Wrisley repeats Firefighter Demolition Derby win

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What is now called the Firefighter Demolition Derby was held at Cajon Speedway for ten years before being revived in 2010 as part of the San Diego County Fair. No firefighter had won consecutive championships until this year, when Chris Wrisley of the Lemon Grove Fire Department added a June 2 victory to his 2017 championship.

“It’s an honor,” Wrisley said. “It’s never been done before.”

What is now called the Firefighter Demolition Derby was held at Cajon Speedway for ten years before being revived in 2010 as part of the San Diego County Fair. No firefighter had won consecutive championships until this year, when Chris Wrisley of the Lemon Grove Fire Department added a June 2 victory to his 2017 championship.

“It’s an honor,” Wrisley said. “It’s never been done before.”

Wrisley, whose 1979 Lincoln Continental became the last remaining car in the feature when the 1980 El Camino driven by Santee firefighter Kye Hardin caught fire, also became only the second driver to win the Firefighter Demolition Derby twice. The other two-time winner is also a Lemon Grove firefighter; Joey Lavigne won in 2010 and 2012.

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 and the Firefighters Destruction Derby (which was renamed the Firefighter Demolition Derby in 2017) returned after a five-year absence. Some changes were necessary due to the configuration of the Del Mar Arena.  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. 

This year’s format involved two early afternoon heats with the last two running cars in each heat qualifying for the final, last chance heats in the late afternoon to allow cars eliminated in their heat to qualify for the concluding competition, and the final itself (the driver from the fire department which raised the most money for the Burn Institute is also allowed to drive in the final if he has an operational car).

The 1977 Oldsmobile ‘98 Wrisley used last year was stripped down and sent to the junkyard. Wrisley acquired the Lincoln Continental he drove this year on Craigslist for $300 in August 2017 and began the work of converting the car into a demolition derby vehicle in January 2018. Four other members of the Lemon Grove Fire Department along with other friends and Wrisley’s family members provided assistance. 

“I tried to wrap the car up around May,” he said.

This year, 19 cars began competition in three heats.  Wrisley was in the first heat with Bonita-Sunnyside Fire Protection District representative Robert Marcon, Carlsbad firefighter Matt Newlin, Encinitas Fire Department driver Donnie Butz, Imperial Beach competitor John Olsen and Poway Fire Department participant Stephen LaCorte.

Dirt is placed on the concrete surface of the Del Mar Arena and the track is watered down. 

As a result, Wrisley and the Lincoln Continental did three “donuts” during the heat race.

“It was so slick out there on the wet concrete, I would just let off the throttle and let it finish spinning,” said Wrisley.

The donuts preceded a flat right rear tire, which did not keep Wrisley from being one of the final two drivers in the heat. When Olsen broke the flag on his car to signal that he was no longer able to continue, Wrisley and Butz became the two drivers who advanced to the feature.

During the interval between the heat and the feature, Wrisley and his crew replaced the tire. 

The front bumper broke off and had to be re-welded. The crew also put spacers between the wheel and the frame. Hardin and La Mesa firefighter Seth Perrins advanced out of the third heat. 

Danny Leetch of the Lakeside Fire Protection District drove one of the final two cars in the second heat.

Leetch became the first of the 10 feature drivers to break his flag. 

“My engine and transmission fell out of the car,” he said. “All the mounting broke. I had one last hit.”

Wrisley, Hardin, and Viejas driver Brandon Massey were the final three drivers remaining. When Massey’s 1979 Cadillac ceased to move, Wrisley and Hardin became the final two drivers.

“I guess I just got lucky,” Hardin said.

The Firefighter Demolition Derby was the sixth as a driver for Wrisley, who was raised in Julian and worked for the Julian Fire Department before joining the City of Lemon Grove seven years ago. Wrisley lives in El Cajon.

Hardin drove in the Firefighter Demolition Derby for the first time.

Adam Daniels had been the Santee driver for the previous three years, and Hardin had been part of Daniels’ crew.  Daniels chose to let someone else drive the Santee car this year. 

“I had helped him out in the past so he said, ‘go ahead and do it this year,’” Hardin said.

Hardin, who grew up in La Mesa and attended Helix High School, started his firefighting career four years ago with the Santee Fire Department. He is currently at Station 5. 

The El Camino was acquired on Craigslist, and Hardin along with four other firefighters spent two months converting the vehicle into one which met demolition derby standards.

Shortly after Wrisley backed what remained of the Lincoln’s truck into the front of Hardin’s El Camino a checkered flag was thrown and the firefighters who were serving as fire suppression crews extinguished the blaze underneath the El Camino. 

“They said I had to stop because I was on fire,” Hardin said.

Other than body damage, the most visible impairment to the Lincoln was a flat rear tire. 

“It was still running about 180 degrees,” Wrisley said.  “It is doing better than my car was last year at the end.”

The fire departments combined raised approximately $9,300 for the Burn Institute. 

The Lemon Grove Fire Department accounted for about $3,400 of that.

“I’m glad it paid off,” Wrisley said. “It still runs.”

Over the next few months Wrisley will determine whether he uses the Lincoln Continental in the 2019 Firefighter Demolition Derby. 

“I’m extremely happy with how it runs,” he said.  “It drove onto the trailer and it’s going to drive onto the trailer again. I think we’ve got a winning recipe.  I’m not going to change a thing.”

19 COMMENTS

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  2. I write a comment whenever I
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    And after this post Wrisley repeats Firefighter Demolition Derby win ECC – East County Californian. I was actually
    excited enough to leave a comment 🙂 I do have a couple of questions
    for you if it’s allright. Could it be just me or does it seem like a few of these remarks come across like written by brain dead folks?
    😛 And, if you are posting at additional sites,
    I’d like to keep up with you. Would you make a list the
    complete urls of all your communal sites like your linkedin profile,
    Facebook page or twitter feed? https://pexda.co.uk/6218/skin-care-body-cleansing-naturally

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