"Demon on Wheels" documentary focuses on racing passion

By Brian Sweeney
A documentary film tracing the longtime car racing experiences — past and future — of a Catskill Mountain native will continue filming this week in Margaretville and Andes. The 80-minute film explores Mike Ondish’s decades-long fascination with the Mustang GT 500 KR, “the vanguard of performance in the muscle car era.”
The documentary is titled “Demon on Wheels” and recall’s Mike’s early fascination with the iconic Mustang GT 500 KR. His days of driving at triple-figure speeds are recalled, as are the police chases that accompanied many of these thrill rides.
“Tempting heaven and raising hell,” is how Mike likes to describe his early days of testing the limits on his prized Mustang.
One day, though, he decided to put the car into hiding. But it’s 35 years later and Mike has decided to once again return his prized car back into driving condition and test his long dormant need for speed.
Filmmaker Christina Eliopoulos said the documentary is about one man’s pursuit of a dream.
“It’s not just the restoration of a car that I’m concerned with — you can watch that on cable TV,” Christina explained. “I am interested in Mike’s identity — about where he grew up and the people here and their traditions.”
Included in the film will be interviews with many of Mike’s contemporaries such as Arkville resident Bruce Sanford and other high school buddies.
With Mike’s preference for driving in excess of the speed limit in his younger days (he’s now 63), police were a frequent part of his younger days, as well. As a result, the film will also contain interviews with two veteran state troopers, Glen George and Joe Hewitt, who were quite familiar with Mike’s exploits behind the wheel.
Christina said she has been intermittently filming “Demon on Wheels” since January 2009. The New Jersey-based filmmaker said she was working on a commercial shoot with part-time Roxbury resident George Wieser who told her, “I have found your next documentary.”
George was aware that Mike was planning his Mustang restoration project and he invited Christina to the Catskills to see if he concurred that the subject would translate well into a film.
“When we pulled into Ondish Automotive, I was visually overwhelmed,” she recalled. “It’s part car hospital, part automotive museum. And Mike is many things — an inventor, a raconteur and an encyclopedia of local history. What he’s doing is kind of like a dream postponed; I was genuinely moved.”
When the filmmaker arrived, Mike offered her a glimpse of the classic Mustang that has been largely forgotten for three-and-a-half decades. The car had literally been buried under a huge pile of tarps, magazines, radiator parts and other miscellaneous items common to a repair shop.
Although it showed ample wear and tear, Mike knew had no doubt that he needed to restore the classic to its grandeur — all incredible 863 horsepower.
Because the documentary is constantly unfolding, Christina has no idea what’s in store in the coming months. Mike’s ultimate goal, once he completes the total “frame-off” restoration, is to take his one-of-a-kind trophy to a track and once again test his racing skills.
The results of that effort will be revealed when the film is complete. But Christina points out that the outcome of Mike’s racing efforts will be secondary.
“The story is about chasing a dream…” she explained. “Mike is a very wry and funny guy. I have a sense that when this car is restored….that the man will be made new and restored again.”
This week’s filming will take place at Mike’s garage and the Bun-n-Cone, both in Margaretville, at Sanford’s Auto Parts in both in Margaretville and at an Andes farm.
A trailer for the film may be viewed at: www.demononwheels.com
She plans to show the documentary at various film festivals in hopes of securing a distribution deal.
Christina’s most recent documentary, “Greetings from Asbury Park which documents her family’s struggle with eminent domain abuse and chronicles a controversial plan that attempts to redevelop the once great seaside resort and postcard paradise. The film was awarded Best Documentary at the New Jersey International Film Festival (June 2008) and recently screened at Anthology Film Archives in New York City, as part of the New Filmmakers Series.