The gladiators of old haven’t gone away. They’ve just relocated to a large arena in the midst of Illinois’ fertile cornfields. Their weapons have gotten more mechanized, too. They’ve eschewed the swords and armor for large, stripped down cars from America’s gas guzzling era.
They are the drivers for the Team Demolition Association and they play to a rabid, sold-out crowd five times a year at Route 66 in Joliet. Like those old Roman gladiators, they risk life and limb to put on a show for the raucous audience.
With engines getting more powerful and the hits more epic, this past season has seen an uptick in the number of drivers who have sustained serious injuries. Orange Crush’s Carl Brouwer was hospitalized in July and he was followed by teammate Ron Tyrakowski in August. At the September finale, it was Reckoning’s Brian Anderson who was rushed to the hospital with five broken vertebrae in his back.
This was the second time during the season that Anderson found himself the receiving end of a wicked hit. He was pinned to the wall in June. Anderson said that he was coherent the entire time except his hands were frozen to the steering wheel. He was also completely aware when the first responders had to cut him out of the car after the September battle.
As far as broken backs go, Anderson was lucky in that surgery won’t be required. But a long recovery period looms. Bed rest has replaced car building and Anderson now pilots a cart around Wal-Mart instead of gunning for opposing team’s drivers. And with the 2013 season over and done, Anderson also won’t benefit from collections taken at the track or having the hat passed at local festivals.
Surprisingly, Anderson plans on returning to action next season—albeit in a back-up driver role. With “Speedy” Steve Volbrecht retiring from Reckoning, team owner Anderson will be looking to recruit a “100% self-sufficient driver” who can bring their own vehicles and other tools to the table. Those monthly battles cost big bucks and it’s tough for a team owner like Anderson to keep up.
While wealthier teams are busy snapping up powerful engines, rust-free rides and other weapons to help them make it to the coveted final round, others are just barely getting by. That’s why Anderson was quick to give props to the first-year success of Real Steel. He said that “they had no money but they had a lot of heart and team chemistry.”
But heart can only take you so far and the future of some financially strapped teams is up in the air. Team 8 owner Dave Swan was recently making noises about giving up his team. But time will tell as some say “Repo” has a reputation for stretching the truth a bit. And despite their first-year success, nothing definitive has come out regarding the return of Real Steel who also had a driver end up on the hot seat in September. That would be Nick Hartung, who was lucky to walk away from a virtual fireball following a crash with Orange Crush’s Elmer Fandrey.
The internet—which many blame for impending demise of demos—is already buzzing with talks of drivers retiring or selling their equipment. But that must be taken with a grain of salt as the love of the sport and the lure of the hit seems to reel many of them back in time and time again.
The warriors might be eager to return but how long will they have to actually do battle? Cars are harder to come by and costs are continually going up. Then there’s the question of rising insurance rates in light of three serious accidents in a single season. One has to wonder how long the road rage will remain at Route 66.
But as long as there are demos, there are going to be drivers who live for the hard hit and the match-up with a dreaded rival. But this dedication comes at a cost, as Anderson is painfully aware of. Although bed rest has been ordered, he says “Due to money issues, I don’t have a choice but to go back to work” much sooner than he should.
So while there are no golden parachutes for injured demo drivers, there is a community of friends, family and on-track rivals who are doing what they can to help Anderson out during this rough patch. A few funds have been established to help with utilities, living expenses and other basic necessities.
Checks can be made payable to: Benefit for Brian Anderson of Team 7 c/o State Bank of Countryside 15980 S. Parker Rd., Homer Glen, IL 60491.
Donations are also being accepted via Give Forward: