Building the ‘Spirit of the Barrio’ for this Year’s Firefighter Demo Derby

Created: 12 February, 2018
Last update: 27 July, 2022

By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

Firefighter Joe Pellegrini will be competing for the first time in this year’s Firefighter Demolition Derby. Andrea Lopez-Villafaña | La Prensa San Diego

Although this year’s Firefighter Demolition Derby is almost four months away, first-time participant Firefighter Joe Pellegrini is preparing to reconstruct a car that not only represents the district he serves but also has the potential to win.

The 28th Annual Fire and Safety Expo and Firefighter Demolition Derby will take place on June 2, during the San Diego County Fair in the Del Mar Arena from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Every year, firefighters from all over the county fundraise to reconstruct cars and destroy them at the demolition derby in support of the Burn Institute, a local nonprofit agency that focuses on fire prevention education and providing programs for burn survivors.

Burn Institute Executive Director Susan Day said participants need to fundraise $1,000 to enter the competition but she said, the firefighters go far and above that amount.

Last year, firefighters collected a total of $77,000 in donations and a firefighter from the Carlsbad Fire Department alone raised $16,000 for the demolition derby, according to a Burn Institute press release.

Representing the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, Pellegrini and his teammates are currently searching for sponsors and are hoping they can gain support from local businesses.

Joe Pellegrini and his teammates are currently looking for businesses to sponsor their car for the Firefighter Demolition Derby. Photo courtesy of Firefighter Ulizes Sanchez.

Pellegrini works at Fire Station 7, which is in the community of Barrio Logan, home of the colorful murals of Chicano Park, lowrider festivals, art galleries, and up and coming restaurants.

For that reason, Pellegrini decided the theme of the car would be the, “Spirit of the Barrio.”

“I thought building this car to represent Barrio Logan would be kind of a fun thing to do,” Pellegrini said. “The main thing we want to do is get local businesses from the Barrio Logan area to sponsor the car and put their logos on there and a paint job that represents the area.”

Sponsors can donate car parts like car tires, chains and more, or donate money, according to Pellegrini.

Sponsorship level depends on the amount donated but businesses can get a company decal on the car, which Pellegrini said is a great opportunity to expose Barrio Logan businesses to the rest of the county.

Last week, Pellegrini and his teammates picked up the Lincoln Town Car he will be driving for the event, which was donated by Guardian Towing, but they still have a long road ahead in terms of the reconstruction.

Each car must be modified for the demolition derby and must meet safety regulations, according to Pellegrini.

Pellegrini said he is nervous because him and his teammates have never participated in a demolition derby before and knows that his team is up against other fire departments in San Diego County that compete every year and win.

“You want to go out there and do well and win, but if you’ve also never done it before there’s a learning curve to it,” Pellegrini said.

Cars lining up during the 2017 Firefighter Demolition Derby. Photo courtesy of the Burn Institute.

However, participating in a demolition derby is something that Pellegrini has always wanted to do and being a part of this year’s event will allow him to combine both his passion for being a firefighter and cars.

“Taking a car and just completely wrecking it, there’s something kind of fun about that,” Pellegrini said with smile.

Attending the Fire and Safety Expo and Firefighter Demolition Derby is free with the purchase of a San Diego County Fair ticket.

Those interested in sponsoring Pellegrini’s car can reach him via email at or stop by Station 7 on 944 Cesar E. Chavez Parkway, San Diego, CA 92113.