It was perhaps a foregone conclusion early on that Mike Nordstrom would one day become a demolition driver.
There was that time when a teenage Nordstrom, then a student at Rogers High School, couldn’t slow his hot-rodded 1971 Chevy Nova quick enough on Meridian Avenue before rear-ending one car, which then crunched another ahead of it — and in the process sending fast food flying all over Nordstrom and his buddy.
And there was that 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass that suffered a horrible fate on Christmas Eve when Nordstrom, then 22, took a snow-covered road in his parents’ Puyallup-area housing development a little too fast, plowing into a pickup parked on the street. The impact was so hard it pushed the pickup through the snow all the way to the neighbor’s doorstep. His father was so angry the two didn’t speak until afternoon on Christmas Day.
“I wrecked every car my mom and dad ever gave me or bought me,” the now 48-year-old Nordstrom recalls with a laugh.
I wrecked every car my mom and dad ever gave me or bought me.
Mike “Pinky” Nordstrom, demolition derby driver
That number is somewhere between a solid eight to 10 cars, but “some (collisions) were not my fault,” he said. “It’s probably 50/50.”
Growing up with a father who raced midgets and stock cars at the now-defunct Spanaway Speedway in the 1960s and ’70s, Nordstrom has racing in his blood. That same track hosted demolition derbies, and the young Nordstrom never missed attending one — he was fascinated with the theatrics of crunching metal, dirt flying in every direction and only one winner emerging from battleground of scattered parts and smoking hulks.
“I’ve always had a fascination with wrecking stuff,” Nordstrom said. “So naturally, I wanted to do” demolition derby.
While it took some time for Nordstrom to find the right contacts to help him break into the local scene, he debuted in 2003 in an event at South Sound Speedway in a 1980 Chevy Caprice. By the end of the carnage, the Caprice was missing a wheel and Nordstrom was hooked.
“That’s all it took — that one time,” he said.
His local legend grew larger the following year when some of his buddies as a joke/initiation ritual painted his Oldsmobile pink for a debut race at Thunderbird Stadium at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. Nordstrom ended up winning a race in the elite category, and everyone started calling him “Pinky.”
“A lot of people don’t even know my real name (now),” Nordstrom said of the staying power of his legendary nickname.
Pinky will parade out his trademark pink car — this year’s donor is a 1986 Caprice — as part of the Slamfest Demolition Derby at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (April 22) at the Washington State Spring Fair in Puyallup. He will also participate with his 21-year-old son in Sunday’s show, which will feature the second annual boat bash, with large cars dragging boats.
It’s a chance for Pinky to thrill his hometown crowd — he lives with his wife and two young children in Frederickson — and perhaps take home a title.
“He’s out there to put on a show,” said longtime friend Joey Ensminger, a fellow demolition driver who has been the victim of Pinky’s carnage a few instances throughout their time together on the circuit.
But perhaps those cheering the loudest this weekend for Pinky will be some students and parents from the Franklin-Pierce School District, where Nordstrom has worked as a school bus driver for the last 11 years.
Wait ... a guy who drives demolition derby also drives schoolchildren around for a living?
“He’s a great driver,” said Tim Bridgeman, the district’s transportation director, adding that Nordstrom has a spotless driving record. “He’s well liked by parents and students and everyone” in the transportation department.
The opportunity to drive a school bus gives Mike Nordstrom the chance to cruise local neighborhoods to find potential future demolition cars.
Pinky’s dedicated group of fans love to visit during driver meet-and-greet events and sign the car and write a personal message on it. Plus, the opportunity to drive a school bus also gives Nordstrom the chance to cruise local neighborhoods to find potential future demolition cars.
“With him being in the bus and higher up, he can see over fences in neighborhoods he drives through on his route for cars people might want to get rid of,” Ensminger said.
Which leads to Pinky’s other job: finder/seller of donor cars. His backyard in Frederickson at any time can be filled with mid-1980s four-door Lincolns, Cadillacs, Chevy Caprices, Buicks or Ford Crown Victorias — all awaiting their fate as either a parts car or the future star of the show.
“Cars (suited for demolition derbies) are getting harder and harder to find these days, and he’s never looking to make money on them,” Ensminger said. “It works out pretty well for (other drivers looking to buy).”
But what keeps Pinky coming back — even after 14 years — is the love of metal crunching other metal under the bright lights.
“The basic fear (factor) is gone,” said Nordstrom, who has never been seriously injured in his many years participating in derbies. “But the natural endorphins — the feeling of those butterflies at the beginning of the race — never go away. Then, once you make that first hit, they go away.”
And then you just get to wreck stuff.
Washington State Fair Motorsport Mayhem
The Monster Truck Show is slated for Friday (April 21) at 7:30 p.m. Slamfest Demolition Derby is Saturday (April 22) at 7:30 p.m. with “chain and go” rules, with a fireworks show following both performances.
The Sunday (April 23) Slamfest kicks off at 4 p.m., and features the second annual boat bash, with large cars dragging boats.
These are separate ticketed events, though advance purchase tickets include Spring Fair admission, a $12 value. All seats are reserved, and the Grandstand opens one hour prior to showtime. Each event is held rain or shine. To purchase Monster Truck or Slamfest tickets online, visit thefair.com/spring-fair/motorsport-mayhem/.