History of Stoney Roberts Demolition Derby
Many people say that you often have events in your lives that create life-altering changes. For Keith Roberts, one of those events occurred at the age of 15. The year was 1936. His cousin Pete Grant was working for the B Ward Beam World Champion Daredevils. The automobile thrill show was playing Proctorville, Ohio, across the river from Keith’s home in Huntington, West Virginia. Pete talked Keith into attending the show as his guest. Little did he know that they were short of show personnel. Once he was track-side, the crew convinced him that he would make a good ramp hand and candidate for the Human Battering Ram (this is where a man lies on a junk car’s hood and is rammed through a flaming board wall). The car used for his first stunt was driven by none other than his cousin, Pete Grant. He did the stunt and the crowd gave him a round of applause. He was hooked! Much the same thing happens to many demolition derby drivers. During that year, in 1936, he was dubbed "Stoney" by Pete. After all, most stuntmen end up with fancy show names. In the years that followed, he became one of the most experienced crash & precision drivers in the nation. He worked his way from being a ramp hand to performing motorcycle stunts, to precision driving, and to performing stunts like the Transcontinental Bus Jump, with Rollovers, T-Bones, Dive Bombers, Flying Head-ons, Side Winders, Head-ons, Solid Wall Crashes (both Brick & Ice) and all the flaming stunts in between. He learned many skills on his way to becoming Ward Beam’s Show Foreman.
In 1949, another life-altering change occurred. On a strip of highway between Providence, RI and Fall River, MA, an oncoming tractor-trailer sideswiped Stoney’s Hell Driving car. The truck caused a blowout of the car’s left front tire and tore his arm off just above the elbow. Two Navy Ensigns came upon the wreck and administered lifesaving tactics, but not limb-saving. Upon waking up in the hospital, the first person he recognized was Mr. Beam. He often credited Ward for making him so mad at that moment that he was given an incentive to battle to recover his way of life. Ward informed him he was finished as a stuntman, and at the same time confirmed to him the loss of his arm. He told Ward that he would prove him wrong. In less than nine months, Stoney was back on the racetrack doing stunts. He became one of the first, if not the first, handicapped stuntman in the nation. Others have followed since then. Stoney never believed in the term "Handicapped", and was very pleased at the use of the term "Physically Challenged".
In the spring of 1955, another stuntman by the name of Jim Curry (Thunder Bolt Curry), talked Stoney into producing a thrill show of their own called "The All American Thrill Show". By years end, Stoney went off into business on his own. In the years that followed, Stoney, using his one arm, performed in and produced his thrill show. He based the show on the strength of 28 Stunts & Crashes, not just precision driving, although that was a part of the show, right down to the reverse spin in a convertible, all accomplished using his one arm. He became known for training and producing crashmen along with stuntmen. He believed in teaching his men to have the ability to perform any and all of the stunts required, eliminating the loss of a stunt during the show, if someone was hurt. He trained some of the best; Guy Arthur, Emerson (Buzz) Davis, Ernie Hamilton, Wayne King, Calvin King (the first black thrill show stuntman billed as the Cuban Wonder), Butch Whitehead, and Kenny Winters, just to name a few of the many.
It was in 1963 at Kenton, Ohio, that the first Demolition Derby heat was produced in front of the grandstand in the format that is so well known today. It all had to do with a blown motor in the bus that we used for the final jump of the show. The bus never made it to Kenton. The bus jump required eight cars. One car leaped the bus, and seven cars caught the leaping car. Needing a finale for the show Stoney recalled seeing a racetrack promoter on Long Island, NY staging an event at his track where drivers using old cars did a tough man contest smashing into each other. That event had proven to be successful for the track and had even gained interest and coverage from TV media. For Kenton’s finale, Stoney staged a heat using his own crashmen as drivers. The crowd went wild! He knew right then that he was onto something that really pleased the crowd. After the show, a good many people came down to the track. He overheard one man say that he would pay to smash a car like that. Over the next five years, Stoney slowly converted his show over to nothing but Demolition Derbies. The show is now called the "STONEY ROBERTS DEMOLITION DERBY". He could see the handwriting on the wall for thrill shows. Cars used for stunts were harder to get and sponsors were decreasing. The difference between then and now is that the common person can be a Daredevil for a day. All they have to do is pay an entry fee, provide their own car, and take the wildest ride of their lives. It sometimes is a life-changing experience.
Stoney passed away in July of 1992 due to complications from a surgical procedure he underwent. He passed the reins of the company to his son, Frank Roberts. Frank had promised his father to take the Demolition experience into the 21st Century. He did so by producing the first Demolition Derby at Bushnell, Florida, in February of 2000 for the Discovery Channel’s documentary "The History of Demolition Derby". It was the first Derby of the 21st Century and the documentary continues to be shown occasionally on cable stations today. Frank and his crew continue to produce the Highest Quality of Demolition Derbies in the Nation. In the last 41 years, the company has produced derbies in more than twenty-three states east of the Mississippi River.