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Station Marine lets his car do the talking

16 Jul 2006 | Pfc. M. Daniel Sanchez

The crowd could be heard screaming and cheering in anticipation of the start of the event.
One Marine also waited, but for the signal that would let him fulfill a fantasy he had since he was a child -- to put his pedal to the metal and his metal to other cars -- in a demolition derby.

Gunnery Sgt. Cameron McWhirter, the 36-year-old Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron fuels farm supervisor here, has been a demolition derby fan as far back as he could remember, but he was just recently able to take part in the sport when he competed in the Yuma demolition derby July 4 at the Yuma Fair Grounds.

McWhirter’s interest first became peaked during early childhood after his parents took him to watch derbies. It was awesome to see the drivers hitting whatever was in front of them and to hear the sound of the metal banging and crunching together, said McWhirter, a native of Arvada, Colo.

“I remember being six years old and taking soda cans and crunching them together, pretending like they were cars,” said McWhirter.

“When you hear the metal and everything (crunching), it’s like, ‘yeah!’”, said McWhirter as he clenched his fists in remembrance of the event. “You just want to hit somebody again and again until your car breaks down. Your adrenaline is pumping a million miles an hour and it’s so much fun that you never want to stop.”

This is definitely a sport for Marines, he said.

In fact, there were a lot of Marines in attendance, and three other Marines also competed in the derby, said McWhirter.

One of them was so motivated he decided to drive in uniform, said McWhirter.

It was crazy to see a Marine competing in his uniform and chancing ruining it when other cars were on fire, leaking oils, radiator fluids and all kinds of other junk, but everybody had their own style and way of participating, said McWhirter.

Most of the other participants didn’t even bother wearing protective gear beyond the recommended racing helmet, he said.

McWhirter was one of the only drivers using a flak jacket and a neck brace, said Master Sgt. Eric Genzer, range safety supervisor and partner in destruction with McWhirter.

Genzer helped McWhirter prepare the vehicle that would be used during the derby.

The Marines really didn’t need much more protection than the helmet because there were a lot of rules in place to keep the drivers as safe as possible, said Genzer.

Removing all the glass from the windows, chaining the doors to the frame and padding the driver door with shock absorbing material were just a few of the safety measures, said McWhirter. But those were only the small changes.

McWhirter said he also had to move the car’s gas tank to the inside of the car and weld the bumper to the car to ensure it wouldn’t get ripped off if someone side-swiped him. But perhaps the most difficult of all, he had to wash it.

It took about six weeks to get the car ready for competition, but it only took 10 minutes to destroy it, said McWhirter.

When the derby is going on, cars are racing all over the place and any plans of strategy fly right out the window, he said.

“I wanted to start going in reverse around the track -- that way nobody could (damage) my engine, but as soon as they said “three, two, one, go” I couldn’t wait and just started hitting people,” said McWhirter.

McWhirter said the car was fine at first, even after taking a few good hits. But after a few more minutes of other cars hitting him and pushing the transmission to its limits, his car caught on fire and he had to stop.

It was fun, but it wasn’t worth getting burned, he said.

Genzer said seeing McWhirter made him want to drive around the derby ring and do some smashing of his own.

“I was worried about getting banged up and beat up, but he was out there whooping and hollering and that made me want to drive,” said Genzer.

If Marines want to get involved in demolition derbies, the first step they need to take is to purchase an older car made from steel because the new cars made from fiber glass are dangerous to use in demolition derbies, said Genzer.

People can build a decent demolition car with about $1,500 and a few hours of work, he said. McWhirter plans to continue competing in demolition derbies until he is too old to drive.

There’s nothing like it in the world, he said.

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