Burnout Contest raises money for charity in Van Wert

VAN WERT — On a clear Sunday during Van Wert’s Peony Festival, local group the Black Mark Mafia held its third annual Burnout Contest for charity.

The event is emblematic of community collaboration, with the Saunders’ Van Wert Theater back lot being donated for the group to use and the hundreds of dollars raised for local charities.

“It’s all about working for the community and helping where we can,” said Tom Buzard, one of the founders of the Black Mark Mafia.

The Black Mark Mafia is a Van Wert group that works to create a safe space for car enthusiasts to do burnouts while helping their community. It was started by Rob Ellis, Jodie Huth, Rick Lamb and Buzard three years ago after a spontaneous burnout event occurred in downtown Van Wert for a young local leukemia patient named Red.

Red’s grandfather started the initial burnout, and the BMM works closely with the family. The group wanted to move the burnouts and cruises off the streets and out of neighborhoods and to raise money for Red, whose name is printed on the first car in the exhibition.

Since then, the group has raised thousands of dollars for veterans, the teen center in Van Wert, animal shelters, school lunches, aid to homeless people and shelters and Christmas for area families in need.

“The name came from Rob and Tom throwing names about and it sounded right and for the black marks left from the burnouts,” Lamb said.

Ron Dunn has maintained the Van Wert Theater property for the Saunders for 20 years. He helps coordinate concessions for the event from the drive-in he also manages, the Van-Del Drive-in. He drove a golf cart through the event advertising the theaters and also did a burnout in it between events.

“The majority of tickets for this event go to charities, but the Black Mark Mafia gives a dollar from each ticket to help with the maintenance and upkeep of the space,” Dunn said.

Lee Barry, owner of Lloyd’s Auto Service in Van Wert, has created the trophies for these events for three years. He even participated in this year’s burnout exhibition in a vintage 1960s Karmann Ghia.

This year’s event included exhibitions by the group, the burnout competition and raffles throughout the day. There were approximately 100 sponsors for the event from area businesses and organizations, including the Van Wert Municipal Court. A municipal judge was part of this year’s judging panel. The fire department supported these events with a small crew on standby for safety, and the funds for this year’s burnout go to the Van Wert fire department in thanks for their support.

For $20, people brought their cars to participate in the burnout for a chance at a hand-made trophy and all the clout they could ever want. The participants included locals representing Van Wert, Celina, Spencerville and elsewhere. They heard about it on Facebook and the internet and hoped that more events like this are planned for the future.

Event staff swept up burnt rubber and dirt and hosed the concrete square off between cars as the announcer shared details for the car and bike show for the Children’s Miracle Network planned for Saturday, June 24 in Van Wert.

The several-hour event included more than 10 participants filling the sky with clouds of smoke from their tires screeching on the pavement for the crowd’s enjoyment. The trophies were decided based on criteria such as instant smoke, control, tires blown and quantity of smoke.

The worst burnout went to Austin Polling in what was called a grandma car, a 1980s sedan.

The best and only bike was awarded to Renee Kerns.

The best burnout truck went to Marshall Polling.

The best car burnout was Zachary Konem, and the best modified-car burnout went to Luke Price. A special “King of the Burnout” trophy was decided by audience cheers and given to Price for his Plymouth Duster’s burnout performance.