Keith Van Brunt (left) and Tom Mgerack, known as the "Bumper Car Psychos," go for a ride July 27 at the Keansburg Amusement Park in Keansburg, N.J.
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."
Signs line the walls of the bumper car ride at the Keansburg Amusement Park on the Jersey shore.
Signs line the walls of the bumper car ride at the Keansburg Amusement Park on the Jersey shore. Joel Rose/NPR
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.