Veteran of events looking forward to bumpy ride

Not surprisingly, there is a story behind each of the cars entered in the Johnson County Demolition Derby.

Charlie O’Connor, for example, found his in Salem for $900.

“It’s a 1976 Buick Regal that I got off of Craigslist. A one-family car that hit a deer. The deer is no longer and the car is derby material,” O’Connor, 52, said with a laugh.

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the Martinsville resident’s initial derby at the Johnson County fairgrounds in Franklin.

And yet he remembers virtually every detail.

“I’m about 22 years old, and my car is a 1972 Pontiac Bonneville. I didn’t fare well at all. I had a good time, but could never keep that car running right,” O’Connor said.

“But once you’re in the demolition derby world it’s hard to get out. It’s addictive. From the burning metal to the smell of the fuel, it’s so unique.”

Middle-aged Charlie is more adept behind the wheel than was 20-something Charlie. After all, such events aren’t merely cars slamming aimlessly into one another at speeds of 20 to 30 mph to the delight of the paying customer.

There are angles involved. Serious game-planning that only the seasoned demolition derby driver and spectator can appreciate.

“People don’t realize the strategy that goes into it. The derby is kind of an adrenaline rush, and it’s a challenge to try to keep your car running while trying to put everyone else out,” O’Connor said.

“Every car has a weak point.”

Chryslers are allegedly weak in the ball joint area. Pontiacs are rumored to possess weaker core support.

In other words, aim there.

O’Connor opted for the Buick Regal this time around with hopes the car’s heavier body frame and bumpers help keep him in contention.

He purchased the car with 110,000 miles and no traces of rust in October. He eventually sold the motor for $300.

Even the No. 41 O’Connor has been painting on his cars the past 25 years involves a story.

Growing up a fan of A.J. Foyt, O’Connor hoped he could use the No. 14 the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner had made synonymous with racing excellence.

Not surprisingly, the number already had been taken, so O’Connor simply reversed it.

Demolition derby cars are too damaged to rebuild or keep around for sentimental purposes. Over the years, the No. 41s have piled up.

“They’re sold back to the (salvage) yard,” O’Connor said. “Once they’re done, they’re done.”

Author photo
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at