Jonathan Adams and his driving team burned rubber down to Avondale to learn more about this Sunday’s “Eve of Destruction” smash-up derby.
On a brisk autumn day, a group of three young men in black sweatshirts and jeans lounge, spit, and smoke around an abandoned school bus that is wedged like a giant yellow sausage between a sharply curved wooden ramp and a sculpted mound of dirt. They seem to regard the bus with an unspoken respect, a mixture of fear and reverence, as of a religious artifact. Or if not the bus itself, at least the air around it.
They are members of a group that calls itself the “Newfoundland Lunatics,” but you would be hard-pressed to understand why if you simply met them on the street. They give the impression of being nothing if not average young people, modest and self-deprecating, none of them very much older than 20. Outside of a habit of regularly projecting themselves over school buses, in fact, Andrew Burton, C.J. Murphy, and Chris Kelly appear to be perfectly in possession of all their faculties.
“How do you design something like this?” we ask, inspecting the ramp.
“Internet tells you.”
Fair enough. But how exactly does one go about deciding to drive a motocross bike 30km/h into such a ramp to sail over a 40-foot bus? This question evokes an exchange of puzzled glances between the Lunatics. “I’ve rode a dirtbike since I was four years old,” says Burton, by way of explanation–allowing us to infer that, once you hit seven or eight, riding the bike on solid earth just loses its novelty.
“Bern just asked us to jump a bus,” says Brophy. “He only asked us to jump a half-bus, actually, but you feel like a pussy jumping a half-bus.”
The Lunatics are just one of the acts that have been on display all summer at the Avondale Speedway, an outdoor racing stadium featuring a ¼ mile clay oval track with a bike course in the centre. Since the Speedway was built in 2002, the town of Avondale has become a Mecca for driving enthusiasts from every corner of the Avalon, and some from even further away. It’s said that the population of Avondale doubles to almost 1500 on racing day. Bern Hickey operates the Speedway with his wife Gloria (known to fans as “Bern & Glory”.) Both are volunteers with a passion for the automotive sports, as are the numerous friends who help out at the track.
In the past few months, the Speedway has hosted motocross, ATV, stock-car, and even schoolbus races. This Sunday, they will be marking the end of the summer racing season with a grand finale smash-up derby that’s being promoted as the “Eve of Destruction.” (We don’t know what they’re predicting will happen on the following day.)
When we visited the track this past Thanksgiving Sunday, stock-car drivers were gathered to compete in their final race for the $2000 Buy & Sell Cup (taken later that day by Jason Groves of Heart’s Desire). A man named Darryl was bent over a car that looked to have endured more demolition than any other in the pit – its body crumpled into itself like a balled-up piece of paper. Wearing a baseball cap and a luxuriant rat-tail streaming from the nape of his neck, he smiled at us over the engine.
“Someone used to get groceries in this car!” he said proudly. His friend, surveying the fifty or so other motley-painted wrecks, replied: “Someone used to get groceries in all these cars.” Both of them appear to recognize a kind of poetry in the translation of these suburban uses into the giddy, mindless fun of racing and smashing.
Adam Mercer of Bay Roberts, one of the participants in this year’s derby, explained the rules to us in the bluntest possible terms: “You just line up a bunch of cars and – it’s the last man standing, basically.”
“What kind of prize is there for the winner?” we asked.
He couldn’t tell us.
“So why do you do it?”
This got us the same puzzled look we had now gotten used to for asking such questions.
“Free car. Had nothing else to do with it.”
“So, it’s all just for the glory?”
“Yeah – the glory of getting out with two arms and two legs,” he said. “I race every week, and it usually turns into a wreck, so – I don’t know – I might as well do something with it.
“Plus,” he added, more soberly, “it’s just fun to crash cars. It really is.”
Art Goodyear of Flatrock, a driver who participated in last year’s derby, put it in terms we could understand when he described the experience as “better than getting drunk” – then promptly corrected himself: “Well, almost better than getting drunk.”
Far too few experiences in this vale of tears approach “almost better than getting drunk.” To imbibe of the carnage yourself, why not hop into your own wreck and head out to Avondale?
Don’t you believe we’re on the eve of destruction?
The Avondale Speedway’s “Eve of Destruction” this Sunday will feature, in addition to the smash-up derby, motocross racing, drag races, races in reverse (cars going backwards!), and more; if you head out on Saturday, you can see bus jumps and rasslin’. Tickets are $5 for children, $6 for teens or seniors, and $8 for adults. For more information, phone 229-4583.
Photo by Mark Wood