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Rolling cars is in their blood — and fun, too

SHARE Rolling cars is in their blood — and fun, too

OGDEN — The boys blame it all on their 79-year-old mama, Edna Vine.

In 1944 she rolled her father's 1940 Ford pick-up truck in the middle of the highway one and a half times. None of her seven boys were even born then, but they say that's when the family penchant for stunt driving manifested itself first.

Edna just shrugs and smiles as she tells this story and watches Eddie "Papa Smurf" Vine preparing his car for the rollover competition this Sunday night at the Utah State Fair. Her son, Johnny "Coffee Pot" Vine, is the president of a unique business that allows Edna's boys to fulfill their wild and crazy calling. Johnny Vine, his brothers and several friends close enough to be family fix cars and then run them off a ramp to see how many times they can roll them.

They call themselves team Vibrate, and though they usually compete only with each other, they keep track of the points they earn by rolling the car and then touching the wheels to the ground again. One complete roll is four points, while two is eight. Right now, that eight-point roll is the goal for most of the guys, but a select few, including Eddie and Johnny, have achieved it.

The love for intentionally somersaulting a car may have come from the matriarch, but the whole thing really got started with her grandson, Eddie, and a late-night phone call six years ago from someone working on a monster-truck show in West Valley City.

"It was 10:30 at night and a woman called and asked if I wanted to drive a car at the E Center," said the 31-year-old. "The conversation goes on, and I ask what do I have to do exactly. She said, 'You have to roll it.' I said, 'You're crazy! I ain't rolling no car.'"

But the woman persisted and Eddie Vine began to like the sound of crashing a car on purpose. That's when, the legend goes, grandma Edna's genes took control.

The caller asked if he knew anyone else crazy enough to risk life and limb for the sake of entertainment.

"Call my dad," Eddie recalled. "He'll do it."

And that's when Vibrate was born. Eddie called his father, Johnny, and Ol' Coffee Pot called the rest: Rich "Moses" Vine, Roo Vine, Bill "Wolverine" Vine, Lyle "Shag" Biddle, Too Tall, Dennis "Mutt" Burton, Dennis "Stovepipe" Cowan, Ron "3" Vine and Bob Vine. Some are drivers, some mechanics, and Burton is the announcer. The team members range in age from Roo Vine at 28 to Johnny Vine's 56.

Eddie Vine said the team has changed the way they do stunts from that first night at the E Center.

"I was scared crapless, to put it mildly," he smiled. "We used ropes wrapped around a fence pole mounted behind the seats and just regular seatbelts. I just shut my eyes when I hit the ramp . . . They saved me the biggest car (the safest) and I ended up being the only one to roll that time."

Now the team travels to six to 10 shows each summer, usually in Utah, to roll cars off a ramp they built themselves. They don't make money doing it — in fact, they probably lose money with all the time and equipment needed to remodel the cars.

"We definitely spend more than we make," said Shag with a grin. Adds Cowan, "These guys actually paid to do a show in Tremonton."

The Vines all smile when Stovepipe confesses that. When asked what the attraction is to speeding off a ramp and taking a car onto its top, Johnny, Rich and Shag all answer in unison, "It's a major adrenaline rush."

Then young Roo adds, "It's stress relief."

The drivers and Bill "Wolverine" Vine, whom they call the "master mechanic", are down at their shop tinkering or building or watching old shows on tape almost every night of the week.

It's not as if the Vines haven't been hurt behind the wheel. Johnny Vine was out for a year after he ruptured his kidney and hurt his ribs when he forgot to secure his lap belt. Nursing that injury, and at his age, his wife, Betty "Soo Tall" Vine, thought it better he just retire from the dangerous driving. But Johnny said he was ornery and antsy watching the competition from the sidelines.

"Every time they'd go, I'd say, 'I hate you,'" admits Johnny, who did give his lucky color — pink — to Eddie while he was laid up.

So Betty reluctantly agreed to support his re-entry into the rollovers. She can't complain too much, since she got him into stunt driving back in the '70s in demolition derbies. All the older Vines drove cars in the derbies, and they still love to do shows at those types of venues.

"It was something different to do," Betty said. "We used to go to the races before that."

Edna Vine has also lost two of her seven sons in auto accidents on highways, but she still never misses a show.

"I have to go watch it all the time, because if any of 'em ever got hurt and I wasn't there, I'd blame myself," she said. "I get up there and scream and yell like everyone else."

Asked who she roots for, she shakes her head and says, "They're all my boys."

And her boys are a lot safer than they were in that first show. They've modified the cars significantly, added loads of safety features. And they'll even take on outside competitors if they too take the right safety precautions. Stovepipe laughs about the early shows.

"It was sort of like a modern-day version of the little rascals," he said as the gang erupts in laughter. "Whatever you could get to hold you in your car you used, and then you just said a prayer."

He still laughs about seeing the veins in Johnny's neck stand out and the wild look in his eyes. He once told Johnny that he was "out of his flipping tree" to consider doing the shows. But now he understands why.

As for Johnny, he said quitting won't be his choice. "I'll do it until the Good Lord tells me I can't."

E-MAIL: adonaldson@desnews.com