy winters munched too much of my car’s sheetmetal to keep it on the road. So after more than 150,000 miles, “The Ruster” (which turned out to be a sickly ironic nickname) met its demise in front of the hometown crowd at the Chelsea (Michigan) Community Fair.
As you can read in the magazine story, I didn’t win the race, but I had a lot of fun, got really wet and dirty, and ended up winning back my entry fee—which I promptly spent on Stroh’s beer at Seitz’s Tavern following the race.;
Getting the car ready for the race was a ton of work, as I explained in the magazine-story sidebar, which I’ve copied below but isn’t reprinted with the Web version:
Nine people—including my father, my brother-in-law, several of my Automobile Magazine coworkers, and I—invested about 140 hours to prepare the Duster for its five minutes of racing glory. To pass the Chelsea fair inspectors’ scrutiny, our checklist included:
–> Replace factory fuel tank with a smaller, less vulnerable outboard-motor tank.
–> Relocate battery to a plastic box bolted to the passenger footwell floor.
–> Remove air bag.
–> Strip exterior lights and plastic/fiberglass trim.
–> Remove all glass, including mirrors.
–> Reinforce driver’s door with two steel bars.
–> Attach two steel bars over windshield opening.
–> Reinforce B-pillars with transverse steel beam (optional).
–> Fasten doors, hood, trunk with chain or strap.
–> Cut hole in hood for fire-extinguisher access.
–> Paint doors white and add car numbers.
Some of the stuff you won’t learn in the article is how many people were behind this project, which wasn’t supposed to be epic but turned out to be pretty dammed time-consuming. For all the prep-work (which also included the removal of eight hornets’ nests and a who-knows-how-old fake fingernail from some ex-girlfriend), a huge “Thank You” goes out to . . .
-Frank Blackwell (my dad, retired Chrysler mechanic, who let us use his tools and his garage and who put the finishing touches on the car even while I was chained to my computer in Ann Arbor)
-Scott Clark (my brother-in-law and aspiring mechanic, who spent almost as many hours working on the car as I did)
-David Beeman (my childhood neighbor, who coached me through the beginning stages of the Duster’s modification. We ended up racing in the same heat, and, to show my appreciation, I sliced through one of his tires and probably gave him whiplash after T-boning his car)
-Todd Whitaker (my dad’s neighbor and an official of the derby, who answered our last-minute questions and helped our British photographer, Charlie Magee, get “orientated” at the perimeter of the slimy track)
-Jeff at the Chelsea CarQuest (who was very helpful in our getting the fuel system working properly)
-Randy Dunkelberger (welder extraordinaire who’s got stories to tell about his neighbor—our tech editor—Don Sherman)
-Bob Armstrong (if you ever need someone to apply latex housepaint to your car with a hand roller, he’s your man)
-Rob Knieper, Dave McAllister, Greg Lotz (race-day pit support, along with Dad and Scott)
-Jade Pig Racing (for the crucial neck protector and Marc Noordeloos’ helmet, which took a looong time to clean off)
Automobile folks who got their hands dirty:
-Nicole Lazarus (great hand-painted artwork for “Dad’s Garage” and “Dunk’s Welding”)
-Jon “jump ship” Yanca
-Stuart Fowle (bummer the in-car camera died … )
And thanks to the “sponsors,” other than Automobile Magazine, who gave me nothing more than stickers but helped make the car almost kinda sorta resemble an early 1970′s NASCAR Richard Petty #43 Plymouth Road Runner stock car:
-Goodyear (in the race, my car wore Goodyear-family tires—Kelly Wintermark tires on the front and Dunlop Graspics in the back)
-CG-Lock (which helped keep me firmly in place in my stock Plymouth chair)
-Bandimere Speedway (Morrison, Colorado)
-Michigan International Speedway
-WTKA 1050AM (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
-Boso (Hawaii/Okinawa drifting team)
-Village Motor Sales (Chelsea’s Chrysler dealer)
and last but not leastly last . . .
-fiery Pinto (straight off of tech editor Sherman’s Ford Pinto race car)
Oh, and if anybody needs a driver for next year’s Chelsea fig-8, drop me a line . . .