AUBURNDALE, Florida — NASCAR? Pffft. It’s a bunch of guys going left for three hours. You can have it. I’m down with Crash-A-Rama, which has a whole lot more noise, destruction and thick plumes of burning rubber.
Crash-A-Rama (aka “The Knights of Destruction”) is a distinctly weird twist on short track stock car racing, but with more crashing. It’s a whole lot more entertaining, not to mention affordable, than NASCAR. The tickets are cheaper, and so are the cars. They are, in a word, heaps. We’re talking a few hundred dollars to go racing, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands of dollars the pros spend.
The “racing” seems incidental; the real point is bashing cars and creating mayhem, not to mention laughter. The wildest race is the school bus figure-eight. Other races require drivers to pull trailers, appliances and even boats. That one’s especially popular.
“The boat races are my favorite because there’s a lot of carnage and destruction,” said promoter George “Moe” Knauer. “And I love the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ from the crowd. It makes me laugh.”
The laughter started a decade ago with school bus races, which were held at the end of the night’s more conventional stock car races. Fans loved it, and before long Crash-A-Rama was born. Knauer started driving in demolition derbies more than 30 years ago, “before I got my driver’s license.”
“That’s always been my thing, crashing cars,” he said.
Who doesn’t love crashing cars? My favorite part of a night at Crash-A-Rama is the special stunt. When I first photographed the insanity four years ago, some guy jumped his car into an RV standing upright. This year, a Cadillac jumped a school bus and landed in a pile of junked cars, with pyrotechnics added for good measure. It followed a race in which everyone sped around the track in reverse.
“That’s some crazy shit right there,” the show’s rodeo clown, who goes by the name Dirty Dingus Magee, said while watching the action from the (relative) safety of pit row.
Crash-A-Rama has become a brand unto itself. It has spawned a videogame, called Test Drive: Eve of Destruction, and was featured on the TV series Carpocalypse that chronicles “how a motley crew of crash-addicted racers join together to compete in some of the craziest races ever caught on tape.” And no less an authority on all things redneck than Larry the Cable Guy has featured the craziness on his program, Only In America.
Now there are plans afoot to bring the action to Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana and the Carolinas, spreading the silliness beyond the Sunshine State, where few bat an eye at, say, watching a rodeo clown circle a track on a motorized toilet before some guy jumps a Caddy over a bus.
“This isn’t weird,” said Chip Litherland, a photographer who spent a few hours documenting the drama. “It’s normal for Florida. This is just a Saturday night.”