By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
There’s nobody around who doesn’t like to have fun when fair time arrives every year at this time. Whether it’s the rides, animals, music, or just meeting friends and walking the midways, fun is the main theme.
The major event each year, over the course of the fair, is the demolition derby, action which takes place on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s been a fair staple for years, and last year, Lloyd Morris finally got some recognition, going for the demo derby with the first class in the Ashtabula County Demolition Derby Hall of Fame.
“For the HOF itself,” Morris said, while conducting his business at the Radio Shack on North Chestnut Street in Jefferson, “has been the HOF itself. The response has been great. The story the Star Beacon did last year was fantastic for us.
“Many people had no idea we even started one, but the response has been positive in every way.”
Getting an endeavor like a Hall of Fame moving is no easy task. Getting word out to past participants for information generally takes a lot of word of mouth action in the community. Having a building to house it also is a chore, but not the top priority along the way. That hasn’t happened for Morris yet, but holds a solid place in the back of his mind for the future.
“Getting recognition for old-time drivers has been long overdue for these folks,” Morris said. “We get a lot of phone calls about it, but it takes some donations to be put away to plan for the future. We don’t have anything set up or in the works yet for a place to house the HOF, but personally, I’d love to see something get done right here on the fairgrounds. The demo derby is one of their biggest crowd attractions every year, and a lot of people have put a load of time into it for a long, long time.”
A website has been set up recently. It can be viewed at www.demolitionX.net.
“There isn’t much on the site, yet,” Morris said. “It will take a lot of donations of old pictures and memorabilia from drivers and their families to get it up and running, and I’m hoping that as it all grows for us, it won’t take too long for it all to come together.”
This year’s honorees, to be inducted Saturday at 7 before the derby finals for this year, are Bob Cipra of Andover and Dick Luce of Conneaut. Both drove for the better parts of 20 years, and having fun and working with family was the main theme for both of them.
“I’m really glad Lloyd started this Hall of Fame,” Cipra, 56, said. “When I was younger, I was always messing around with cars. I went to see a demo derby one year, and told myself “I can do that, too.” He feels that it should be fun first, but that some people that get into it put so much time and money into winning, they miss out on the pure enjoyment of it all.
“I did it just for fun,” he said. “Oh, I would spend maybe $500 to $1,000 for getting a car ready, but I always liked to drive Chevys. I spent money to buy parts as I needed them, and to have a supply of replacement parts to fall back on if what I needed wasn’t handy. If I thought it might go bad, I replaced it or got backup parts for it. It’s a fairly simple way to do things without spending a fortune on it.”
His career spanned 20 years, ending in 1995 with a perfect way to cap off a career. He won his last feature at the county fair.
“I got into it (demo derby) with my brothers,” he said. “I still have one brother and his son who are regulars each year. I also had a cousin do it for a while. To me, it just was fun. I got to the point about when I thought about quitting, that it was just becoming more of a job, and wasn’t as much fun as in my early days. I was grateful for all the great people I met, and making it to the feature my last year and then winning was icing on the cake for me.
“I like to help others, and I always like to play by the rules. You wonder how that plays out with how some folks spend so much money to win these days. A key point for me to remember was that in 20 minutes, you can do the same amount of damage to a car or yourself that it usually takes 20 years to accomplish on the streets. I didn’t put any special equipment in my cars, and I was satisfied with everything I did.”
Luce, 69, drove from 1970 to 1985.
“I got started in demo driving to let off some steam and stress relief,” he laughed while talking about his career on the phone recently. “I’ve had four sons, and three of them loved to play with cars, so I guess it was a natural extension for me. After a while, demo derbys became a family project for us.”
Family isn’t always meaning total family.
“My wife was dead set against it,” Luce chuckled. “After I quit in ’85, maybe 4-5 years later, my oldest son, Rick , talked me into driving again one year. When my wife heard my name announced as a driver, she got up and left for home in a hurry.”
He has driven some quality cars in derbys.
“When I started driving, most of the cars I had were given to me. I drove some Cadillacs, Lincolns, and even had a Checker that I drove. One time, I got nailed from the front and from the back about the same time. Both ends went up, the middle went down, and I was scared. I even had a 1959 Caddy. I wish I had saved it .”
Working with his four sons was the highlight of it all for Luce, although now some of the memories are bittersweet.
“I had four boys, but my youngest, Ronald, passed away in 2011,” Luce said. “He really loved doing the derbys right up until he passed away. We had some great times, all the boys did. His family has some of the trophies I won, and they are great keepsakes for them to reflect on.”
In the early days of demo derbys at the fair, basic safety was a major concern for drivers, but they kept much of their equipment in the stock mode if possible.
“I recall the when I started,” Luce said, “batteries had to be in their normal place in front and gas tanks had to be in their normal places in back. I loved driving like that because you had to attack while protecting both your front and back ends to keep going.”
Just in talking over the phone with both Cipra and Luce, as they reflect more on their efforts, you can feel a sense of both pride and appreciation for both the sport itself and for those who are part of it.
For Morris, a key factor with this year’s class in the HOF is the contributions made to further the sport’s recognition.
“Really, these people donate their time and money each year for so long because they are having fun and want to see their sport growing,” Morris said. “Their participation is a major contributor to the success of the fair, and I hope this helps us grow even more. I appreciate what the Star Beacon’s help in covering us will do for the future of both the sport and the fair.”
The HOF is in its infancy. Cipra and Luce are among the first cogs in place in getting it going ahead. Much will depend on continued support. If you like watching, appreciate what goes into demolition derby action, and want to have a small part in growing the Ashtabula County Demolition Derby Hall of Fame for the future, donations may be made directly to Morris, notations for the Hall of Fame. Make checks payable to Lloyd Morris, mailed to him at Radio Shack at 226 North Chestnut St., Jefferson, 44047.
If you’ve got some old pictures or memorabilia from demo derbys long gone, stop by and see him at the store, and expect to see his young eyes light up in a hurry.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.