By Joe Naiman
Poway resident Danny Leetch won Saturday’s firefighters destruction derby at the San Diego County Fair.
Leetch, a Rancho Bernardo High School graduate, has been a firefighter for the Lakeside Fire Protection District for the past three years. Leetch drove a 1973 Cadillac Coupe de Ville in the demolition derby.
“It was more fun than I could have even imagined,” said Leetch.
Leetch had never previously driven in a destruction derby. “It sounded exciting,” he said.
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 and a firefighters destruction derby. The firefighters demolition derby was an annual event until 2004, which was the final year of operation for the Cajon Speedway.
The Burn Institute and local 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. The Del Mar event became the 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 both 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 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 five minutes) to ready their cars for the main event. The two remaining cars from each heat advanced to the main event, although in both 2010 and 2011 one driver was subsequently determined to have been wrongly ruled eliminated and the main events had seven cars.
This year the demolition derby had 18 cars. The Lakeside Firefighters Association donated enough money to purchase a car from Craigslist, and the Coupe de Ville was turned into a demolition car by fire department members over a period of between two and three months.
Leetch was in the first heat, the one in which three drivers advanced to the main event
Pfohl finished second in the finals for the second year in a row. “The right rear tire just got destroyed, so I wasn’t getting any traction,” he said. “I was kind of easy pickings after that.”
That made Leetch’s car — or what was left of it — the last one running. “Everything broke. The radiator’s broke. The rear axle’s bent,” he said.
Leetch does not believe that the Coupe de Ville would be suitable for a future destruction derby. “It’s done,” he said.
Leetch is hoping to find another car for the 2012 firefighters destruction derby.