Ramona's Bates drives in Firefighters Destruction Derby

By Joe Naiman

Fire Capt. John Bates of Ramona accepts donations in front of Albertsons for the Burn Institute before participating in the Firefighters Destruction Derby that benefits the institute.

On June 18, Capt. Bates drove to Del Mar in a 1973 Dodge Polara to participate in the Firefighters Destruction Derby at the San Diego County Fair.

Bates had not driven in a firefighters destruction derby since 2004, which was the final year of operation for the Cajon Speedway. In 1995, the Cajon Speedway, the Burn Institute and local fire departments collaborated for an annual night that included fundraising and promotions for the Burn Institute, a pre-race parade of fire trucks, a U.S. flag raised from a fire engine ladder as the “Star-Spangled Banner” was sung and a firefighters destruction derby.

The Burn Institute and area firefighters also collaborated for an annual exposition and Burn Run at Qualcomm Stadium. The exposition was moved to the San Diego County Fair in 2010, and the Burn Institute contacted Bob Pfohl, who won the 2000 destruction derby when he was Santee’s fire chief, about the possibility of a firefighters demolition derby at the fair. Pfohl, who retired from the Santee Fire Department in 2006 and became a division chief for the Viejas Fire Department, agreed to be the event organizer.

In addition to building cars, the work includes obtaining sponsorship funding. Fire department members worked together to build the cars and obtain sponsors. Pfohl and the fire departments he contacted had approximately three months notice for last year’s demolition derby. The 2010 event had 15 cars, including two that were not operating when the original green flag was thrown.

Bates was not in last year’s competition.

“I didn’t get notified early enough to build a car,” Bates said.

The 2010 Del Mar event was called the First Stephen Brucker Memorial Destruction Derby (Brucker was Cajon Speedway’s promoter from 1986 until his murder in April 2003), and Cajon Speedway track steward Charlie Miinch was the head official in 2010 and this year.

The configuration of the Del Mar arena forced some changes from the Cajon Speedway history. A parade of fire trucks took place several hours earlier, the “Star-Spangled Banner” was not sung, and the cars were divided into three heats. The combination of heats and a main event gave spectators four demolition derbies while allowing the advancing firefighters to run two derbies. Crews were not allowed to work on repairs until the completion of the final heat, and they were then given 10 minutes (a change from last year’s 5 minutes) to ready their cars for the main event.

The two remaining cars from each heat advanced to the main event.

This year the demolition derby had 18 cars.

Bates obtained the Polara from Cardinal Towing in Escondido.

“They just said they had a car for me,” he said.

Bates was one of six drivers in the second heat but did not advance.

“I was kind of disappointed,” he said.

“All of a sudden the car just wouldn’t turn over,” Bates said. “She died on me.”

Bates, who has lived in Ramona since 1996, is a captain for the Federal Fire Department and has spent 32 years with Federal Fire. The fire department raised between $2,500 and $3,000 for the Burn Institute this year.

Bates believes that the Polara can compete in subsequent destruction derbies.

“I’m going to rebuild it and get it in here next year,” he said.



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