After you retire you do what you want. After years with the local fire department Mike McFall wanted to enter a destruction derby. “It was on my list”, he explained.
The South Miami resident continued, “I figured all I needed was an old car, a dozen other like-minded people, and a race track.. The closest one I could find was in Naples, two hours away. They told me if I showed up in a car with no windows and $50 I could join the fun.”
A destruction derby is a race where the cars drive in a figure-8; it makes smashing into each other easier. And smash they do until the last car moving wins. Call it exciting, gladiators in clunkers, or just plain stupid, this is one popular America tradition.
A friend offered McFall his 1992 Buick Roadmaster. “The station wagon had been in a flood”, explained Mike, “It was rusted to hell but still ran great”. Mike took out the windows and replaced the gas tank with small portable one, like you might see in a bass boat.. He had no trailer to transport his rig so he decided to drive it to Naples himself.
Mike handing over his signed hold harmless form .
Mike headed west on Alligator Alley a few months ago to try his hand at car smashing. Halfway there a cop took notice of Mike’s windowless rolling wreck and pulled him over. He told the officer his story, how he’d always wanted to be in a destruction derby and tomorrow he was getting his chance. “I figure if a cop stops you and you tell them the truth maybe they’ll understand. I guess he did ‘cause he let me go”.
He went another 20 miles until he ran out of gas. For safely reasons you are limited to a three-gallon gas tank. Mike was carrying his in an orange 2 ½ gallons boat tank.
Carrying his empty tank he began hiking to to the nearest gas station. Soon a stranger pulled over to offer a ride. Mike said, “After he heard my story he felt bad for me, he drove me all the way back to my car.”
The next day Mike competed in the last car rolling race.
“What was it like?”, I asked. The retired firefighter said he savored every minute, all twelve of them. After multiple collisions his Buick finally rolled to a stop.
He added, "The race allowed me to get in touch with whiplash again.”
Mike’s car was too banged up to fix and drive home. When someone offered $100 Mike told him, “Oh, you can just have it. Someone gave it to me".
His wife, Regina, was there to drive him back to Miami. Unlike her husband she was able to drive the distance without colliding with anyone.
Mike's wagon, on the left, just before it got whacked for the last time.
A STUDENT REMEMBERED
I have taught civics and art for twenty years in public schools far from Coconut Grove. I rarely run into former students but I encountered one last month.
The City of Miami gave away fruit trees last month. Francesca and I picked out a mulberry, a mango tree, and handed our receipt to a volunteer. He looked at my name, smiled, then blurted, “You’re Mr. Terry, my seventh grade civics teacher. You’re the only one I remember!”
Gosh, Jason Watson knew how to make a guy’s day.
The handsome, dread-locked young man went on to recall a 1991 field trip I led to Washington, DC, “It was so much fun. Those six days still seem like a dream”. I assured him they were not and that I enjoyed the trip as well…except for the porno.
We were staying at a Ramada Inn in Alexandria . At 11 pm I got a phone call from one of the boys' rooms. They had discovered a porno channel on their TV and wanted to share their good fortune with me.. I rushed down the hall to chastise my students, “Watching porno will mess up your head. If you do it again, you'll be on the next plane to Miami!”
Mostly I remember the headaches the twenty-two teens gave me. Jason remembered nothing but an excursion so special it seemed like a dream.