WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | Glenn Schneegas of Chesterton was just 14 when he drove in his first demolition derby at the Porter County Fair and caught the bug to smash things up, but tonight, after driving in every demolition derby for the past 30 years, he will hang up his welding torch and retire.
It’s not that Schneegas is too old, he's only 44, and it’s not that he’s been injured, because he has only incurred a few scrapes and bruises while building his cars, and it’s certainly not that he has lost a lot, because he has won the grand finale feature around 15 times, he said.
Schneegas is retiring because the demolition derby is such a passion, such a way of life, and it has consumed him for so long that he feels ready to live life in other ways, like spending time riding his Harley and fishing with his dad.
"My dad, Ralph Schneegas, is the first Porter County Fair demolition derby feature winner in the late 1960s, so he was racing and every year, as a boy, I’m coming home from school to these cars, and paint, and mud and the camaraderie of getting together and smashing things up. One day we went to breakfast and we came home and there was a car in my driveway. It was a 1972 Impala. My dad brought it home from the junkyard for me to race," says Schneegas.
He entered his first derby on May 31, 1983 at the original Porter County Fair Grounds, he says.
"I was the youngest driver in Porter County history at age 14. Back then my parents had to sign a bunch of wavers to get me to run. Since then I’ve smashed hundreds of cars in derbies in LaPorte, Lake, Jasper, and Porter Counties. I won a lot with Newports, New Yorkers and Imperials and Impalas were choice back in the day. Nowadays there are a lot of 80s and newer cars being built. It’s hard to find good old iron anymore," he said.
Schneegas has spent countless hours working on his cars to get them ready for battle, but he says that will now end and he has plans for the future, although the call of the crash may be strong.
“Where else can you go smash something up and not go to jail for it? It’s a rush. You always get butterflies and that never went away. But it’s just time. The one thing that scares me the most is not being able to stay out of it, but I want to give myself a little more time in life. Come next year when I smell the smoke and the engines fire up, it will be hard," he said.
On Saturday, Scheegas and the crew from his team he and racing partner Danny Vandiver formed in the late 90s called Vangas Racing will head to the grandstand.
“The past three weeks have been spent non-stop on our vehicles. We look like a convoy when we head out of here. When we come to the track, that’s all we do is straight smash into each other and 90 percent of us are all friends but there are no favors out there," he said.
Schneegas’s kids have tried to race as well, and his mother, Maureen McCreery, ran with his dad back in the 70s, so demolition derbies are truly a family affair and Scheegas hopes to go out on a high note.
"This year I’m running a 1972 Ford truck and I plan on winning in the figure eight and demolition derby all in one night," he said.