Grant's signature voice, style enhances Union Fair's demolition derby experience

By Mark Haskell | Aug 19, 2019
Photo by: Mark Haskell Rockport's Gary Grant.

Union — One would be hard-pressed to deny that one of the signature events at the annual Union Fair and Wild Blueberry Festival is the running of the demolition derby. So much so that, roughly a decade ago, the week-long festival made the decision to add a second running.

And as sure as the sound of crunching metal and revving engines will permeate the ears of the fairgoers in attendance, so to does the voice of Rockport’s Gary Grant, who has been the master of ceremonies for the demolition derby for “about 15 years or so.”

“I used to run [in] the derby,” he said. “I did that for three, four, five years. Then I decided to give it up.”

He is often seen off to one corner of the pit, narrating the action. For the uninitiated taking in their first derby, or a veteran that has seen the event numerous times, Grant’s thick Maine accent is the perfect compliment to the action. In many ways, he is directing traffic.

When the cars enter the arena, he often yells “Line ‘em up!” to signify the race is about to begin. Or, when he encourages the crowd to “Count ‘em down” from five to one.

Often, the sound of cars slamming into one another is followed up by Grant’s play-by-play, or assurance to some, “That’s a good hit.”

The job is an important one to the 62-year-old Grant, and one he takes seriously. But not too seriously.

“I just love it,” he said. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

A 1975 Bucksport High School graduate, Grant was not an athlete. As a teen, he was more interested in chasing girls.

“I didn’t like school,” he said with a laugh. “I said ‘I can do better things than sit here and listen to somebody talk.’ But I did make it through.”

However, he did have family members who raced cars at Bangor Speedway, which furthered his interest in automobiles.

“We worked on our own stuff just to keep it running,” he said. “We had old jalopies. That’s how I got to turning wrenches.”

Grant was, however, an avid NASCAR fan. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was his favorite driver and, as fate would have it, was in the stands when Earnhardt “went into the wall” and died in a tragic accident at Daytona International Speedway in 2001.

Previously, Grant had waited in line a full 12 hours to meet Earnhardt at a meet and greet in Bangor.

“I was probably one of his biggest fans,” he said. “When he died, I sort of lost interest a little bit. It just wasn’t the same for me.”

Grant began participating in the demolition derby at the Union Fair in his late 30’s and did so for about five years. He admitted he has “a few trophies hanging up” and that he paid homage to Earnhardt by likening his jalopies to that of “The Intimidator.”

“I painted it black, and I told them I wanted the number three [Earnhardt’s number],” he said. “So I’d call early to get number three on my car. I had it all decorated up like his car was.”

Grant said he thoroughly enjoyed his time running in the derbies, particularly when his oldest son Stephen would also enter. They would fix the cars up, bang them up, and trailer them home.

“It was just fun to go out there and stave up something,” he said. “We’d done that when we were kids. Not officially, but we had old cars we’d go drive around fields with and stuff like that. It was kind of the next level for us.”

After about five years, Grant had “been beat around in those cars long enough.”

Still, he wanted to remain involved.

As luck would have it, the previous demolition derby announcer planned to step down. And Grant jumped at the chance.

“I thought it was the greatest thing,” he said. “It was kind of like the same thing as a lot of the NASCAR guys. They drive their cars around for how many years then decide to retire, then they go into announcing a little bit. It was kind of cool thinking it’s that same realm, but different level.”

Grant is also known for mixing it up with fairgoers in the crowd. It seems as if the event is not complete if Grant cannot “embarrass someone” by announcing a birthday, an anniversary or simply shooting the breeze with passersby on the microphone.

He used to mix it up more often with the crowds, but in recent years, the band Whiskey Throttle has played between heats, and has had less opportunities to do so.

Still, Grant is happy to do what he can to be part of one of the fair’s oldest traditions.

“I’m a part of the community,” he said. “I’ve been up here for 40 or so years. I used to be on the fire department down in Cushing, I used to be the director of the Lobster Festival for 11 years. I just like being part of the community. That’s what I love about small-town Maine.”

Grant worked for the state of Maine for 27 years, most of which was as a prison guard at the Maine State Prison, which is what brought him to the Midcoast from the Bucksport area. He retired 12 years ago.

Last year, Grant had open heart surgery. “I just like to eat,” he admitted. However, he had no plan of bowing out of his responsibilities.

“I said ‘We’ve got to get this done so I can get to the fair and do the derby,’” said Grant. “I had my surgery July 25 and I made it.”

Grant said on the microphone at Saturday’s event — and several times in previous years — that winning is 90 percent luck and 10 percent preparation.

“You’ve got to move your gas tank so it’s in a safer spot,” he said. “You’ve got to move the battery so that don’t get smashed up. You’ve got to take all the glass out and most of the interior stuff has got to come out. It’s a lot of preparation.”

And, a lot of luck.

“You’ve got to keep you nose out of the middle,” he said. “Keep your nose toward the outside wall so you don’t get your radiator smashed up. Once your radiator gets smashed up, you lose your coolant and you’re not going to be long [out there].”

Grant will again be calling the action Thursday, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. And, with no band scheduled, he is likely to be as chatty as ever.

“I try to get the crowd involved,” he said. Years ago I used to walk around the crowd. Maybe I will again Thursday.”

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