Summer Nights: Funtown
7:19 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

A Slamming Good Time On The Jersey Shore

Originally published on Mon September 10, 2012 6:31 pm

The "Bumper Car Psychos" are easy to spot. While the other bumper cars at New Jersey's Keansburg Amusement Park spin wildly from one collision to the next, the Psychos cruise gracefully around the track, grinning from ear to ear as they slam their targets into the wall.

That's not the only reason the Psychos stand out. Keith Van Brunt and Tom Mgerack both weigh upwards of 300 pounds, and both are heavily tattooed. They've been riding the old bumper cars here every Friday night since 1996. Someone started calling them "psycho" the following year, and the name just stuck.

"For me, it's kind of like an adrenaline rush," says Van Brunt. "You know, some people jump out of planes for adrenaline rushes? Bumper cars, that's like my adrenaline rush."

For Mgerack, the ride is an escape from mundane problems: "You're concentrating on what's going on in there, and you're looking to who you're going to go after next, or look to see who' s coming to get you," he says. "Keeps you out of trouble."

The Bumper Car Psychos always ride the same cars: Van Brunt likes the blue police car, while Mgerack prefers the red one with the Harley-Davidson logo. The men have learned to maneuver these classic cars with uncanny precision, even through the floor's coating of kerosene and graphite that keeps the ride slick.

"You can't drive them like a car," Mgerack says. "You always see people get in and they spin the wheel all the way to the left. And they're going nowhere 'cause the wheel's stuck, and it's not going."

Mgerack and Van Brunt rarely bump into each other. But they do lay some good pops on the other riders, like Kobe Clark and Brandon Caturo. The two 11-year-olds declared the men to be "nuts," but they seemed pretty happy about their collision with fame.

"They took it easy on some people," said Kobe's father, James Clark, who watched from the guardrail. "They got some good bumps on some people — that was good to see. I think they got this down."

The Psychos try to save their best hits for later in the night, when the bigger kids get behind the wheel. And occasionally, they get as good as they give.

"We're not invincible," says Mgerack. "We're not saying that we're the best in the world. ... It's bumper cars — you're gonna get hit."

And if you're the Bumper Car Psychos, you'll be back next Friday to do it all again.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Summer is winding down and so, too, is our series Summer Nights. For the past few months we've taken you all over the world, to all kinds of places where people like to gather after dark: a classic car cruise in Ohio, a custard stand in St. Louis, a Cuban-themed bar in South Sudan. Well, today we make our last stop: one of the oldest amusement parks in New Jersey. NPR's Joel Rose introduces us to one of the park's strangest Friday night attractions, two men known as the Bumper Car Psychos.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right everyone. Pedals on your left. One way around only. Go.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The Bumper Car Psychos are easy to spot. While the other bumper cars spin wildly from one collision to the next, the Psychos cruise gracefully around the track, grinning from ear to ear as they slam their targets into the wall. That's not the only reason they stand out. Keith Van Brunt and Tom Mgerack both weigh upwards of 300 pounds, and both are heavily tattooed. Keith has a drawing on his leg that depicts the two Psychos in their bumper cars, crashing into a third car from either side and sending its rider flying.

It was like how many sittings?

KEITH VAN BRUNT: Four sittings. Like 12 hours total.

ROSE: That's the kind of dedication that made the Psychos into local legends. They've been riding the bumper cars at the Keansburg Amusement Park every Friday night since 1996. Someone started calling them Psychos the next year, and Keith says the name just stuck.

BRUNT: For me, it's kind of like an adrenaline rush. You know, some people jump out a plane for adrenaline rushes. Bumper cars, that's like my adrenaline rush.

TOM MGERACK: You're concentrating on what's going on in there, and you're looking to who you're going to go after next, or look to see who's coming to get you. It's fun, you know. Keeps you out of trouble.

ROSE: The Bumper Car Psychos always ride the same cars. Keith likes the blue police car, while Tom prefers the red one with the Harley-Davidson logo. The Psychos have learned to maneuver these classic cars with uncanny precision, even through the coating of kerosene and graphite that keeps the floor of the ride slick.

MGERACK: You can't drive them like a car.

ROSE: Tom says that's the mistake most people make.

MGERACK: Yeah, you always see people get in and they spin the wheel all the way to the left. And they're going nowhere because the wheel's stuck, and it's not going. And that's what causes a lot of jams up, but we help the jams up out, too.

ROSE: I never saw the Psychos bump into each other, but they did lay some good pops on the other riders, like Kobe Clark and Brandon Caturo, who seemed pretty happy about their collision with fame.

Do they seem crazy?

KOBE CLARK: Yeah, they were nuts.

BRANDON CATURO: Yeah, they were nuts.

ROSE: But Kobe's father, James Clark, thought the Psychos were deliberately keeping it low key.

JAMES CLARK: I think they took it easy on some people. They got some good bumps on a few people though, that was good to see. I think they got this down.

ROSE: The Psychos try to save their best hits for later in the night, when the bigger kids show up. That's when I decided to take a spin behind the wheel. Oh, man, here we go. Let's just say the Psychos did not take it easy on me.

MGERACK: That was a good run.

ROSE: I'm proud to say I was also on the right end of a few good pops. Tom says it's all part of the fun.

MGERACK: We get hit. You know, it's not like, we're not invincible, you know. It happens. We're not saying that we're the best in the world, you know, nobody's going to ever get us. It's bumper cars - you're going to get hit.

ROSE: And if you're the Bumper Car Psychos, you'll be back next Friday to do it all again. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.