Inspired by Misgen, Johnson boys tear up derby circuit
SMASHING SUCCESS — Jim Misgen, Corey Johnson and Casey Johnson stand in front of one of the Misgen-sponsored demolition derby cars in which the Johnson brothers have enjoyed much success. (Star Eagle photo by Kathy Paulsen)
By KATHY PAULSEN
Misgen is a name recognized throughout the territory.
Francis still holds the position as head guru of Misgen Auto Parts, but he has passed along his expertise, knowledge, and excitement of developing "junk" into valuable parts that people need.
Since 1972, Francis has been overseeing the scrapping, recycling, and educating not only by himself but with his children and grandchildren. There’s no doubt that he is passing the legacy to three great grandsons.
Francis's son, Jimmy, has always shared his dad’s interest in cars and has been owner/manager for some time, and his knowledge runs deep. He and Rick Johnson dabbled a little in demolition derby competition in their day, but it was the boys who inherited the interest and have really "smashed them up" over the years.
Johnson started working for Misgen’s right out of the cradle. It truly is in his blood.
Rick and Becky Johnson’s boys, Casey and Corey, have been involved in demolition derbies for some time now, following their father’s footsteps.
Casey, 33, has been racing for 20 years, starting about the same time as his dad. At 13, he had to have a waiver signed by his dad to let him take part in a demolition derby.
His brother Corey, 32, got into the act about a year later and Jimmy signed his waiver. Jimmy has always been their mentor and sponsor and instrumental in showing them tricks of the trade.
You don't just take a beat up old anything you make run and enter it into a demolition derby. There is a lot of work involved in readying a vehicle to withstand the beatings. There are required safety features including all window glass removed, and the doors, trunk, and hood welded and/or chained shut.
The car is completely gutted on the inside, with the exception of the driver’s seat. Special metal plates are installed on the driver’s door, and a metal beam is installed behind the driver’s seat across the width of the car. Steel beaming not only holds the car together; it is a safety feature as well.
The larger gas tank is removed and a five-gallon one is mounted, but typically only about two gallons of gas is used. The back tires are often "donut” tires.
Derby season typically runs June into September, buy the boys have taken part in demolition events in February. One time, Casey and Corey participated in three demolition events in one week.
This year alone Casey and Corey have been to Owatonna, of course, along with Vernon Center, Cannon Falls, St. Charles, Wabasha, Faribault, Rochester, Zumbrota, just to name a few, and have brought home three first-place finishes, six seconds, a third; two fourths; and are always in the top five. They participate in about 25 derbies in a season. Generally, the top five drivers will win some payback money for their $50 entry fee, and the first-place finisher will take home a $500 prize, $200 for second on down depending on the number of entrants. Their highest payback for a win this year was $700.
The promoter of the sport today uses a point system with wins and places. The one with the highest points for the season gets free entry fees for the next year.
The bank of silver and gold trophies, evidence of the big wins, is really something to see. They tower almost as tall as their owners. Lots of glitter and glitz — but we can't say the same for the cars. When the race is over it is really demolished. Some parts can possibly be reused and occasionally one may escape the crusher to be rebuilt and driven again.
When asked what the best car was to drive in a demolition derby, both Corey and Casey quickly said, “A Buick Regal.”
Several times the boys have had to bail out of their car because of fire. Despite all the precautions this remains a dangerous game. If you've got long legs, the knees sometimes sustain crushing blows.
These are shy, quick-thinking men who are married to their hobby and their jobs. Casey works for Viracon and Corey for Cybex, and when they aren't working their 40-hour-a-week job, they are working on the next cars they will enter into a demolition derby.
They have nothing but admiration for Jim Misgen, who has tutored them and sponsored their hobby for almost 20 years. For Jim, when he puts on that grin and look of pride you know he is "driving" with them all the way to the end in the sport he loved but didn't have time to continue.
It is a toss-up as to who is most excited!