He has recently pursued other interests: documentary filmmaking and demolition derbies. The latter will be most prominent at the Dirt Gallery on May 18, when McClanahan and some artist friends open Road to Ruin: Deconstructing Demolition Derby and Its Artifacts. Collectively, the artists call themselves We Ain't Stupid. That name comes directly from an experience at a demolition derby McClanahan attended in McLouth, Kansas.
"We were filming for the documentary [about demolition derbies] and were out in the pit," McClanahan recalls. He and his cronies were asking an older gentleman a lot of questions about his car, and the man decided he'd had enough of the inquiry. "He finally said, 'We ain't stupid,' and walked away," McClanahan says. A less courageous filmmaker might have considered shutting down the project, but the challenge just inspired McClanahan to keep working on the film.
New to derby culture, McClanahan has noticed that there's a certain egalitarianism to the events. "Because it takes five minutes of training," he says, "it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman or what race you are as long as you can drive.
"At a couple I've been to, the crowd was throwing dirt clods at the cars," he adds. "This ain't NASCAR."
More than thirty artists have joined McClanahan's project, inspired by the fact that even the most battered car can be salvaged and redeemed as art. One piece making an appearance in Road to Ruin is an arched steel cart with the hood, fender, steering wheel and headers from one of McClanahan's derby cars suspended between its haunches -- "stretched out like an animal hide," McClanahan says.
Artist Peregrine Honig contributes a drawing of a derby pin-up girl named Daisy. The writing on the piece concludes with "All the drivers love her cause she's bad at keeping score."
Among the other contributors are Jim Leedy and David Ford. Music is provided by Estelle and Her Faith Healing Accordion as well as Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys. There will also be a raffle for an '85 Nova painted so that its surface, with the help of 3-D glasses, appears to be popping off its chassis. Still, it will be stripped and primed for a derby of its own. "I hope a woman wins it," McClanahan says.