Crumble crackers in your soup at a white-tablecloth restaurant or wear white after Labor Day and you may hear, “What, are you from Bithlo?”
Unfortunately for Bithlo, on the day after Thanksgiving, the community hosts an event that confirms and exceeds every possible stereotype. The event is Crash-A-Rama, and it is exactly what it sounds like, and more. Cars crash, as do school buses, trucks, motorhomes, trailers and boats. Things blow up and burn to the ground. For the 2011 edition, the honoured guest was comedian Larry the Cable Guy, if that indicates anything.
The event is held at Orlando Speed World, a small, outdoor, paved, oval stock-car track that may draw two hundred fans for a regular Friday-night race. Crash-A-Rama draws more like 6,000 people, standing-room only, at $20 a head, rain or shine. It is what keeps Speed World in business the rest of the year, says Robert Hart, the taciturn veterinarian-turned-promoter who owns the track, and who devised Crash-A-Rama nearly 20 years ago.
Outside the fences, the family-oriented crowd is rather upscale by Bithlo standards. Inside there is a pervasive sense of Romans watching the lions – particularly if many of the lions proudly wore mullets.
Chief mullet-wearer is Moe Knauer, known to this audience as “Moe the Hothead”, one of the demolition-derby stars of the long-cancelled cable TV show Carpocalypse (inexplicably overlooked by the Emmy nominating committee). It is Moe the Hothead’s job to arrange the events, book a handful of semi-professional stuntmen and keep Crash-A-Rama running on time, which Mussolini himself could not have done, given the herding-cats dispositions of the participants.
Opening ceremonies include fez-wearing Shriners who circle the track in miniature antique cars, followed by the Director’s Staff in an orange, yellow and green 1958 Chevrolet topped with an enormous gold reclining Sphinx. (On this night the excitement is apparently too much for one Shriner, who may or may not have had a heart attack back in the pits, requiring an ambulance.)
The crashing begins shortly thereafter. The schedule is written on a much-altered single sheet of paper in the pocket of Moe the Hothead. Among the jotted amusements is a “skid-car race”, in which front-wheel-drive cars compete, but instead of having rear wheels and tires, they have three-foot lengths of steel bolted to the hubs, which spark like a million Zippos. There is a “backwards race”. There is a “flagpole race”, where drivers execute a 360-degree turn around an imaginary flagpole, then continue racing. The “chain race” has cars chained together, front to rear.
Sheet metal is shed, but the crowd knows the best is yet to come.
Stunts are accomplished with varying degrees of success by amateur gardener-turned-stuntman Flying Jimmy Elvis, and by official card-carrying stuntmen like Tim Chitwood, the last performer standing in the famed Chitwood Thrill Show, and Chris Morena, who has performed at Walt Disney World. Morena’s big stunt involves launching a black Cadillac off of a ramp and into a mobile home. He misses the mobile home entirely, but no one seems to notice.
Meanwhile, back in the pits, the evening’s closing act is preparing for his performance by taking a nap. Doug Rose, driver of the Green Mamba jet car, has been doing this for most of his life, and he is nearly 75. In 1966, he was driving for the legendary Arfon brothers, owners of the Green Monster jet car, which once held the land speed record in 1965 at 576 mph. Rose was on an exhibition run at a drag strip in Virginia. The car crashed into the metal guardrail, and Rose’s feet and ankles were sliced off just below his knees. The ambulance crew packed them into a fan’s ice chest and took Rose and his legs to the hospital. The legs could not be reattached. He has driven with metal legs ever since.
Inside there is a pervasive sense of Romans watching the lions – particularly if many of the lions proudly wore mullets.