Otsego resident smashes his way to success
Think about spending time and money fixing up a car. Then think about taking that car and—intentionally, mind you—repeatedly ramming it into other cars while being rammed by still other cars.
Sounds a bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
Welcome to the world of demolition derby, a world for which Otsego resident Ray Bradshaw Jr. has developed a passion.
“I just love the atmosphere and the competition,” Bradshaw said. “Every time you go out there it’s something different. You’re always striving to make your car better and stay ahead of the other guys.”
Bradshaw has done well staying ahead of the competition ever since he became a regular on the demolition derby circuit nearly a decade ago as he’s racked up several wins and other high finishes.
Among his victories are two at the Allegan County Fair and the last two in a row at the Barry County Fair, the second of which came last month.
“Obviously winning’s always fun,” Bradshaw said. “That’s the goal of any competition. If you’re going to be out there, you want to come out on top.”
But winning isn’t the sole motivating factory for Bradshaw.
“I like to put on a show,” he said. “I like to entertain people and give them a good time. If people walk away with smiles on their faces and I was a part of that, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
One of the ways Bradshaw entertains the fans is through the themes of his cars.
“Every car I drive is themed after a Marvel Comics character,” he said.
For instance, the No. 11 car he used to win at Barry County Fair last month was the Captain America car. One of his other cars, the No. 71, is decked out in the red and blue of Spiderman.
Other Marvel characters used by Bradshaw include the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Dr. Doom, Venom and Black Panther. He also plans to have an Iron Man car in the near future.”
“I started using Marvel characters before ‘The Avengers’ and some of the other Marvel movies came out, and people loved them,” Bradshaw said. “Now that these characters are becoming more well-known through the movies, the reaction is even more enthusiastic.”
And none of the fans are any more excited than the children.
“I love seeing the reaction of the kids,” Bradshaw said. “Their eyes just light up when they see the Captain America car or the Spiderman car. People get to come down to the pits before the derby starts and all the kids gravitate to my cars. They want pictures and autographs. It’s pretty cool.”
Bradshaw can recall having that same spark in his eye and feeling that same sense of wonder when, as a child, he would attend derbies with his father, Ray Bradshaw, Sr.
The elder Bradshaw got his start in the mid-1970s with friends Tom TerMeer, Bob Veldt and Donald Newman. He competed from 1976 to 1982 before retiring in order to spend more time with his family.
The younger Bradshaw, though, was hooked and more than 20 years later—in 2005—he built his first car. One of his dad’s old buddies was there to help.
“(TerMeer) was still running cars at that time and helped me get going,” Bradshaw said. “He finally retired in 2008, but he really loved the sport and was a huge help in getting me started.”
Success was instantaneous for Bradshaw as, competing as a driver for the first time, he won his heat at a Nationwide Demo Derby event at the Allegan County Fair.
Since then, he has maintained a regular schedule, competing five or six times a year. He continued in Nationwide in 2006-07 before switching to Unique Motor Sports in 2008. A year later he moved to USA Demolition Derby and remains with that organization.
“I just really enjoy the way they run things,” Bradshaw said of USA. “They do a great job.”
And while Bradshaw is the one behind the wheel for the derbies, he has plenty of help from friends in terms of preparing his three-car stable. One of those friends is Jason Newman, whose father used to work on cars with Bradshaw’s father.
“It’s really cool to work with Jason knowing our dads did the same thing,” Bradshaw said. “We’re both second-generation guys, which is neat.”
Jeff Hoover, Doug Brink and Dave Adrianson also help out regularly, while Paul Drewyor steps in as a member of the pit crew when one of the others can’t be there.
“These guys are all great friends and I appreciate everything they’ve done for me,” Bradshaw said. “I definitely couldn’t do it without them.”
And while, with his crew’s help, Bradshaw has attained a high level of success in demo derby, he’s quick to point out that he’s not getting rich from the sport.
“If you get into demo derby to make money, you’re getting into it for the wrong reason and you’re going to end up very disappointed,” Bradshaw said. “Nothing is stock in these cars. The engine alone costs about $3,500 and altogether you’re probably looking at $8,000 for a car.
“Then even if you win an event, you might get $500, with the state finals paying out $3,000. Either way, you’re not making money. You do this sport because you love it. That’s why I do it.”