The real deal

Before local band Th’ Losin Streaks took the stage at the second night of the recent Wasted Weekend fest at Old Ironsides a few weekends ago, there was one formality. A man known around town as Johnny Crasharama, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, his white hair tied back into a neat ponytail, grabbed the microphone to introduce the band. “I’m pissed off!” he bellowed. The point of his anger was that he had been forced to cancel the following day’s event—a combination of a one-man demolition derby and two live rock ’n’ roll bands, called Crasharama—by the local powers that be. And he wasn’t about to admit defeat by spending his future Sunday afternoons passively watching NASCAR on Fox. No siree.

While many Sacramentans are content to recline in La-Z-Boys and click their remotes through what passes for gearhead culture on cable television, a few locals can remember this city’s vibrant automotive subculture. Back in the day, auto-customizing kings George and Sam Barris, who grew up in nearby Roseville, would show off their latest creations at the Autorama every February, and you didn’t have to look far to find a drag race on the weekend. It was a place where you could ice down a cooler filled with beers on a Saturday night and gun your large-displacement V-8 and maybe spin a few tires, and you wouldn’t get the neighbors whining about how you’re driving down the area’s property values.

Johnny “Crasharama” Wisner is a living, breathing connection to that vanishing California. For a few years, Johnny’s occasional weekend gatherings—where he would demonstrate his behind-the-wheel acumen and bands would play, loudly—were quite popular among local fans of pulp-fiction Americana, the kind of people who view tattoos as artistic expression and high-octane gasoline and loud rock ’n’ roll as sacraments. Then the modern-day Golden State caught up with Johnny, but it could not conquer him. SN&R’s Bill Forman spent some time with Johnny recently and tells the story of a hometown hero (“Hell On Wheels”).