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THE IMPERIAL STUNT DRIVERS
THE IMPERIAL STUNT DRIVERS
Paul Riddell's Imperial Stunt Drivers
Featuring Tonny Petersen. Out of a dust cloud...with speed increasing at every turn of the wheels....the Imperial Stunt Drivers have emerged from the pages of thrill show lore to thrill fans once again with the sights and sounds of the auto daredevils. Representing an international array of thrill show driving talent, the Imperial Stunt Drivers are led into action by Paul Riddell of Quebec, Canada. A legendary stunt driver and thrill show personality, Riddell started his career at a young age with the famous Congress Of Canadian Hell Drivers. With 53 years of thrill show experience to his credit, the legendary Paul Riddell has thrilled fans with performances around the globe with such thrill producers as Joie Chitwood and Stoney Roberts. Joining the Imperial Stunt Drivers roster is Tonny Petersen of Copenhagen, Denmark. With a legacy spanning more than four decades, Petersen has become a true master of the stunt driving trade. Representing the United States in the International collection of stunt stars is Toby Thibodeau. Toby, the nation's leading female stunt driver brings 23 years of experience to performances. Aside from the hard charging action, spectators are able to share in laughter at the crazy comedy car of KoKo the clown.
The Mad Canadian / Lifestyle
Auto Thrill Shows / Ken Carter The Mad Canadian
Ken Carter; As The Devil at Your Heels progresses. He's a bit of a know-it-all who seems uncomfortable with silence, so he constantly rambles on about himself or his stunts, anything to avoid dead air. However, he really has just one thing to say: "I'm looking for the ultimate statement: 'Ken Carter, World's Greatest Daredevil.' Really, that's what it's about."
Carter grew up in a Montreal , where he played with toy cars as a child. As a teenager with little education, he dropped out of school to perform car stunts with a team of traveling daredevils. Soon he was a solo act, jumping at racetracks all over North America. He developed into a consummate showman, earning the nickname "The Mad Canadian" for his death-defying antics.
Now, after 20 years of countless car jumps (and countless broken bones), Carter wants to transcend the small-potatoes daredevil circuit; he wants fame, glory, immortality. He sets out to make what he figures would be the greatest stunt of all-time: a rocket-powered car jump across the St. Lawrence Seaway, from Canada into the United States, covering a distance of one mile.
Carter sinks his last dime into the project, but has trouble raising the additional quarter-million dollars needed to pull it off. ABC eventually comes to the rescue, in exchange for airing the stunt on Wide World of Sports. The live broadcast is scheduled in a few short weeks, on September 25, 1976.
Construction begins on some farmland near Morrisburg, Ontario, across the seaway from upstate New York. Fifty acres are cleared to make way for a 1,400-foot long takeoff ramp, which would rise to 85 feet atop a massive earthen mound. Carter anticipates a live audience of 100,000.
It's a race against time, reports expert Wide World correspondent Evel Knievel, not-so-fresh from his Snake River fiasco. Constant rain mires tractors in the mud and otherwise hampers construction, and the rocket car isn't completed by the deadline. Carter subsequently misses Wide World's broadcast date, and ABC withdraws its support. A heartbroken Carter announces the jump's cancellation at an emotional press conference, fighting back tears as he sees his dream slip away.
The movie cuts ahead to the following year. A freshly optimistic Carter has found new backing from some unnamed group, so preparations resume. But the car still isn't ready, summer turns to autumn, the weather worsens, and once more, the jump is cancelled.
The movie cuts ahead to the year after that. The jump is on again, then cancelled again. The same issues keep arising from year to year: financial backers come and go, inclement weather and incompetent engineering delay site construction, and a safe, reliable rocket car has yet to be delivered (among other flaws, its fuel tanks keep exploding). Carter simply can't synchronize these necessary elements. Even though his undertaking is becoming a colossal comedy of errors, he maintains his Pollyannaish disposition.
Director Robert Fortier includes several goofy touches worthy of any of Christopher Guest mockumentary, suggesting that truth is funnier than fiction. Given the opportunity to speak at length, Carter appears to lose himself when trying to articulate his bizarre personal philosophies - such as his dueling split personalities - so he seems to make them up on the spot. In another scene he struggles to squeeze himself into borrowed jumpsuit, his protruding paunch in the zipper's way. All along he drops malapropisms and mixed metaphors: he fears he "cut off more than he can chew," "irregardless," he hopes to one day become "the first civilian astronaut... in space."
Five years into the project, on September 26, 1979, everything finally seems in order: the ramp, the weather, even the rocket car, housed in the body of a Lincoln Continental. A Hollywood producer has underwritten the stunt for exclusive film rights, on the condition there be no live audience. Fire trucks, rescue boats and helicopters stand by as Carter straps himself in, and the countdown begins. However, a mere five seconds before takeoff, a mechanical failure forces him to abort the mission. Sadly, this is the closest he'll ever come to realizing his dream.
Nine days pass. The film crew suspects Carter has lost his nerve and, not wanting to lose any more money, secretly convinces Carter's friend Ken Powers hijack the stunt. Powers doesn't hesitate. With only a few spectators on hand, Powers blasts the car down the runway; meanwhile, Carter sits in his hotel room, unaware of what's afoot.
The bumpy ramp prevents the car from hitting the requisite 270 mph, going only 180 as it launches into the air. The wind immediately tears off its paneling as its parachutes halfway deploy. The car flies a paltry 506 feet, far short of a mile, and crash-lands in knee-deep water. Powers breaks eight vertebrae, three ribs, and a wrist. The footage is spectacular.
Carter soon discovers what happened and is understandably furious, exploding into a muffled rage behind his hotel room door. After spending five years and a million dollars chasing his dream, a backstabbing friend jumped his car off of his ramp, stealing his thunder.
As it had done four times before, the movie cuts ahead to the following year, this time for the epilogue. Carter once again beams with optimism, still guaranteeing the big event: "This I'm going to do. This is my dream."
Unfortunately, Ken Carter never did attempt the stunt. In 1983, two years after the release of The Devil at Your Heels, he attempted a much shorter jump in a souped-up Pontiac Firebird. The vehicle overshot its landing ramp by 30 meters and landed on its roof. Carter was instantly killed.
Pierre J. Lachance Productions Canada
TOYOTA HOLLYWOOD STUNT SHOW
TOYOTA HOLLYWOOD STUNT SHOW
2000 Team Members Profile: Comming by April 2,2000-, this was the stunt team for 1999.)
This year's Hollywood Stunt Show tour will salute the new millennium with an unparalleled collaboration between two of the world's most skilled stuntmen. Tonny Petersen and Tim Chitwood.
Petersen, the stunt show coordinator, has over four decades of thrill - driving experience, and has been in many movies.
Chitwood, brings over thirty years of experience, which includes over one-hundred motion picture, television, and commercial productions.
Together, this dynamic duo will lead a precision stunt team through a 28-event high-speed repertoire offering over an hour's worth of thrill - packed adventure. The spectacle of speed and sound, spectators are left completely awestuck.
Tonny Petersen, puts the Toyota Camry on it's two wheels as he perform's his hi-skis routine on a crowded speedway. Tim Chitwood at the very same time perform's his hi-ski act, however Chitwood is comming from the opposite direction, driving a Toyota Tundra pick-up truck. The ground generates, an trembles the earth all around, as the sky is lite with inspiring fire and lightning snow. The amazed fans, abruptly realize that the all white, Hollywood Thunder, has created this awesome light and sound, from the extremely powerful, 6000-horsepower, world's fastest street legal jet. This combo of acts together, is a performance that a stuntdriver fan has to see, hear, and feel the excitement of the cluster of people around them, as they watch the Charles Belknap Hollywood Stunt Show.
Professional stuntmen trained to re-create memorable stunts from television and motion picture. Also share the spotlight, with their performances with the Charles Belknap Toyota Hollywood Stunt Show.
There is plenty of bumper-to-bumper car chases, airborne motorcycles and narrow misses, that will kept you on the edge of your seat.
A rubber-screeching reverse spin of an all - new Camry Solara will leave heads spinning while the impact from a flying-dive-bomber crash will cause startled spectators to briefly duck for cover.
Now, the fast paced action really heats up as stuntmen crash through flaming barricades and leap off speeding Toyota's into pools of flaming gasoline. Later, a professional stuntman balances himself a-top a precarious platform and is sent crashing to the ground when the narrow structure is knocked from underneath him by an automobile traveling at breakneck speeds.
This show is well worth the traveling time to attend. The entire show team members, hope you enjoy their acts. If you get a chance try to say hello to them, or wave. They will do the same. Everyone of you stuntdrivers fans missed the Gold Rush, and the Oil Rush, don't miss the Rush to see young and upcoming stuntdriver stars of tomorrow, Today.
See veteran daredevils at their best. Watch the top Clowns in this business.
Even if you have to travel a few hours, you will enjoy one of the best family out door entertainment found any where.
Kept your eye on Guido and Clown, they are always exciting to watch. Chris and Andy, hail from the Empire state of New York.
Guido is also the track boss (Chris Moreno)
A 19 year old star of the future, Jessie Bergman who hails from the state of Iowa, and one of the youngest stunt team member, will thrill everyone as a motorcycle performer. Jessie's acts include; the Board Wall, a long Jump, and will jump over a moving Pick-up Truck.
Chris Moreno does Hell Driving, Auto Bats, Perch, the Slide for Life, and don't be surprised to see him doing a Roll Over act. Also the track boss.
Richard Sanders from the Blue Grass state of Kentucky . Richard perform's Crash Work, Roll Overs, Human Battering Ram and drives the box truck from one show to the next on the 1999 Tour Season.
Dave Fordham A Indiana Hoosier Takes Over For Richard Sanders After A Mid Season Injury. Although he is the newest addition to the team, He thrills everyone with his nail biting Human Battering Ram. He is also A key figure in ramp setup and crash work. Keep An eye Out Dave is One Of Our Future Stars!
Bill Domonick is also from the state of Ohio. Bill does Hell Driving, Crash Work, and the Dive Bomber acts.
Tim Chitwood, performs Hell Driving, and Hi Skis. Although Tim is not at all of the show dates, see show dates where he will appear. Try to see Tim's performance if possible. The extra few miles of your travel time will provide sheer delight to the entire family.
Jason Mackey, hails from the Show Me state of Missouri. Formerly with the Chitwood Auto Thrill Show. Does Hell Driving, Roll Overs, Drives the car for the Perch act, and also drives the car for the Human Battering Ram.
Tonny Petersen, of North Carolina is the Stunt Coordinator for the Toyota Hollywood Stunt Show. Tonny does Hell Driving, Hi Skis, and performs the dangerous Reverse Spin.
Chuck Forester performs the Jet Truck act, and Joe Byrd, drives the truck that transport's the Jet Truck.
Charles Belknap, from Florida is the General Manager and Owner. Charles is leading the Auto Thrill Show industry into the next century, as the Number One Top Producer of Auto Thrill Shows World Wide.
CHARLIE BELKNAP’S HOLLYWOOD STUNT SHOW
CHARLIE BELKNAP’S HOLLYWOOD STUNT SHOW NORTH AMERICA’S #1 THRILL SHOW http://www.autothrillshows.com
As we move into the new millennium, Charlie Belknap’s Hollywood Stunt Show, a modern-day stunt spectacular, unchallenged in size, scope, equipment and talent marks 15 consecutive seasons of being North America’s number one and only nationally sponsored automobile thrill show attraction. Performing at America’s premier fairs and speedways, Charlie Belknap's Hollywood Stunt Show is over 70 minutes of absorbing actin, suspense, surprise and hilarity, staged in the same wholesome, family spirit that your parents and grandparents enjoyed and which your children and children’s children will enjoy in years ahead.
As in the past, breathtaking stunts will be under the direction of internationally famous stunt man Tonny Petersen. A native of Copenhagen, Denmark, Petersen is a professional stunt coordinator with over four decades worth of stunt driving experience. Performing along side Petersen in the intricate, highly calculated precision-driving maneuvers would be stunt veteran and crash artist Bill Dominick. You will marvel at the skill and daring of rising stunt star Chris Morena as he recreates awe-inspiring stunts from current award-winning motion pictures and television shoes. Be amazed by the masterfully executed motorcycle maneuvers of a motorcycle daredevil as he explodes through a flaming barrier. Andrew Guerriero, performing in his 12th season with the show, returns once again as America’s most celebrated and recognized automobile thrill show stunt clown “Sparky the Daredevil Clown”. Andrew also serves as Director of Promotions and Publicity for the show as well as being the liaison between the show and its national sponsors.
This all-new production will rekindle “Americana” as it features America’s authentic muscle car, the high performance 260 HP Ford Mustang GT. The show will also showcase the Ford Ranger XLT and F-Series trucks.
The thrill is back once again in this great American tradition with the exhilarating roar of a great American automobile in what is guaranteed to be a “Tournament of thrills.”
Charlie Belknap’s Hollywood Stunt Show once again showcases a fleet of current model Ford cars and trucks in a 70 minute, hihg-energy spectacle of speed and sound for their 15th annual 2004 tour.
Watch in awe as your favorite stuntmen drive a fleet of Fords through a series of memorable stunt re-creations. The action begins with the classic, high-speed, bumper-clicking precision driving routine with 260 HP Mustang GT coupes. Experience car chases that include near mmisses and rubber screeching 180 degree reverse spins. Prepare to be thrilled and amazed as veteran stunt man Tonny Petersen attempts to drive and balance a Ford Ranger XLT pickup truck on two wheels while “Sparky the Daredevil Clown” attempts a balancing act while perched on the side of the truck.
Don’t miss the legendary stunt of all time, the human battering ram, as daredevil crashes through a flaming barrier while being mounted on the hood of a speeding automobile. The action heats up even more as a motorcycle rider soars through a burning barricade and another daredevil leaps from the rear bumper of a speeding Ford Mustang GT into a pool of flaming gasoline.
Skill and daring are held in balance as veteran crash artist’s snap roll automobiles. You’ll be on the edge of your seat for the fitting finale, as stuntmen smash, crash and demolish automobiles in the high-flying “Hollywood Dive-Bomber Crash.”
The thrill is back once again in this great American tradition with the exhilarating roar of a great automobile in what is guaranteed to be a “Tournament of Thrills.”
Jim Crash Moreau
BIO of CRASH MOREAU
You have entered the danger zone of professional daredevil Jim Crash Moreau, AKA the MAINE MANIAC who hails from Bangor, Maine.
A veteran of 39 years of performing live action stunts at County and State Fairs and Speedways of North America and Canada.
Jim's specialty is crashing cars and blowing himself up. When crashing cars he uses everyday stock automobiles with a standard seatbelt and a crash helmet for protection. He uses no roll-bars in most acts. He has demolished over 2,000 cars in his career.
In 1972 Jim learned how to blow himself up with dynamite and walk away from it. In 1980 he learned how to do it in a safer way when he worked for the World Series of Thrills and John Anderson. Jim still performs this act today under his trademark name of Captain Explosion . Today he uses at least a pound of explosives as real dynamite has been resticted by government regulations. A safe act now has become an unsafe act, by these regulations. Jim is only one of a handful of stunt performers who still knows how to use real dynamite.
In 1974 Jim was the first stuntman in the US to perform the Steel Wall Crash, some call the domino crash. Jim learned this act from the originator, The Unbelievable Lessard Brothers of Quebec. Since those first days Jim has been copied by many but still is the only cascadeur that has performed this act over 35 different ways including using a convertible.
Over the years he has performed stunts with new cars in precision driving over low ramps, stunts with motorcycles and snowmobiles, and even a go-kart. On occassions he even dorns his clown outfit and is known as Crash'O Dare.
Also in 1974, Jim performed a car roll-over for the movie DEATHRIDERS. Jim was asked to do the stunt completely different from his normal way. As the art of streaking was the thing to do, the director wanted Jim to streak in the movie. So Jim rolled the car with only his crash helmet and cowboy boots on. Some 30 years later Jim is still the only stuntman to crash a car nude.
In the 80's Jim became the 2nd stuntman to literally set himself on fire without a firesuit or fire gel at county fairs after learning the act the year before when he worked with Texan Gary Beall on Bill Siros Thrill-a-rama. A few years later Gary could not make a performance he called Jim up and asked him to take over the date but he asked Jim to come out of a car that just exploded. Jim learned how to do this new version of being on fire over the Ma Bell network.
Jim is probally one of the most versitile stunt performers in the outdoors business today. He is known by everyone in the business from coast to coast.
A few years ago while performing in Quebec he learned how to do his newest act, The Torpedo crash which was designed by Greg Riddell of Ontario. Jim has taken this act to a new level, of blowing everything up on impact.
Over the years Jim has been a stunt coordinator for other stunt personnel. He has helped motorcycle jumpers and so called THRILL SHOW Producers to start their shows. But no one can produce the wild stunt shows that he produces for himelf. Many have tried but they are still not up to par for a wild show..
In the 90's Jim designed the last Auto Cannon of the Century for Fransqua Boivan. In 2002 Jim put Wildman Al thru a mobile home, end to end, while he blew everything up in a ball of fire. The following year he had Wildman Al drive a dump truck into a school bus standing straight up on it's rear end. in 2004 Jim designed a ramp so Wildman Al could pilot a Garbage Truck off an 8 foot high ramp and land over 77 feet down range for a Guiness World Record.
Over the years Jim has been very fortunate for only having minor injuries, as he has known many performers who have died or been seriously injured while performing. With only one broken bone in his finger and minor cuts and scrapes, he did get his worst injury while performing the Sunday night before Memorial Day 2004, in Thompson Connecticut. He drove a school bus at over 60 mph thru another bus that was placed sideways on the racetrack. When the bus hit, it split the other bus in half, but the steering column came in on him, pinning him between the steering wheel and the back of the seat. Jim didn't receive any broken bones but had internal problems that made him sick all summer, still he kept on performing, starting two weeks after the mishap. Even today a year and a half later his stomach still hurts.
Jim is 58 years old and the 4th oldest daredevil performing for the number of years being in the business, and the oldest at doing automobile crashes. You will see Jim perform again this summer. Please check out the schedule for where he will be performing at a location near you.
Janet Lee's biography
Ladydaredevil.com - About Janet Janet Lee's biography: A look at Lady Daredevil Janet Lee (Ward) Janet started her stunt career in Texas in the summer of 1973 when she was hired by stunt show owner Billy Ward. This was the same day he heard her volunteer to get inside a box with Danny Reed, a.k.a. Mr. TNT, who was to be blown up with dynamite. They were at a Deathriders show in Abilene, and Billy was there to promote his upcoming show for the next week. When the Deathriders' announcer asked for any volunteers, Janet offered to get into the box with Danny Reed. Because she had traveled to see the show three times in the same month and no one had gotten hurt so far, she thought it would be safe. Although she didn't get to do the act (they hadn't figured anyone would really volunteer and insurance wouldn't cover it), Billy was in the announcer's stand at the time and liked the way she showed no fear about the stunt. He requested an interview, and two days later, she was officially hired. She practiced driving on the racetrack with the team for a week before her first show on June 22nd, when she performed precision driving. Over the next few months during this first season, she crashed cars, drove cars through dynamite, rode on the hood of cars as a human battering ram, crashed through flaming board walls, and drove cars through tons of ice. She even did a head-on collision with another female driver, sustaining her first injuries. But this didn't stop her; she was determined to continue with this new adventure. July 1974 Newpaper Article September 22, 1974 Dewey, Oklahoma During the 1974 season, on April 20th, she did her first official bomb act in Tucson, Arizona, and that was her specialty for the rest of the year. She was known as "Jan Ward, the Human Bomb." She was also part of the clown act entertaining during the intermission as "Mama," wife of "Ol' Man Petrol, the clown." The show traveled from Arizona and New Mexico to Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas performing these explosions with Janet inside the box made of aluminum foil. The 1975 season got off to a slow start for Janet, who would give birth to a baby boy on August 13th. Her first show of the season was actually on Labor Day! She had a show booked for the racetrack and performed the Human Bomb act. She also crashed cars in stunts called The Leap of Death and The Suicide Twist. At the end of the 1975 season, Janet spent the winter in Phoenix, Arizona, where she met motorcycle jumper Gary Wells. Before the year was out, she traded her Ford Pinto to Gary for one of his CR-250s. She spent the rest of the winter in the desert with it becoming proficient enough to start doing stunts. The Leap of Death July 24, 1976 - Jump over sixty cycles In 1976, she did her first public jump in Mexicali, Mexico. Although she was not scheduled to do the jump, the regular jumper had been injured earlier in the day, wrecking the only jump bike. She was given a three-hour notice that she would be doing her first jump in front of a crowd that had been gathering all day for the show. Her bike did not have a speedometer on it, so she did practice runs alongside the jump ramps while someone else rode another bike with a speedometer next to her to help gauge her speed. At the time for the jump, she went for it. Her back wheel landed at the edge of the catch ramp leaving a small dent on the top. The landing otherwise was fine, and she went on to finish her normal stunts of the Suicide Twist, the Human Bomb, the Dynamite Death Ride, and the Human Bomb Act (Miss Dinamita). The 1976 season continued with more shows in Arizona and Texas. The 1977 season started in February with a benefit jump. Most of the shows consisted now of motorcycle jumps. One show was done in the parking lot of the Brazito Plaza shopping center in Las Cruces, New Mexico on March 19, 1977. This is where Jan met motorcycle jumper Bob Duffey, who was extremely nice considering this was his hometown! He even gave her an autographed photo of himself. The two jumps went as planned over five cars with barely enough room to stop the bike after the jumps before going onto the highway. In May of 1977, she was booked to do another double jump at a Kawasaki dealership - this time in the gravel parking lot. As partial payment, she was given a brand new bike. The first jump was a little short but she still made it without a problem. This caused her to overcompensate on the second jump. The approach was too fast. She overshot the landing ramp altogether, landed in the gravel, and the bike went out from under her. With minor injuries on the chin and left elbow, both requiring stitches, she was soon released from the hospital to check out the damage to the new bike. Damage to the bike was superficial as well, and the dealership fixed it within a day. June 5, 1977 - First of two jumps in Clovis, New Mexico Her next set of jumps would be in the same town, but a different venue - the fairgrounds. In this show, a car dealer had provided some used cars for the jumps. The first jump was fine, the second just a little short. This did not end in a crash though; the back wheel landed on the top of the last car, leaving a very distinguishable tire track! Add that jump here June 5, 1977 She was afraid that she might have to cover the damage financially but the dealer was so excited about it that he put the car on his showroom floor with a sign and a photograph of the jump! The next week, she did another jump as a battle of the sexes. The other jumper was a motorcycle dealer. These jumps went well. Janet's next jump would be her last The jump was to be over the Concho River in San Angelo, Texas on June 25. Donny Winn had tried to jump this river twice, crashing both times. She had the idea to cross from the opposite direction and set the jump up that way. It was a Saturday afternoon show during the Fiesta del Concho with a huge crowd of people standing on both sides of the river and on two bridges waiting for the jump. The time had come for the performance, and she was a little apprehensive, still making practice runs. Something wasn't right. Another few minutes went by, and as she had learned so well in the past few years, the show must go on. She rode out into the street where she started her approach with a wave of her hand meaning that this was the real thing. Her approach was from the street, over the curb, up a small ramp onto the grass, then up the small hill to the approach ramp. The bike's wheels were not straight on the ramp, the angle was too much to compensate for. She cleared the river but ended up crashing into the opposite bank with her head and right arm. Paramedics (emergency corps at that time) were at her side within seconds. She was unconscious. One of her brothers was there to take her helmet off, and another one to pull the jump bike out of the river with the engine still running. She was transferred to the hospital and was in the ICU with a concussion, still not conscious and paralyzed on her right side for six hours before any response. She also had dislocated her right elbow and broken it in three places. On Tuesday morning, she awoke to reporters at her bedside waiting for the story. At the time she was still thinking she would jump more, but in fact, after weeks of recovery, she retired from stunt work at the age of 22. Janet in the San Angelo hospital. By: J.R. Harding
Those Magnificent Men & Their Flying Machines
Those Magnificent Men & Their Flying Machines
Stunt drivers Jimmy Canton and Bumps Willert once toured the country performing death-defying feats with ordinary cars. And they lived to tell about it. It's hard to believe, but there was a time when auto thrill shows drew larger crowds than NASCAR races. Spectators packed rickety wooden grandstands to watch daring young men in spiffy white uniforms do the "slide for life" or the "T-bone crash," to drive cars on two wheels, or to jump cars or motorcycles from ramp to ramp. In the late 1950s as many as 29 stunt shows - including Jack Kochman's Hell Drivers, Joie Chitwood's Tournament of Thrills, and Jimmy Lynch's Death Dodgers - toured, the country.
Last year there were only three. Live shows of flying, crashing, and spinning automobiles have been supplanted by TV programs like World's Greatest Police Chases, Car Crashes, and Stupid Driving. Today, only a few drivers know how to do a T-bone crash, crawl from the wreckage, and salute the crowd with a cocky smile and a jaunty wave.
Loren (Bumps) Willert joined Joie Chitwood's auto thrill show as a mechanic the day after he graduated from high school, in 1953. The next night, Willert did the slide for life, where the stunt man lowers himself off the back of a speeding car and slides on his posterior through a circle of flaming gasoline. "I'd only seen it once, the night before, when the original guy got hurt," says Willert. "Two days later I did the firewall stunt, where you drive a car through a burning wall, and two days after that I barrel-rolled my first car. I guess I was either real gullible or a quick learner."
Jimmy Kolstow was already a seasoned thrill show veteran when Willert joined Chitwood's show. Kolstow ran away from home to join Chitwood in 1951, and performed as "Jimmy Canton" so his parents wouldn't recognize his name on posters advertising the show. After 52 years as Jimmy Canton, that's the way he's listed in the phone book - "in case somebody from my thrill show days needs to find me."
Canton, like Willert, was recruited to do the slide for life after only one day on the job. "You had the leather pad you slid on, gloves, coveralls, and a helmet," he recalls. "You slid through the fire so fast you barely felt it. The trick was to keep your hands and legs up and just slide on your fanny till you stopped. Later on, it was a tradition that for the last show of the year, before we laid off for the winter, that the crew would hide the leather pad. They'd be generous and give you an extra pair of coveralls, and you'd do the slide that way, without the leather pad. That was the one time you'd want to roll instead of slide. As soon as you cleared the fire, you'd tuck your arms in tight and start rolling like a log. It's pretty amazing how far you can roll like that, and not really get much more than a few bruises. The coveralls were pretty much worn out, though."
Canton specialized in motorcycle stunts. His talent for jumping 30 or 40 feet in the air pales in comparison to today's flamboyant motocross jumping exhibitions - until you compare the equipment. "I usually jumped a 300-pound BSA 350 Scrambler with maybe three or four inches of suspension travel, and both the take-off and landing ramps were two feet wide," he says. "The other guys used to tease me that I was showing off twisting the handlebars and my body in the air, but I wasn't. I was manhandling the bike so I'd hit that narrow little landing ramp."
Canton's most memorable motorcycle crash came when he rode an imported Benelli motorcycle, marketed briefly in the United States by Montgomery Ward department stores. When he left the take-off ramp, the front forks separated and the front wheel fell off. He pole-vaulted over the handlebars when he landed. "I did a lot of serious rolling, until things finally stopped moving," says Canton. "I was laying there face down, taking mental inventory of body parts, thinking, Hey, I got away with it. . .and Bam! That damned Monkey Ward motorcycle landed on my back. No permanent damage, but I was sure sore for a couple days."
Neither man admits to ever being afraid before a stunt, but both agree that the T-bone crash worried them. The stunt required them to jump a car off a ramp and land nose-first on a car parked sideways, then finish with an end-over-end roll. The potential for odd twists and flips was high. Willert says the secret was to "get in the cellar and hang on for dear life."
Both Canton and Willert are proud of their ability to wreck cars, but take special pride in the cars they didn't wreck. Both men were aces at driving cars on two wheels. Spectators often swore the cars bad hidden "training wheels." "One time in Oklahoma, an oilman came down after the show and told us he had $1,000 that said the cars were rigged," recalls Canton. "Our bosses had left for the night, so we looked at each other, pooled our money to take the bet, and set up the ramp. Once we got the car up on two wheels, we drove real slow, so the guy could run alongside the car with a flashlight, looking for extra wheels or trick stuff. It was easy money, because the cars weren't rigged. The sponsors wouldn't allow us to do any suspension or drivetrain or engine modifications to the two-wheel and precision-driving cars," Canton says. "They wanted the thrill show to be a demonstration of how tough those Chevys or Fords or Dodges were. We finally convinced them to let us lock the rear end on the two-wheel cars, and that's how we were able to drive them all the way around the tracks. But the announcer always had to tell the crowd the rear end was locked. The companies would even send spies out to check the cars to make sure we hadn't modified them - they were really strict about it."
Willert, who was on tour in Europe at the time, studied photographs and films of the failed attempts and eventually determined that the problem was psychological. The corkscrew ramps were placed out of line to compensate for the sideways travel of the car as it spiraled through the air, and drivers couldn't deal with the landing ramp being out of line with the take-off ramp. "They'd always try to help the car get there by cheating to one side as they went up the launch ramp," says Willert. "That really messed things up, because you had to be at exactly 47 miles an hour and exactly on a line they had painted on the launch ramp. They had some nasty crashes. Eventually they talked me into doing the stunt for the actual filming. I admit, it was hard to keep it on the line painted on the launch ramp, when you could see the landing ramp sitting way, way off to the side. But I did it, and the first time I did it was the take you see in the movie."
Both men are now retired from stunt driving. Canton lives in Indianola, Iowa and is restoring his BSA motorcycle with thoughts that it might be fun to do a few short jumps - you know, just for old time's sake.
Willert lives in Davenport, Iowa, where he spoils his grandchildren and stays involved in motorsports by overseeing his son's IMCA modified team.
If you were to meet these men on the street today, you'd think they were retired factory or office workers who'd spent their lives punching time clocks. But in reality they spent their careers entertaining audiences with precision driving and nerves of steel, doing things with cars that sane men weren't supposed to do. Their hair may now be thinner or grayer and their waists thicker than in the faded photos from the glory days. But in their hearts, they're still the dashing young men in white uniforms, crawling from wrecked cars to give a cocky smile and a jaunty wave to a packed grandstand.
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