I want to thank Hell Driver for commenting about my recent post recalling Jack Kochman’s annual shows at the York Fair.
I’m continuing the thread because automotive sports and exhibitions were an important part of my experience growing up in York county.
One of the most exciting parts of Jack Kochman’s show was when five or six Hell Drivers in late model cars maneuvered around each other in tight formations bumper to bumper at high speed. Weaving back and forth, in and out, the speeding cars would come within inches of each other, a heart stopping spectacle.
To wind up this segment of the program, the drivers were individually introduced as they raced past the grandstand in single file. As each driver's name was announced, he would jam on the brake, send his car into a sideways skid, and dangle his leg out the open door as the vehicle slid to a halt. To top it off, the cars all ended up in a neat row, equally spaced within a few feet of each other!
Let’s not forget two of the most important members of the Hell Drivers’ team: Happy the clown and the invisible yet indispensable booth announcer. In addition to introducing the various drivers and stunts, the announcer served as Happy's straight man.
The announcer also had to relay Happy’s punch lines to the audience because Happy didn’t wear a microphone and few in the audience could hear the clown when he delivered his one-liners. Happy, meanwhile, put his life on the line several times during each show, making us laugh while performing extremely dangerous stunts.
I neglected to mention one of the Hell Drivers’ most impressive feats. A car was driven up one side of a ramp causing it to tilt up on two wheels. The stuntman then made a complete lap around the track with the vehicle balanced in a nearly vertical position. Back in front of the grandstand, he gently brought the car down on all four wheels in front of the astonished audience. Kids, don’t try this at home!
The Joie Chitwood Thrill Show was another major stunt driving franchise that I remember going to see on several occasions during my youth.
Equipped with their own branded fleet of cars, trucks and motorcycles, Chitwood’s squad of daredevils was equally skilled at performed the two wheel stand and all of the other tricks of the trade.
At the end of every Chitwood or Kochman show, I always insisted on going down to the track for a close-up inspection of the crunched cars.
I was in crunched car heaven whenever I got to witness a demolition derby. What an awesome spectacle: 50 or more clunkers with funny slogans painted on them crashing and bashing each other until only one vehicle was left running.
Dramatic story lines typically unfolded. Some cars gave up the fight for survival after a single tap, while others somehow kept going with twisted frames, pushed in grilles, smoking engines, crushed fenders and flat tires. At least one car would end up riding on the wheel rims and throwing off a continuous shower of sparks. Of course, there was always one driver who tried to win the contest by playing it safe and avoiding contact with other vehicles. The crowd would boo the weasel until he finally got cornered, rammed, and put out of commission. By the time a winner was declared, the scene resembled a war zone - the ground littered with twisted metal and burning oil and rubber shrouding the arena in a smoky haze.
The dozen or more demo derbies that I saw were usually part of the entertainment package at local auto racing tracks. That’s where I’m heading in my next post. You'll find out why the numbers 65, 7000, and 30 were significant in satisfying my adolescent need for speed.
Have a Shady day!
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