JIM PETERS: Beckers have a father-son bond forged in crumpled metal

2012-10-10T19:00:00Z 2012-10-11T03:27:09Z JIM PETERS: Beckers have a father-son bond forged in crumpled metalJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
October 10, 2012 7:00 pm  • 

Be careful. Don't hit anything.

It's a common parental refrain when their kids head out in the car.

Then there's Duane and Christy Becker of Portage, who have been known to encourage their son, Loudan, to be anything but cautious.

Second-generation road rage? No. Just second-generation demolition derby driver.

"He had a bunch of pictures that I always used to look at," Loudan said of his dad. "I wanted to do what he did."

Duane grew up in Iowa, where he went from dirt track racing to demolition derbies. He was 19 when he first helped a friend build a car, eventually getting behind the wheel himself. He did it for years, becoming quite accomplished, with more than his share of top-five showings.

"I smashed a lot of cars," Duane said, smiling. "It was a lot of fun, a good adrenaline rush."

Like a lot of things, money and expenses forced him into 'retirement.' At the higher levels, drivers have sponsors, usually junk yards, and derbies have payoffs in the thousands. Duane never reached that point, though that didn't mean he loved it any less.

"I miss it a lot," he said.

So when Loudan, 23, expressed an interest, Duane jumped at the idea.

"Any time you spend time with your kids, it's good stuff," Duane said. "The older you get, the less time you get. They're doing things on their own. Everything I learned was hands on. Now I can teach him to work on vehicles."

The car Loudan first drove in high school, a 1989 Buick Century, also became his first derby ride. He debuted this summer at an event in LaPorte, and won.

"It was pretty emotional," Duane admitted. "I was pretty excited for him."

Loudan won $100, which pretty much went back into repair costs.

"They all tell me I woke up after I got hit the first time," Loudan said. "I was a little nervous, then you get hit and it gets the adrenaline going. After the first one, I wanted to do another one. It was so much fun. It was a blast."

The appeal?

"Someone gets mad at somebody, they can go blast 'em," Loudan said. "It's a lot different than every-day driving."

That depends on where you drive, but I digress.

Loudan's second race, in Hoopeston, Ill., involved more cars (14). He finished fifth there.

Rules are simple. Cars are eliminated when they stop running. Drivers, who wear helmets and fire-proof suits, must stay on the offensive, getting 60 seconds to hit somebody. Driver's side doors are painted white and are off limits to collisions. Speeds top out at about 35 miles per hour and races, depending on the number of drivers, last 15 to 20 minutes on the average.

Duane got his 'bell rung' once when his car was struck on the door post, and while nicks, cuts, bumps, bruises and maybe even a burn go with the territory, both Beckers considers derbies no riskier than contact sports.

"I got hit way harder in hockey," Loudan said.

Alas, the old chariot has raced its last, and the Beckers are in the process of stripping it down, removing parts like the battery and gas tank before taking it out to pasture.

"It's the best way to put it to sleep," Duane said.

The search for Loudan's next car has now begun.

"We look on Craigslist, look around to see if there's anything that hasn't moved in a while," Duane said. "You used to be able to pick up a (junk) car for 50 bucks. Everybody hangs on to 'em now."

And so goes the story of a father-son bond forged in crumpled metal.

"We've always been pretty close," Loudan said. "Everything I know is from him. This give us more of a chance to spend time together."

This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

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