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David Minton

Death proof

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding

Thrill-seeking coffin racers hope gravity’s on their side

The main rule for the coffin races is that there aren’t many rules, said race organizers Joey Hawkins and Kelley Pound.

OK, that might sound like a cliche, but Hawkins and Pound have found themselves repeating that to the teams building macabre soapbox derby carts for the big event at Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival on Saturday.

“Nobody believes it,” Hawkins said. “We’ve gotten so many e-mails and phone calls from people asking about ‘the rules.’ We keep telling them the few rules we have and people just don’t believe it.”

Ready for the rules? Here they are: The wheels of the coffin racers can be no bigger than 6 inches in diameter. The tires can be no bigger than 48 inches around.

That’s it.

“We strongly encourage the racers to wear helmets, and we strongly encourage the coffins to have some sort of braking system,” Pound said. “We’ve had some teams ask us if we have any rules about smoke bombs. Nope. And fireworks. Nope.”

David Pierce, the founder of Denton’s Day of the Dead and the creator of the true centerpiece of the event, the Halloween musical Cirque du Horror, said that’s the kind of coffin racing he wanted, and he hopes that it stays that way

“The spirit of the coffin races — and the whole event — is for people to create these things and to have a good time with it,” Pierce said.

Last year, the coffin races proved the most popular event with the crowd. Nearly 1,000 people lined hay bale barricades when the event started.

“We had no idea it would be that popular. We had no security for the event. It got overwhelming pretty fast,” Hawkins said. “I was blown away by the time and money so many of the teams spent on their coffins.”

“I was blown away by the spectrum,” Pound said. “Some of them were really fancy, and then you had the Oak Street Drafthouse car. And the real caskets.”

The time and effort that some of the teams put into their racers was clear: Hoochie’s Oyster House had a long, low-riding coffin painted in bright colors, seating a driver and two passengers. Jupiter House Coffee — Hawkins’ business — also entered the races with an inky-black low-riding racer embellished by fab paint works. It was piloted by Hawkins’ brother, who dressed as Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton’s character from the film Beetlejuice).

Oak Street Drafthouse & Cocktail Parlor, on the other hand, didn’t spare time or effort. A bearded driver struggled to jockey a little red wagon down the raceway, covered with a bit of cardboard box, with “OSDH” scrawled in black marker on the side.

“I hope Oak Street enters that wagon every year,” Hawkins said. “That was great.”

The business used the wagon it keeps parked on the porch of the old Victorian house it occupies on Oak Street.

Pound said the coffin races got bigger this year.

“We went from 18 teams to 38 teams this year,” she said. “We also have a lot of teams this year that are individuals, in addition to the businesses in town that are sponsoring a coffin. Just groups of friends who have gotten together and built a coffin car.”

The races will be bracketed. The fastest 19 teams will advance to a semifinal race, The fastest eight will advance to a final round of races determined by heats. The coffins compete for fastest coffin, a people’s choice award and craziest coffin.

The races grew out of Hawkins’ desire for a soapbox derby to be part of the street festival, which began three years ago. Monte Jensen, the owner of Mellow Mushroom in Denton, tipped the festival creators off to a coffin race in a festival in Manitou Springs, Colo. Hawkins brought the idea to the steering committee and got a unanimous thumbs-up.

“The special, wonderful thing about it is that 20 of the coffins are [created by people from] Denton,” Pound said. “There’s nothing remotely like this with any other festival in Denton.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.


What: A family-friendly Halloween street festival

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hickory and Industrial streets in downtown Denton

Details: Admission to the street festival is free (although the salsa cook-off, Cirque du Horror and 48 Hours of Hell screening include fees). About 40 vendors will sell concessions, Halloween and Day of the Dead items, and more.

On the Web: ,



11 a.m. — Festival opens, with vendors and a costume parade in the children’s pumpkin patch

11:30 a.m. — Clowns on Fire in the children’s pumpkin patch

Noon — Miss Polly and Her Tiny Big Band

1 p.m. — Checkered flag drops on coffin races

2:30 p.m. — Bonnie & Nick Norris Band

4 p.m. — Matt Tolentino & the Singapore Singers

5 p.m. — Denton Community Market salsa cook-off. Tasting tickets cost $10. For more information, visit

6:30 p.m. — 48 Hours of Hell video race crosses finish line. For more information, visit

7 p.m. — Lantern-lit twilight costume parade around the Square

7:30 p.m. — Mariachi Quetzal

9 p.m. — Bone Doggie & the Hickory Street Hellraisers