Posted by: helldriversmovie | September 8, 2008

Hell Drivers wins Golden Wheel award, attracts Paris Hilton wannabees

Hearty thanks to the International Reel Wheel Film Festival for awarding us their “Golden Wheel” trophy for best feature documentary!

The automotive-themed film festival, based at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa, had to scurry for more folding chairs to accommodate the sudden surge in stunt fans.

Reel Wheel takes place during the famous Knoxville Nationals race week, when the population of tiny Knoxville Iowa triples from about 8,000 to 25,000.

It was amusing to see our theater audience organically form around the historic sprint cars anchoring every nook and cranny of the museum:

Stunt gorilla King Kong Knievel, as usual, was a hit with the photo-ops:

King Kong Knievel also surprisingly was a hit with teenage girls — who traditionally have not made up the core audience of “Hell Drivers,” perhaps due to our lack of a Hannah Montana soundtrack.

The young lady primping on the left clearly idolizes Paris Hilton more than Evel Knievel.

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Of all the mysteries of the Hell Driver world, the biggest one for us is how an ordinary piece of catcher’s gear can protect a daredevil’s kneecaps from shattering like shards of china. Baseball’s suit of armor certainly didn’t stop Carlton Fisk from busting his ribs numerous times.

And Fisk was just playing ball — not being dropped one hundred feet in the air into a pile of junk cars.

That’s Crash Moreau up in the picture above, looking a bit disoriented after his successful “European Kamikaze Death Drop” performed at the Wayne County Fair in Pennsylvania on August 9th.

We’re not sure what’s “European” about this stunt — did Crash sip a cappuccino when he emerged from the wreckage?

According to the Fair’s pre-event press release, which for some reason is typed in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, “a sudden stop on the earth’s surface could result in a bone shattering crash. This is certainly not the result he is hoping to achieve, but it is always a possibility.”

Regretfully, we could not be in Honesdale, Pennsylvania for this spectacle. And we have yet to talk to Crash directly about his nerve-wracking experience (Bear in mind that this same stunt was scrapped at the last minute in July by the Northern Maine Fair presumably because they could not get a crane, but we suspect they were fearful that Crash would die on their watch).

It’s absolutely shocking that not one of the pillars of the Honesdale media bothered to cover the most exciting event that may ever happen in that community. Not a single blog or even news brief surfaces on Google.

However, Lou “Rocket” Re was kind enough to share his observations on the Death Drop and provide some classic photos, too. We now cede the floor to Mr. Re:

“All that day crash was the talk of the show. We all wondered if he finally had lost it or was messing with us about how scared he was and how he never did a drop before. We heard so many stories about how this stunt was to be done and how many people had been hurt or killed by setting it up incorrectly.

“I get to the show and all the monster truck guys tell me they dropped a car earlier in the day and the motor smacked through (the dashboard) into the back seat. And if a person was in it, that person would have been smashed. I called Spanky Spangler and he gives me advice about pulling the motor and replacing it with sand bags or hay bales.

“Well, Crash wants no part of that. He wants to do it the European way with the full car as it is. Now everyone is real scared. Crash seems scared but in a good mood at TIMES FLAPPING HIS ARMS LIKE A BUTTERFLY. Well we know what Crash thinks about butterflies, he thinks it means eternal life.

“So, I’m not sure if he knows he’s going to make it or if he feels he wants to move on and be somewhere else. Crash has had a hard time of life the last few months and he has seemed different to many people.

“The show starts out with ‘Captain Explosion’ and the bomb does not go off. All the years of seeing Crash do that stunt, I never saw it fail. Oh, no! — Is this a sign of things to come? Well, I have to be a pro and do four firewalls and the King Kong Knievel act, so I block the crane drop out of my mind. it would be the last part of the show.

So I get through my stunts, the monster trucks run and now Crash is up — a real nervous time for everyone. At this point, I think everyone is second guessing themselves for even allowing it to happen.

“But if you know Crash, he needs it to go, and he would have been mad as hell if he was stopped. Crash is belted in and strapped in and about to go up. I can see fear in his face and everyone else is real nervous and upset. As i look down a butterfly floats by and now I’m really thinking, is this a sign?

“Before the firemen give the crane operator the go ahead, I lean in and tell Crash, “I’m with you my friend, I’m praying for you.”

“I really felt there was a 50 – 50 chance he was going to get hurt or be killed. So the car goes up and seems to take a long time. I can’t take it anymore so I turn away and hear the system release and crash — EXPLOSION!

“Everyone runs in, the car lands perfect on its nose. Firemen and crew are trying to get to him and we are not sure if he’s alright.

Then out comes Crash. He was knocked a little silly, but inside I can see a big grin wanting to come out. The crowd lets out a roar, Crash plays it up, we all hug him and tell him he’s crazy.

“Again, you can see a grin of satisfaction coming from within. Once again, the “Maine Maniac” pulls off another stunt.”

Doesn’t the mood lighting above give Crash a Robert Redford-esque glow, the kind of physical magic displayed in the baseball film, “The Natural?”

Stay tuned for Crash Moreau’s version of events….

Posted by: helldriversmovie | August 14, 2008

Woods Hole Premiere: Capacity Crowds & Encore Screening!

“Hell Drivers” attracted a capacity crowd at the 2008 Woods Hole Film Festival, packing the charming Old Fire Station on Water Street. As promised, complimentary boxes of Junior Mints were distributed to the first 48 fans in attendance. And the candy was a huge hit.

We’d like to believe that the strong review in the Cape Cod Times had more to do with the lively turnout than the free candy did. But hey, we don’t grill the theater audience for their true motivations.

The organizers of the Woods Hole Film Festival paid “Hell Drivers” the ultimate compliment by scheduling a bonus outdoor “Drive-In style” showing at the Pie In the Sky Bakery. If you haven’t heard, they bake the most scrumptious popovers in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Worth the drive even on those unfortunate days that “Hell Drivers” is not screening.

Posted by: helldriversmovie | July 28, 2008

Cape Cod Media: “Nutty” documentary captures “human spirit.”

In advance of the Woods Hole Film Festival this week, entertainment editor Marilyn Rowland has these kind words to say in the Enterprise, a Cape Cod newspaper chain:

“Director Peter Koziell and producer Darren Garnick have brought these men, their motivations, their love of jumping and crashing, and their human spirit to life.”

Read the rest of Rowland’s review here.

Cape Cod Times movie critic Tim Miller raves that we are “a nutty — and fascinating — portrait of the American dream on wheels.”

Can’t ask for a better compliment than nutty! Check out Miller’s full mini-review here.

And remember, our Cape Cod screening — which includes pristine, never-before opened boxes of Junior Mints for the first 48 guests — is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 30. Tickets will be sold outside the old Fire Station next door or can be purchased on-line here.

Bring your cameras and look for stunt gorilla King Kong Knievel outside the Woods Hole Community Hall (on the main drag, Water Street).

(As an aside, if you love popovers, go visit the Pie in the Sky bakery. They are fantastic, rivaling Judie’s in Amherst, Mass., and Popovers on the Square in Portsmouth, NH.)

Posted by: helldriversmovie | July 11, 2008

The Flying Angel: This daredevil wears a lucky orange bra

Evel Knievel Stunt Cycles dominated the toy shelves in the early 1970s, but there was also a competing biker chick model. Stuntwoman Debbie Lawler was no novelty act. Here, guest blogger Steve Mandich, one of our favorite writers, graciously allows us to reprint his 1998 biography tribute to Ms. Lawler.

(As an aside, The Flying Angel was kind enough to praise this Web site on our “About The Film” page. Debbie, if you are reading this, please get in touch with us at helldrivers@comcast.net. We’d love to give the world a Flying Angel update — are you still addicted to TV reruns of “Sanford and Son?”)

**

HELL DRIVER FLASHBACK: THE DEBBIE LAWLER STORY

Debbie Lawler was the most prolific female motorcycle jumper of the 1970s, if not of all-time. She was the third most-popular motorcycle jumper of her era, following Evel Knievel (of course) and Super Joe Einhorn. Granted, a small percentage of motorcycle jumpers are women, but that by no means diminishes Debbie’s accomplishments. In fact, “The Queen of the Motorcycle Jumpers” once broke one of Evel Knievel’s inter-gender jumping records.

With her blue-and-white helmet, lucky orange bra, and pink hearts sewn all over her snug, baby-blue leathers, “The Flying Angel” was often asked why such a pretty girl would perform dangerous stunts. The shapely (35-25-34) yet petite (five-foot-two, 106-pounds), blue-eyed blonde replied, “I like the feeling of freedom. It’s like flying over the highest mountains.”

Debbie was born in Grant’s Pass, Oregon, in December 1952, on Friday the 13th. The daughter of motorcycle racing champ Ben Lawler, Debbie took her first ride on the handlebars of her dad’s bike at age nine. After her family moved to Arizona, she got her first motorcycle on her 12th birthday and began racing at 14. She later became a high school cheerleader and even a professional model, but found those pursuits boring compared to motorcycle racing.

Enter Charles Samples, former manager of Phoenix-based motorcycle jumpers Gary Davis and Rex Blackwell, a duo who comprised the “Astro Jumpers.” Davis and Blackwell eventually quit the Astro Jumpers following disputes with Samples, who then “discovered” Debbie. Samples became Debbie’s manager, teaching her how to jump and carefully crafting her girlish image.

“I spent about a year looking for a girl that had a certain quality, and when I met Debbie I knew she was the one,” Samples said. “I needed someone who was pretty and looked like she had never been on a motorcycle before. We do get a lot of response from people who find it hard to imagine a small girl jumping cars on a motorcycle.”

Indeed, Debbie’s appearance was often a surprise to her audiences. “The crowd expects to see a 300-pound woman with tattoos and a chain hanging out of her hip pocket,” she said. “They don’t expect me.”

Debbie began jumping in 1972 at fairs and speedways across the country, soon earning much more than she ever made as a model. On March 31, 1973, at the Beeline Dragway in Phoenix, Debbie jumped her Suzuki 76 feet over a line of parked cars. An outfit called Motor Sports International declared her feat the “World Record for Motorcycle Distance Jumping — Female.”

Then, on February 3, 1974, ABC’s Wide World of Sports was on hand at the Houston Astrodome to tape the National Championship Indoor Motorcycle Race, and Wide World also covered Debbie’s jump. The 21-year-old earned her biggest exposure to date as she bettered Evel’s indoor vehicular record. Her 101-foot leap over 16 Chevy pickups earned her a spot in the Guinness book (though it curiously referred to her “The Smiling Angel” and “The Lesser Evel,” nicknames not heard elsewhere).

When asked about the new record by WWOS host Jim McKay, Evel derisively replied, “I can spit farther than that.” He reclaimed the record the following month, clearing 17 vehicles at the Portland Memorial Coliseum. Debbie, ever the good sport, was among the event’s 8,000 spectators. She gushed afterwards, “It was a beautiful jump, just beautiful.”

Despite losing the record, Debbie was a sensation. She appeared on the TV game show What’s My Line? and in print ads for Eagle Tires. In response to Ideal’s successful Knievel toys, Kenner released the “Debbie Lawler Daredevil Jump Set,” reasoning that girls would demand a line of stunt toys that they too could identify with. The Debbie doll had a big pink heart on her white helmet, with her golden plastic mane flowing out over her white jumpsuit.

Her cycle was primarily green, with shiny plastic faux-chrome machinery and another big pink heart emblazoned on the side. The toy’s packaging depicted a small girl at the helm of the wind-up crankcase that made little Debbie’s cycle go. The back of the toy’s box illustrated “Wild Rider Action!”, eight positions that Debbie could be mounted on the cycle.

She also received her own chapter in the Joe Scalzo book, “Evel Knievel and Other Daredevils” (Grosset and Dunlap, 1974). “No terrible scars or ugly pavement rash mar her delicate features yet,” Scalzo wrote. “Certainly she is the most attractive of all motorcycle daredevils.”

While Scalzo was merely stating the obvious, also revealed a Debbie previously unknown to her public: her favorite food was fried chicken, and she was an expert water skier and aspiring actress. He depicted this apparent “wild woman” as a sweet, wholesome, old-fashioned girl who loved children and the elderly. She also lived cleanly, except for the two packs of cigarettes she smoked daily.

Scalzo quoted Debbie at length, further exposing her personal side. “All I can say is, I never wear a bra,” she said, except one: “I won’t jump without my lucky bra. I just won’t jump without it. It’s a real dainty French thing. I’m superstitious about it. I won’t jump without it or my manager being right there.”

On the more obsessive-compulsive side, Debbie admitted, “Oh, I’m always taking showers. I seem to spend most of my time taking showers.”

But don’t get the impression she was a complete nut: “I love cooking and sewing. I get up in the morning, take a shower, do my nails, and watch TV. And, I create.”

To wit: “Love is a beautiful thing that comes on wings/ But leaves with tears/ But memory of love is an ever-burning ember.”

Television could sometimes be a distraction. “The first time I jumped, over at Tucson, I’d brought a portable TV along with me,” said Debbie. “But I was sitting there watching Sanford and Son and forgot all about jumping. They had to come remind me.”

Though Debbie might’ve been the Amelia Earhart of motorcycle jumpers, she certainly wasn’t its Gloria Steinem: “I’m no woman’s libber. I like men.”

So, how about those men? “Well, I’ve had trouble as far as dating goes. I have some boyfriends, of course. I like the masculine male. But boys find out what I do, that I jump a motorcycle over cars, and they don’t like it at all. I guess they don’t want to see me get splattered around. Or maybe they don’t like the competition.”

Debbie didn’t like the competition either. “In my mind I recognize no other male jumper. Evel Knievel started it all and as long as he is around, that’s it. My thing is not to compete with Evel at all. Knievel is the king of jumpers, right? Well, I’m the queen. And a queen can’t beat the king — it’s impossible. And I don’t like to compete against men anyway. I’m a girl.”

Debbie’s next jump occurred on March 4, 1974 at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Southern California. This time dressed in pink leathers, she would attempt her longest-ever jump: 104 feet over 15 Datsuns. Wide World was again present, along with 10,000 spectators. Unfortunately, a 30-mph tailwind helped in pushing Debbie 145 feet before her cycle’s rear wheel hit the bottom of the landing ramp. She was thrown from her bike, smashed onto the pavement, and tumbled 150 feet into a concrete wall. She suffered multiple abrasions and contusions and three fractured vertebrae, hardly worth her $5,000 payday.

She spent a week in the hospital, and then on April 5, she was a wheelchair-bound guest on The Mike Douglas Show, where Evel dropped in as a surprise guest. Around the same time, while recuperating in her Phoenix home, she was interviewed by People magazine. “What I’d really love to do is jump my bike over two destroyers,” she explained. “You know, those great big naval boats?”

Debbie didn’t appear again until June 1976, albeit as a color commentator on CBS Sports Spectacular. She offered her insights as Super Joe Einhorn beat Evel’s best-ever jump, clearing 15 buses at Buffalo’s Lancaster Speedway.

This is pretty much where the story ends, as about the only other thing I’ve heard since then was that she supposedly lives in the Southwest and owns a chain of restaurants. Still, there’s no doubt that Debbie Lawler has been an inspiration to the female motorcycle jumpers who’ve followed in her skidmarks, most notably Rena Hart, Teri Kezar, Janet Lee, Debbie Evans, Linda Beckley, Fiona Beale and Jamie Pamatuan. She was also likely the basis for Tracey Butler (a.k.a. “The Lavender Lady”), Evel’s fictional rival in the ’73 TV pilot Evel Knievel.

Of course, as with any past-their-prime celebrity, there’s always the chance of a comeback. But it’s doubtful.

“I can’t jump cars forever,” she told People in 1974. “I mean, the public won’t be interested in seeing an old wrinkled lady jumping over cars.”

Don’t be so sure, Debbie.

**
This article, originally titled “The Daredevil is a Woman: The Debbie Lawler Story,” first was published in Steve Mandich’s ‘zine “Heinous” in 1998. Mandich is the author of “Evel Incarnate: The Life and Legend of Evel Knievel.”

POSTSCRIPT FROM LOU “ROCKET” RE

“It’s funny you guys are writing about Debbie Lawler I was just talking with her last night. First let me say she is a beautiful lady with so much class it’s easy to see why she was such a big star and why everyone speaks so highly of her. I’m very lucky to be able to call her my friend. “The Flying Angel” has a few big projects she is currently working on. I’m not going to reveal any details right now, I’ll let Debbie do that when the time is right. I’ll just tell you, if Debbie Lawler is involved, it will be first class. I’m going to attempt to attach a photo of Debbie and I taken after the services for Evel Knievel last year.”

Posted by: helldriversmovie | July 3, 2008

Hell Drivers movie coming to Cape Cod! Free Junior Mints!

Woods Hole, arguably the marine biology epicenter of the world, also boasts one of the most fantastic film festivals.

“Hell Drivers: America’s Original Crash Test Dummies” is proud to screen at the 2008 Woods Hole Film Festival and we will be offering complimentary packages of Junior Mints to the first 48 movie buffs who stream into the theater.

Why? Well, because we LOVE Junior Mints and we can think of no better way to express our love to people who support film festivals. Here’s the 411 on our Cape Cod premiere:

HELL DRIVERS @ WOODS HOLE FILM FESTIVAL

When: Wednesday, July 30 — 7 p.m.
Where: Woods Hole Community Hall
Tickets: $7 – $10 Click here to order!
Directions: Click here!

We also love the Woods Hole logo — a fish in a flowing Marilyn Monroe dress. As a special bonus, we will give a second complimentary box of Junior Mints (and free admission) to any audience member — male or female — who shows up to the screening wearing a Marilyn costume!

Given the relative proximity of Provincetown, we will have a few extra cases of candy on hand.

And, we find the fish theme to be most appropriate for “Hell Drivers.” Guard your local pet stores, because stuntmen Crash Moreau and Louis Re are trying to bring back the goldfish-swallowing fad from the 50s!

This might be obvious, but one of the best ways to get that stinky goldfish taste and smell out of your mouth is to chug a box of Junior Mints.

Note: The “Hell Drivers” producers have no connection to Tootsie Roll Industries, the manufacturer of Junior Mints. But we love them and everything they stand for.

Posted by: helldriversmovie | June 30, 2008

Happy July 4th — Celebrate with Vampire Stuntmen?

This discovery comes from a New Hampshire fireworks retail outlet — the Granite state is a gunpowder-coated island of sanity in Puritan New England.

These stuntman vampire fireworks produce “a red and white glitter fountain, leading up to red and blue and white strobes.”

We’re still unclear on what makes this firework have anything to do with either stunts or vampires, but if you want to buy one, you can find them here.

From all of us here in the “Hell Drivers” crew, a very happy, hearty Independence Day to you and your loved ones!

Posted by: helldriversmovie | June 24, 2008

Hell Driver Flashback: Father Mike Juran

Over the next few weeks, we plan to share selected interview snippets from some of the most legendary Hell Drivers who ever stepped foot on a racetrack!

This week, we visit with Father Mike Juran, the longtime spiritual advisor to Jay Milligan’s American Thrill Show and Joie Chitwood’s Auto Thrill Show. Juran, also known as the “Flying Padre,” excelled at precision driving stunts and the human battering ram — which involved lying flat on the hood of a car and smashing through burning walls of fire.

It looks like an illusion, but it does give your helmet the beating of a lifetime. Juran had little patience for daredevil wannabes who thought the gig was easy. Watch the interview clips and find out how he took care of those who didn’t take the danger seriously.

Broken thumbs aside, Juran is also one of the few priests we know who will publicly reminisce about the joys of picking up chicks at the racetrack:

“Man in uniform? – the girls loved it. We used to sit at the track before the show, because we were dressed half hour beforehand — and the game that we played is that we would pick out certain girls in the audience while we were having our cigarettes… And the wager was which one would actually come up to one of us.”

Posted by: helldriversmovie | June 10, 2008

The “Other Rocky” comes to Philly — The Pennsylvania Premiere!

As much as we love Rocky Balboa, forget about him!

We’ve got Rocky Hardcore — and he and Crash and Doug and Lou make their big screen debut later this month in the City of Brotherly Love.

Some say the best part of Philly is the Cheesesteak. We’re also big fans of the Water Ice — the odd contradictory name given to slushy treats. The 100th guest at our Philadelphia Independent Film Festival screening will be treated to a complimentary Cheesesteak with a complimentary Water Ice to wash it down (flavor of your choice).

SPOILER ALERT: Or, if you prefer, you can munch on a bowl of goldfish with the daring Crash Moreau.

HELL DRIVERS PHILADELPHIA PREMIERE

What: Philadelphia Independent Film Festival
When: Friday, June 27 — 9 p.m.
Where: The 941 Theater, 941 North Front Street
Tickets: $6 – $8 at the door.

A spirited and irreverent Q & A session with the filmmakers will follow the screening.

As an aside, there was a moment during the Rocky Hardcore tour when the daredevil was innocently called “Rocky Balboa” by a young fan who couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9. It’s all about branding, Rocky!

Posted by: helldriversmovie | May 27, 2008

The Wait is Over: THE WORLD PREMIERE!

Take a look at the above picture of Rocky Hardcore in his natural habitat.

The stunt show business on the county fair and racetrack circuit involves a lot of waiting. Hours and hours of highway time that feels like driving on a conveyor belt. And hours and hours of lag time between setting up for stunts and performing them for the crowd.

And it’s been a long wait for the debut of “Hell Drivers: America’s Original Crash Test Dummies.”

We’re proud to be screening “Hell Drivers” for the very first time at the New Jersey International Film Festival on Friday, June 13. For a film about road trip adventures and the working class heroes of the outdoor entertainment biz, Jersey is the place to be. We will not be serving cappuccinos.

If you are even within a 500 mile radius of the Garden State, pack up the camper and bring the whole family! Come walk the red carpet with the real-life Hell Drivers!

HELL DRIVERS MOVIE PREMIERE — SCREENING INFORMATION

WHEN: 7 p.m., Friday, June 13
WHERE: Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ;
Scott Hall # 123
43 College Avenue (near corner of Hamilton Street)

TICKETS: Sold at the door, beginning at 6:30 p.m. $10 general admission, $9 students and seniors, $8 Friends of the NJ Media Arts Center.

DIRECTIONS: Take the NJ Turnpike to Exit 9 and then take Route 18N (New Brunswick direction) and go for 2 1/2 miles to the Rutgers University/George Street exit (immediately after the Route 27S exit; don’t take the earlier George Street exit).

At the end of the exit ramp onto George Street, take a left at the light. Go to the next light and make a right onto Hamilton Street. At the next light, make a right onto College Avenue. Almost immediately on your right, there is an University Parking Lot (#9) which is set aside for the NJ Film Festival.

Scott Hall is adjacent to the parking lot on the right. You can also park in Rutgers Lots #1 (next to Kirkpatrick Chapel) and #16 (next to Murray Hall). Click here for a campus map.

As a bonus, your ticket buys you a double feature. “Spine Tingler,” an offbeat pop culture film about “the last great American showman,” screens directly after “Hell Drivers.”

A Q & A session with a few select Hell Drivers will conclude the formal portion of the evening.

__________

Oh, and a belated congratulations to Robbie Knievel, who just jumped over 24 Coca Cola trucks at the King’s Island amusement park in Ohio. See those clouds of flame? Our very own Lou “Rocket” Re generously helped out with Robbie’s pyro. We don’t know what Lou gets paid for these kind of consulting gigs, but we suspect he would play with fire for free.

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