When the Firefighters Destruction Derby had its first competition after being relocated to the Del Mar Arena as part of the San Diego County Fair, Ron Pickett drove the Camp Pendleton Fire Department car and Ryan Rushing converted that 1983 Chevrolet Caprice into a demolition derby vehicle for the 2010 event. Camp Pendleton did not have another entry in the Firefighters Destruction Derby until this year, when Rushing drove a Cadillac Sedan DeVille in the June 6 crashfest.
“It was a lot of fun,” Rushing said. “I enjoyed it.”
In 1995, the Cajon Speedway, the Burn Institute, and local fire departments collaborated for an annual night which included fundraising and promotions for the Burn Institute, a pre-race parade of fire trucks, an American flag raised from a fire engine ladder for the Star-Spangled Banner, and a Firefighters Destruction Derby. The Burn Institute and local firefighters also collaborated for an annual exposition and burn run at Qualcomm Stadium.
Cajon Speedway closed after the 2004 season, but in 2010 the Fire and Safety Exposition was moved to the San Diego County Fair. Some changes due to the configuration of the Del Mar Arena were necessary. The parade of fire trucks takes place earlier in the day, the flag is not raised from a ladder inside the covered arena, and the cars are divided into heats.
The current format involves three early afternoon heats with the last two running cars in each heat advancing to the final, and a pair of last chance heats in the late afternoon allow the last remaining car in each of those two heats entry into the final smashup which begins after the cleanup activity from the second last chance heat.
Rushing was on his honeymoon during the June 2010 Firefighters Destruction Derby and wasn’t able to drive. Pickett was chosen because he had raised the most money for the Burn Institute. The Firefighters Destruction Derby did not have a last chance heat in 2010 when Pickett was third in his heat after disconnected hoses kept him from continuing.
The Camp Pendleton Fire Department was unable to obtain cars for the next three demolition derbies. In 2014, Rushing was slated to drive, but the car wasn’t ready in time for the Firefighters Destruction Derby.
This year Rushing’s crew chief, Mike Parker, obtained the Cadillac from J&T Garage in Landers. The exact year is unknown; it is believed to have been an early 1990s model and the odometer read 108,572 miles when Rushing took it to the Del Mar Arena. Rushing, Parker, and the other four Station 7 firefighters built the car while firefighters from all 10 Camp Pendleton fire stations raised more than $1,600 for the Burn Institute. “A lot of hard work, but it’s worth it,” Rushing said.
Rushing was in the third heat along with Heartland firefighter Steve Cameron, Coronado driver Royce Copeman, Imperial Beach firefighter C.J. Marin, Viejas contestant Brandon Massey, Barona firefighter/paramedic Jake Murrell, and Lakeside’s Patrick Sellers. Early in the heat, Rushing was involved in multi-car contact, and his shifter cable broke. “I couldn’t restart the car because it thought I was in drive,” he said.
Rushing was the first driver in the heat to break the flag on his car to signal that he was no longer able to continue. Murrell and Massey advanced from the heat; Sellers would also be one of nine drivers in the final and eventually became the 2015 champion.
The second last chance heat involved Rushing, Sellers, Cody Spinos of Oceanside, and Heartland firefighters Donnie Butz and Chris Wrisley. (The Heartland Fire Department is a joint powers authority which combined the fire chief and other administrative personnel of the El Cajon, La Mesa, and Lemon Grove fire departments although the firefighters are employees of their respective cities and the cities retained separate responsibility for their fire stations.) Rushing was able to return the Cadillac to movement after being stuck on a berm, but the car became inoperable shortly afterwards. “The transmission case broke open completely,” he said. “The transmission wouldn’t shift any more.”
Rushing broke his flag. “It’s over before you know it,” he said of driving in a demolition derby.
The Cadillac won’t be used in the 2016 Firefighters Destruction Derby. “We can’t use that one anymore,” Rushing said.
Rushing plans to drive in future derbies. “We’re already starting to find a car for next year,” he said.