On the evening of August 9, there were two components of an event at the OC Fair’s Action Sports Arena that elicited enthusiastic cheers from the venue’s full house: a little girl belting out the national anthem and petroleum-fueled mayhem. No, this wasn’t a scene out of a Mad Max film; this was day two of the Motorhome Madness demolition derby.
The scene did, however, resonate with Mad Max overtones. After all, as fans of the original film — starring Mel Gibson — will recall, Max was both a gearhead and an officer of the law, and the Motorhome Madness demolition derby was the brainchild of two police chiefs. As David Padua, president and owner of Southside Towing, pointed out, “We’ve been doing this with the police department for six years now. … It started with the chief of Costa Mesa police and the chief of Newport Beach. They both did it. They raced against a bunch of bad guys and we played crash up derby.” Before long, the police found their ideal competitors in various Orange County fire departments.
Costa Mesa Fire Chief Dan Stefano was the first to join in the event. Stefano explained, “It was only police, and then about four years ago I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to represent!’” Stefano went on to point out that the event raises charity money for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, and Project 999, which benefits the families of police officers injured or killed in the line of duty. This event wound up raising over $40,000.
Before the major havoc began, the police and fire chief drivers warmed up the crowd by racing around and smashing up cars. By the end of the round, which lasted about 15 minutes, most of the cars were smoking and immobile. Fire and paramedic crews stood by in case any flames needed to be put out or any of the drivers required medical assistance, but their services were not necessary.
Larry “Supermouth” Huffman also contributed to the event, and while he may not be a driver, his commentary certainly kept the crowd revved up. Huffman, who was dubbed “Supermouth” by the L.A. Times, told the Weekly how he became a part of this event. He said, “I did other types of announcing: speedway, motocross, supercross all that. And then I hooked up with Bob Basile, the man in charge of Sunnyside Promotions. He liked me, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” Huffman went on to talk about the distinct flavor of this event. “It only happens once a year, so we don’t have a series to build up to.” He continued, “I think the crowd is more family than anything else, and it’s really good. You see a lot of little kids and it’s cool. It’s not hardcore racers at all.”
As the second half of the show began, the chiefs rolled out the RVs. They all had stylized paint jobs, and, of course, the police-driven ones had flashing light bars. After the drivers took a bow and posed for a photo with an oversized donation check from Southside Towing, the destruction continued with Huffman excitedly calling the action. Within a half hour, the arena was peppered with shards of wood, chunks of fiberglass, mangled pieces of metal, and crumpled, smoking wrecks that had once served as some families’ dream vacation vehicles. First-time participant Tustin Police Chief Stu Greenberg emerged as the victor.
Greenberg humbly admitted that the highlight of the event was simply that he had participated. When asked about his technique, he pointed out, “I’ve got a decent driving style, I guess, and I talked to some people that had been in it before [for pointers]. I tried to bait [the competition] in, get them to come after me, and then I’d fish tail it and reverse into them.” In contrast to how he drives his squad car, Greenberg said, “We gotta be safe, right? We’ve got to take care of our partners; we’ve got to take care of the public and even somebody we’re chasing — we’ve got to make them safe, too, as best we can. Here, you just let it all hang loose, you know?”
The Motorhome Madness demolition derby is exclusive to Orange County. However, both Greenberg and Stefano agree that it provides a great way to address the usually playful rivalry that exists between fire and police departments, while raising money for good causes. Naturally, it is also a relatively controlled way to satisfy the crowd’s appetite for destruction. The fact that it is endorsed and performed by public servants makes it that much sweeter!