Trailin': Beware the Normanator

By Tina Turney
Posted 7/8/99

It’s a likely hobby for someone who knows how to weld. During the work week Tony Kron, a resident of Riverside, spends his time repairing machinery and building all kinds of things with steel at …

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Trailin': Beware the Normanator


It’s a likely hobby for someone who knows how to weld. During the work week Tony Kron, a resident of Riverside, spends his time repairing machinery and building all kinds of things with steel at Thomann Welding. In his off time, however, he finds fun and diversion testing the metal and the machine. Tony is a demo derby enthusiast.

Tony has had about ten years of experience driving in demo derbys. This year his car, the Normanator, is a 1977 Chrysler Newport that he acquired about two months ago. Tony’s dad Gary Kron, who is also one of his sponsors, bought the car for $75. This is a real good car for competition according to Tony, because the ‘70s cars were built so heavy and had strong frames.

The car, originally maroon in color, was purchased from Greg Harland of Kalona. When Tony took over the car it had all its original equipment including the maroon and white upholstered seats, quite a classic in its day.

The original 400 cubic inch engine and transmission have been kept, but Kron has replaced the tires with heavier ply ones for better traction.

I had a chance to talk with Tony before and after the Trek Fest demo derby. It was interesting to see all the modifications made on the car, then to see how it held up in the competition.

The doors on the car were all welded shut and the glass taken out of the windows. To get into the driver’s seat the driver has to climb in through the window. The trunk and hood are chained or wired shut.

The gas tank, which holds five gallons, must be placed in the car behind the driver’s seat, bolted to the floor and covered. To me this location looked hazardous but Tony explained that it was the safest place for it because drivers are not allowed to hit another car on the driver’s side door. Also, behind the driver’s seat there is a steel bar welded to the frame for the driver’s protection. The driver wears a safety helmet and also a lap belt.

All the wires and hoses around the engine are carefully taped and covered so they won’t get wet, burned or cut. The car’s battery box is put on the floor on the passenger side just to the right of the driver. The battery is also bolted down and covered. Tony said that the passenger side of the car often sustains a lot of damage at a derby.

The Normanator is a bright lime green and looks a lot different than when Tony began working on it two months ago. The names of his sponsors are painted on it, sponsors whose donations range from Thomann Welding’s generous donation of steel, welding equipment and gas, to Murphy’s Bar’s donation of the cost of entry fees, as well as cash donations from several others.

The exhaust pipes have been changed to come up out of the engine. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that it keeps oil from leaking onto the hot pipes and reduces the risk of fire. It also enables the driver to watch for smoke coming out of the pipes. With the noise level during the competition and wearing a helmet, the driver often can’t hear his own engine. So by having the pipes visible, he can determine if his car is having engine trouble.

Tony’s pit crew is made up of Chad Alred, a friend who also does demo derby, and Tim Grecian and Jason Jenks, co-workers of Tony’s. Bret DeWolf of Washington painted the car and also helps with modifications. The pit crew has a lot of experience in on-the-spot car repairs. They not only have to diagnose the damage on the scene, but, if possible, do quick repairs to get the car back running at a meet. A lot of times this all has to be done after dark, although they do bring along a portable generator.

Tony competes in the stock class at demo derbys. The stock class and the welded class have their own set of rules and regulations. The welded class, referred to as the outlaw class, is for serious competitors who are willing to put lots of money and time into their hobby. They often put new engines and transmissions into their cars. In the outlaw class everything is welded. This class permits the use of Imperials which, along with Jeeps, trucks and hearses, are not permitted in the stock class.

After the Trek Fest derby, Tony said the major repairs would probably take him from twelve to twenty hours of work (fun). At Trek Fest he made it to the consolation match but missed being in the final round. His car lost its transmission due to a broken fan belt which caused the transmission to overheat and he lost his reverse. There was also some body damage but he was hoping with luck to get maybe two more runs out of his car.

There is always the concern of a fire or being burned by hot water if the radiator blows. Part of the challenge and fun of this hobby is making the car as safe for the driver as possible. “You can fine-tune everything and one little thing will break and you’re out of the competition,” Tony commented. But there’s always the fun of putting it back together and waiting for the next derby.