As the country celebrates its 234th birthday this weekend with fireworks and barbecues, Riverhead Raceway will host an event as American as apple pie and baseball: the demolition derby.
Derbies have been held on Long Island for nearly 60 years, with some of the first ever at Islip Speedway in the early 1950s. However, the allure of cars ramming into each other at high speeds fell out of vogue after it stopped being publicized on shows such as ABC's "Wide World of Sports."
But at Riverhead, demolition derbies have seen a revitalization thanks to men such as James "The Killa" Killkenny and his buddy, Jason Savoy. Killkenny, a 30-year-old from Howard Beach, has a derby pedigree, as his father, Tom "The Madhatter" Killkenny, and his uncle, Bob "The Killer Bee" Bennison, were both national demolition derby champions.
"Until you look at someone from across the track and put the pedal to the floor and drive them into the wall, you can't explain it," James Killkenny said. "The adrenaline rush is insane. It's in my blood. It's just what we do."
Savoy works for Bennison at his Lindenhurst auto body shop, and both he and James work on their cars there. Though Savoy and Killkenny are buddies, they aren't sandbaggers (the term used for cars that hide in a demolition derby rather than seek wrecks). "We go after each other at the end," Killkenny said. "I gave him a little bit of a lesson last week. Like in football, on any given Sunday either one of us could win it."
Not surprisingly, Savoy and Killkenny won the first two derbies of the season, though winning is only part of the event. The victor receives 100 points, while the judges' choice gets 80 and the fans' choice garners 60. So style points count.
"It's grassroots type of racing," Killkenny said. "It was becoming more of a professional type race, and that's not what it's about. It's about the average guy going out to have a good time. It's for the kids and for people who don't want to watch cars make left turns all day."