Lady Embalmer Drives in First Class C Demo Derby
Louise Johnson was unhurt by a fire which engulfed her Dodge during the automotive demolition derby Oct. 18 at the Southern California Fair in Perris, enabling her to drive in the subsequent motorhome demolition derby.
While Johnson may be remembered for the fire in the earlier demolition derby, her participation in the subsequent crash-fest made her the first female to drive in a motorhome demolition derby in California, according to The Valley News, Fallbrook.
“It didn’t turn out to be much of a show,” Johnson said. “My motorhome died after the first hit.”
Johnson utilized number 42 for both her car and the motorhome. She also uses that number for other demolition derbies.
The number was chosen based on the Douglas Adams novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” in which a computer determines that 42 is the answer to the ultimate question which itself then has to be determined.
Both of Johnson’s parents have been involved in motorcycle and off-road racing, and her father also rides vehicles with number 42.
Like Adams, Johnson was born in England. She grew up in Huntington Beach, where she graduated from Ocean View High School, and now lives in Long Beach.
Johnson, now 25, was 22 when she obtained her driver’s license.
“I’ve actually been to therapy in the past for driving phobia. Most of my life I’ve been terrified of driving. I’ve only had my license for a couple of years,” she said.
Demolition derbies, in which crashes are expected, has served as suitable therapy.
“It’s teaching me to confront my fears,” Johnson said. “It’s OK to crash. It’s not something to be afraid of.”
Johnson’s demolition derby career began as a spectator watching friend Dan Pachella of Signal Hill compete in events.
“He’s the one who really got me into this,” she said. “He sponsors me. He gives me all my cars and then I do the work on them.”
Johnson builds her own cars and has been doing so since her initial demolition derby.
“Dan’s teaching me. I’ve learned how to weld. I can put together a motor pretty well,” Johnson said. “I work on the cars. I don’t just show up to drive them.”
Johnson’s only street vehicle is a classic car, specifically a 1964 Mercury Comet, and she also works on that automobile.
Irwindale Speedway had a demolition derby for women on Sept. 20, 2008, and Pachella invited Johnson to participate.
Johnson made her demolition derby driving debut that night, although she was disqualified.
Despite the result, Johnson wanted to continue participating in demolition derbies and was a regular at Irwindale’s 2009 competitions.
The first motorhome demolition derby ever held in California took place July 26 at the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa. Pachella was one of six drivers in that contest and Johnson was a spectator.
Johnson has contracts with both Beach Cities Towing, which sponsored the Costa Mesa motorhome demolition derby, and Sunnyside Racing, the promoters of the both the Costa Mesa and Perris events.
“I told them whatever I have to do, I wanted to be in the next one,” Johnson said.
In the automotive demolition derby Oct. 18, Johnson was one of three remaining drivers before her 1977 Dodge Monaco caught fire.
Johnson first noticed the fire when she saw flames coming through the floor.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been on fire,” she said.
She was able to escape the vehicle without injury and settled for third place in that event.
The fire didn’t deter Johnson from future demolition derbies, including the one later that evening.
She spent part of the interval in the back of the on-site ambulance and was asked if she wanted to be taken to the hospital, but she expressed her preference to drive in the motorhome demolition derby.
Revenge is a dish best served when you car’s not on fire, and Johnson joined five men in the motorhome demolition derby, which involved six Class C (approximately 15-foot-long) recreational vehicles.
Johnson also drove a Dodge in that derby – briefly. “It cranked a couple of times but would not start, and then it wouldn’t even crank,” she said.
She plans to drive in subsequent motorhome demolition derbies. “We’re going to spend some more time on it this time,” she said.
Oct. 31 fell on a Saturday this year, so Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, as it is currently called, held a Night of Destruction and Halloween Celebration.
Johnson and Pachella finished second in the Trains race, which involves three cars welded together racing around a figure eight course and a brakeman in the third car complementing the front-car driver.
Johnson also competed in the trailer race that night, but her camper came off the trailer early and her car eventually became stuck on top of Rebeca Velasco’s trailer.
Professionally, Johnson is a funeral director and embalmer in Costa Mesa; she joined the mortuary six years ago out of high school.
“I love what I do, but this definitely takes the edge off,” she said of her stock car driving.