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John Denniston returns to roots: School bus demolition derbies at Riverhead

A flagman waves the green flag at Riverhead

A flagman waves the green flag at Riverhead Raceway. (July 16, 2011) Credit: Daniel Brennan

In 2007, John Denniston decided to take a step back.

He started racing go-karts when he was 8 years old. By 16, he had moved on to super pro trucks. At 21, he competed in modifieds, the featured race at Riverhead Raceway.

Unlike many Riverhead drivers, Denniston then determined other things were more important and required the bulk of his time. His parents were ill and needed his help. He also runs his family's business, Hagerman Systems, a mobile and modular trailer transportation company.

This year, though, Denniston, a Westbury resident, found a way to "come back to his roots," as he put it. He started competing in school bus demolition derbies at Riverhead and will participate in Saturday's event.

"Later on in life, people decide to jump out of airplanes and things like that," Denniston said. "Well, I wanted to get into demolition derbies.

"I always maintained a presence at the racetrack," added Denniston, 31, who also sponsors two cars. "Then I thought about the derbies. I always considered myself a showman. The bus demo is the ultimate thing for me. You can show a little character in it."

In the first event in July, Denniston finished runner-up to winner Michael "Cheesebox" Rommeney of Queens.

"We're hoping we can outlast them this time," Denniston said.

Denniston's business actually transports the school buses used for the demolition derby from Gershow Recycling to Riverhead.

Denniston also is glad to participate in the demolition derbies because he realizes how critical they are to the track's future.

"The derbies bring the people in," said Denniston, whose father, Bill, worked at the track for 35 years. "It's not just at Riverhead, but racing, in general, is on life support right now. Are kids going to watch a race or school buses crash into each other? I was happy to put on a good show so that maybe they'll come back and watch the other races."

At some point, Denniston hopes to be back competing in those. "I do have aspirations of going back to racing, but not right now," Denniston said. "I'm hoping down the road at some time I could, but right now, other things are more important."

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