Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

January 15, 2012

Career thrill ride

Russell native recalls days as stunt driver, Uniroyal representative

RUSSELL — Russell resident Kaye Webb tells people she appeared in Playboy in the 1970s.

In fact, Webb appeared in many magazines in the 1970s — she was Uni in advertisements for Uniroyal Tires.

Webb, who was Kaye Keiser then, had just graduated from Russell High School in 1959 and took an office job with the All-Girl Auto Thrill Show, a daredevil driving show presented by the Cavalcade of Thrills, then based in Ironton and owned by Chet Rotroff.

“Mr. Rotroff said, ‘Now you know we close the office in the summer to go on the road,’” Webb said. “”I won’t be needing you until next fall.’ Then he said, ‘Why don’t you try driving?’”

“Caught”

She said she didn’t take his offer seriously but he encouraged her to try it. The next time there was a training session, she did try it.

“I want to tell you what, I was just caught,” she said. “I was just, I couldn’t beleive it was so much fun! I felt like I was capable of doing it and, according to the history of the show, I was going to be safe.”

Webb said a crew of men took care of the track and maintained the cars and a crew of women did the driving, performing at county and state fairs.

“It was fun, a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun,” she recalled of her days on the road, cross-crossing the country and performing in a dozen states in the summer. It was the first such all-female production.

No problems

“Everybody kept telling Mr. Rotroff it would never work,” she said. “‘These girls were going to to this and to that,’ they told him. But after he started the show, he had not trouble with the girls. It was the men staying out late and so forth.” Webb not only drove but had the extra job of keeping an eye on the drivers.

“They were a good bunch of girls,” she said, adding there was no acting up.

“Everybody had their own job and their own stunt and, if you were sick you still did your job,” Webb said, noting she always had a cold in the summer. “But come time for the show, there was the adrenalin and it carried you through.”

She said she never felt in danger as a driver.

“All of our stunts were worked out mathematically and we practiced,” she said. “The danger was going from place to place. The only time my mother worried about me was when we were on the highway.”

Webb agreed with her mother’s assessment; the dangerous part was driving to the next show, after dark and after one or two shows in a day.

“We didn’t have a carry-all trailor,” she said. “We had to drive our cars from one show to the next.” Sometimes the shows were 400 miles apart.

Big break

In 1972, a stunt driver in California called Webb, asking specific questions about her stunts. He said the tire company Uniroyal was looking for someone for a television commerical.

“Mr. Rotroff and I went to New York and he negotiated the contract with them,” she said. She would become the Uni in the team Uni, Roy and Al, the team that appeared in television and print advertisement and made personal appearances at Uniroyal dealerships in the 1970s. The team also spoke to driver’s education classes.

“(Students) wanted to know what our stunts had to do with them driving on a road,” she said, adding they told students how their training “took 90 percent of the danger” out of what they did.

In her first Uniroyal commercial, Webb said she sailed through a hoop of fire at Riverside Raceway in California.

The team of Uni, Roy and Al visited the Uniroyal Proving Grounds in Laredo, Texas, and presented shows for visiting dealers. Part of their promotional responsibilities also included appearing on television shows such as The Mike Douglas Show and The Ralph Emery Show and radio shows and giving interviews to newspapers and magazines. They could be seen on the Grand Ole Opry, too.

“Uniroyal was trying to put their name out there because their name just wasn’t as big as the other tire dealer,” Webb said.

Meanwhile, Webb continued to drive in the thrill show and the company had started a demolition derby, which Webb helped promote.

“Uniroyal let me off for the summer (of 1973, her first year with the company) so I could do the shows (which were already booked),” she said.

Webb’s daughter, Bunny, performed in the thrill show, too, lying on the hood of a Ford Mustang as the car went smashing through a flaming wall. She also performed on the trapeze that was mounted on a car.

The thrill shows stopped eventually. Rotroff thought the demands were too much for Webb.

After the first year with Uniroyal, their work was reduced. The original schedule was too demanding for the team.

“We got 72 hours’ notice for the next trip,” Web said. “(Uniroyal) was really good to us and we met so many nice people. Dealers would take us to their house and have a cookout or take us out to a nice dinner, just trying to break the monotony of our lives.”

Although she missed Bunny, she enjoyed the work and, once her daughter got older, Webb was able to take her on the road with her, visiting New York, California and Arizona.

In late 1977, she left Uniroyal. “Mr. Rotroff and I were talking about reviving the show,” Webb said, but her life took a devastating turn when Bunny, 17, was killed in a car accident in May 1978.

The tradegy nearly paralyzed Webb for a while. Then, she met her future husband, Paul Webb.

“I can’t describe how wonderful he is,” she said. “He’s just so kind and considerate and he lets me talk about Bunny and he feels like now he knew her even though he didn’t.”

Married for 13 years, the couple lived in Ohio for a while but eventually moved to Russell.

“I think he thought I needed to be home,” she said, agreeing.

Webb said she remains friends with the current owner of Cavalcade of Thrills owner Yvona Stahl, whom she has known since the 1960s. The business is based in Russell and is strictly a demolition derby.

She said she enjoyed her experiences with Cavalcade of Thrills and with Uniroyal.

“There are a lot more nice people than there are mean and hateful people,” she said. “I got to see a lot of things and see a lot of people, a lot of celebrities, but everybody’s a celebrity in their own way. Everybody has something special that they do.”

LEE WARD can be reached at lward@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2661.

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