It was 1976 (the Bicentennial Year) and I was regularly attending the Demolition Derby at Santa Fe Speedway at—as the commercials said, “9100 South Wolf Road!” in Willow Springs—with our fellow CCE members. We would typically meet at “Racer Al” Harris’s place just up the road, then carpool to the track for the festivities.
Who doesn’t want to see a good car crash?
Maybe I should take the time to explain that Santa Fe’s demolition derby differed from what passed for a demolition derby that you might see on TV. On TV, you would see a lot of cars backing around, trying to disable the competition by crashing into their radiators with the rear bumper and struggling to outlast all others.
Pretty lame for folks who like their crashes “flaming”.
Santa Fe had what was called “team demolition” and the rules resembled those of “roller derby”—there were two teams on the track at a time, five cars each, and the object was to have a car for your team complete five laps of the track—first one to do so determined the winner. Typically, one team would designate a “runner”—attempting to complete the laps, while the other cars were “blockers”—who would try to both protect their own runner and prevent the runner of the other team from completing its laps.
Specific rules dictated that there were to be no head-on collisions. Yeah, RIGHT!
This is what we went to see back in the mid-70’s. Other features on Demo Night (held 4 or 5 times a summer) included “spectator racing” where fans were encouraged to bring in old junk cars and go wheel-to-wheel against other beaters. The cap for the evening was the “figure eight” race, where the guys (and gals) could finish off their crappy cars—the intersection where the cars paths crossed got pretty hairy, and there was no shortage of collisions!
We (CCE members) would sit in the stands mid-way down the back straight and party and laugh throughout the evening. What a great time!
After watching these fun activities, certain Corvair enthusiasts, namely “Racer Al” and wife Peggy, Larry Claypool, and Fred Bachrodt decided that our much maligned little cars might have a distinct advantage on the clay track—even when the track was dry, it was kind of slippery, plus, the track management would periodically spray water on the track to minimize the dust. Corvair Heaven? You bet!
So, in ’76, Al, Larry, Fred, and Peggy (in the Powder Puff Races) started tearing up the track in their ‘Vairs. Sure enough, the IRS of the ‘Vairs allowed higher cornering speeds, so our “waterless wonders” started racking up wins in the spectator races against much more powerful cars, and earning some real respect from the “car guys”. Felt pretty good.
The following year, buoyed by the success of our comrades-on-wheels, I decided to get in on the action. I had been autocrossing for a while, and I had found a local service station that would do Corvair alignments—that is where I met Tom Mars, owner of the station, and experienced dirt tracker. When he found out I intended to race at Santa Fe, he had two bits of advice:
I bought a ’65 coupe from Larry at the “Vair Shop”, a 110HP Powerglide and went racing! In my first spectator race, I led the field for 9 ½ laps, until a “wayward Impala” (as Larry described it) came out from the infield and smashed into my left rear wheel, shattering the Powerglide bell housing and leaving me immobile.
This led me to my second dirt track car, a late model four door Corvair, with a 140HP and three-speed manual transmission. This turned out to be the ultimate combination for Santa Fe, for, once I was in 2nd gear, I could just leave it there for the duration of the race.
More to come…
[This is the continuing saga of CCE's exploits in the late 1970's at the now-gone Santa Fe clay-track speedway, 91st and Wolf Road in Willow Springs.]
My second year at Santa Fe brought some changes, a different car a 66 4dr 110 glide with a stick shift bell housing (starting to learn some of the tricks) I also finished out my first season with this car. Larry [Claypool] had stopped driving his Corvair and was driving more conventional water pumpers so he could run in the figure-8, we didn’t run our Vairs in the figure-8 because most of those cars didn’t come home but, more on that in a minute.
We were doing really well with our cars. If you could stay out of trouble you had a real good chance of winning. Spectator racing was like an ever changing autocross track. One lap you would have a dead Chrysler half way down the back straight. The next lap maybe there would be a tire or a muffler laying in the middle of the track (probably off a car that didn’t see the dead Chrysler). So you just had to remember where you had to go to get around it and since most of us were auto crossing every week we got around pretty good!
We were doing so well that we wanted to get a little more serious about racing there so Racer Al Harris approached someone from Santa Fe and inquired about getting into (what was then called) sportsman class but, was promptly told NO. Sportsman class is NOTHING under 110 inch wheelbase (to keep the Mustangs and Camaros out of the class). Racer Al even tried to get them to amend the rules to say except Corvairs but no such luck.
Santa Fe officials must have thought we were okay because one night they let us have a trophy dash (six Corvairs, five laps). It must have looked pretty cool from the stands because within a half lap the cars settled into placed and it was like a pack of Corvairs doing hot laps!
By now CCE was having a blast, we had as many members in the pits as we did the stands. For one reason it was cheaper to get a pit pass than general admission ticket and second you were right in the middle of the action. Speaking of action I have to mention that this is Mike Charewicz first year and need I also mention that we didn’t call him MISTER MĀNO for nothing.
One night we were in staging waiting to go out for the next race. I don’t remember what kind of car Mike had but I was behind him in my Corvair and Freddy [Bachrodt] was next to me in his Corvair. The cars start moving out of the pit on to the track except the car in front of Mike that had stalled and wouldn’t restart. Freddy held up traffic so Mike could get around the dead car. I had backed up as much as I could so Mike could back up and just as soon as he starts to back up some guy comes running in between Mike’s car and mine. This guy is about 2 ½ sheets to the wind and slams his hands down on Mike’s trunk and yells at Mike hey lookout a##-hole, so Mike yells back at the guy get off the track JACK!!! So this guy goes running up the right side of Mike’s car, and I’m like oh s%#t here we go (now remember the first rule at Santa Fe [from last month, "always wear your helmet to a fight"]) this guy dives through the passenger side window throws a punch at Mike (oops, big mistake) Mike turns his head the guy punched Mike right in the helmet. He's now waving his hand in total cartoon comic pain. Mike grabs the guy buries him in the seat and starts pounding on him. I’m watching this thinking where’s the popcorn. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Freddy pulls up next to Mike’s car grabs the guy’s legs and starts to drive away with him dropping him in the wet clay. By then a couple of this guy’s friends came running over and all the guys from CCE came over and his friends were dragging him out of the clay saying let’s get out of here there’s too many of them!
Now this is the first year any of us got into figure-8 racing, which was a hell of a lot of fun and could be profitable. Unlike spectator racing, you got a trophy and a hundred bucks. We also found out that if you roll your car you got a special trophy called the upside down trophy. Once again MISTER MĀNO to the rescue, Mike really wanted that trophy (which was a regular trophy except the car was mounted upside down), so he found an old Ford Falcon—I have to say working for Mike when we did sort of stuff was a blast—jacked up the Falcon to its suspension limits and welded the shocks added like a 100 pounds of air to the tires and dragged it down to Santa Fe. Well the first turn of the first lap the Falcon got—I don’t know a word that’s less than BUMPED—TAPPED, maybe even YELLED AT AGRESSIVELY, and needless to say the Falcon went over and Mike got his trophy!