By Herb Helzer
Fresno, California, located in central California, 220 miles north of Los Angeles and 190 miles southeast of San Francisco, occupies a special place in the hearts of all duellists. With a population of 300,000 and a strong agricultural and light industrial economy, the "Birthplace of Autoduelling" has managed to survive the chaos that engulfed many smaller cities in the West.
Nestled in the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno was reclaimed from the desert by irrigation, which in time made the Big Valley a lush agricultural region. Growing such diverse items as olives, cotton, onions, grapes and raisins, plums and prunes, tomatoes, lettuce, livestock and all manner of citrus fruit, Fresno County had the largest agricultural income of any county in America until the 1990s.
Fresno grew, in population and resources, until the national crises and the Oil Wars engulfed the continent. The collapse of Mexico's economy sent millions across the border, looking to start again fresh in the new nations. Many of them filtered up to the Fresno area, and ended up doing the same work their ancestors did - migrant farm labor. The Valley's crops are labor-intensive, and farmers resisted modernization since the supply of labor was cheap and inexhaustible - but the breakdown of heavy industry nationwide has made the problem academic.
Since susceptible grains were never a major crop, Grain Blight missed Fresno and the Valley - in fact, the demand for agricultural goods proved a boon for the Valley citrus and vegetable growers. But this new prosperity prompted an influx of refugees from the Midwest and Plains states (like "The Grapes of Wrath"), worsening an already tense situation. Competition between the Midwesterners and the established Hispanic and Asian populations led to open conflict along racial lines.
Fresno was hit especially hard by the Food Riots despite its strong agricultural base. Order was eventually restored, but its residual tensions remain high.
Fresno today is very multi-ethnic, with a 65 percent Hispanic majority, and a significant minority of Asians - the descendants of Hmong and Vietnamese immigrants in the late 2oth century. Another important group with deep roots in Fresno's history is its large Armenian population.
Of course, no history of Fresno is complete without mention of its most famous citizen. Bigger than William Saroyan, Hall of Famer Tom Seaver or Tony Coelho, the 1996 Democratic presidential nominee, he is of course "Crazy" Joe Harshman, the Father of Autoduelling.
Everyone knows how, in the fall of 2023, Crazy Joe, a raisin grower put out of business by corporate developers, mounted a surplus .50-caliber machine gun in his old Chevy and won the demolition derby at the Fresno County Fair.
The action made Harshman a local celebrity, and he used the proceeds to open an auto customizing company. In early 2024 (having finagled an anti-tank gun from the National Guard) he duplicated his Fresno success in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix - all before the network cameras. By midyear he was a household name, and when Texas entrepreneurs opened the first true arena, Harshman duly christened it with his 16th kill.
After that Crazy Joe retired from duelling, and turned his effort to business. His customizing company boomed, and soon he had bought the Fairgrounds, site of his first success. in '25 it was reopened as the Fresno Auto Stadium, to great fanfare.
Sadly, fame and wealth took their toll. His abuse of various legalized substances and his antics at parties were legend. Later, Harshman was arrested when four executives of the company that had bought out his raisin farm were found murdered in the wreckage of their armored limousines, but he was released for lack of evidence or witnesses. He ran for mayor in 2026 - losing, after two recounts, by only seven votes.
His foundering business was acquired by the Uncle Albert chain in 2027, but when the American Autoduel Association passed over Harshman for the national presidency, he snapped. Prowling Old Town in a specially-modified car, blasting anything in his path, people referred to the "Old Town Bogeyman" without realizing it was Harshman. This went on for almost a year, but by mid-'28 the police had caught on. A stakeout of his old farm flushed him, and Crazy Joe led a running battle all the way back to Fresno (disabling a dozen cars in the process).
The city had, as a defensive measure, torn down many of the bridges over the irrigation canals criss-crossing Fresno - effectively dividing the city into districts and restricting in-city travel. Crazy Joe, fleeing from police at high speed, came to one of these dismantled bridges, tried to brake and flipped into 10 feet of water. Police arrived too late - Crazy Joe Harshman had drowned, still strapped in the wreckage of his car. Rumors persist that Harshman had a clone but Gold Cross officials deny it.
Posthumously, his arena was renamed the Harshman Memorial Stadium, and the AADA redressed its past wrong by inducting him into the Highway One Hall of Fame. In 2029, Fnord changed the name of its new mid-sized entry from the Scalpel to the Joseph Special - overall, a good tribute to the Father of Autoduelling, Crazy Joe Harshman.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Clovis people tend to be well-off, fiercely independent and resentful of its larger neighbor. Though many of Fresno's community leaders live in Clovis, relations between the two are such that the raising of the wall in 2025 came as no surprise. Autoduelling is illegal in Clovis, but residents keep quite a number of heavily-armed vehicles, for when they go into Fresno.
The resulting vacuum was filled by masses of destitute Mexican aliens, both legal and illegal. The city's attempts to accommodate the newcomers were thwarted after the Food Riots, and Old Town has been left to decay. Old town's population tends to fluctuate seasonally, as these people fulfill the need for migrant workers on the area's farms.
Fresno is the key signatory of the Central Valley Charter, a mutual-defense treaty drawn up in 2026 to defend against anything from roving gangs to the Mexican Army. Other treaty members include Clovis and all of the other major towns of Fresno County. Treaty members are bound to aid and assist other members in any manner possible (though most are reluctant to take this to any extreme).
In addition, the CVC is aligned with the Madera-Merced Concordant to the north and the South 99 Alliance - based in Bakersfield - to the south. These groups cooperate to maintain Highway 99 between Sacramento and Bakersfield - a distance of nearly 300 miles.
The law enforcement system has several overlapping organizations. Most important statewide is the famed California highway Patrol, or CHP (don't ever call them "CHiPs"). The CHP's main duty is, of course, patrolling the highways. With their distinctive black-and-white cars, not many can escape them - especially since the CHP became the first organization to install Thundercat power plants in all their frontline vehicles.
The CHP maintains a regional base in Fresno, at the old Chandler Airport (8), south of Roeding Arena and bordering Old Town. The heavily-fortified base has between 45-60 cars, six oversized vehicles, and a squadron of attack and surveillance helicopters.
The Charter Sheriffs are the enforcement arm of the CVC, and as such serve all its members. The Sheriffs number about 350, and on paper have more 50 vehicles. But neglect and mismanagement wrack the Sheriffs, and the field personnel are often second-rate (the better police candidates prefer other groups). The Sheriffs are considered a joke by some, but they protect the region's fortified farms well enough (some say too well - in the past some deputies have been caught charging protection to farmers). Charter Sheriffs' cars are brown, with little ornamentation.
Two National Guard units, the 185th Transport and the 160th Infantry, also use the Chandler facilities, though their personnel live in Fresno proper. The units have no actual tanks, but the 160th is fully motorized, with armored personnel carriers, armed buses and some heavy artillery. The 185th operates a squadron of heavy transport copters, with some tactical capability.
The Fresno police department, with 1,200 personnel, 250 vehicles and six helicopters, is an average metropolitan police force in quality and equipment - but they are not to be taken lightly. Their vehicles are white, with blue and gold trim.
The Clovis police, who recently changed their colors to black and silver, are often cited as a model for other small towns. Despite having only 30 vehicles, Clovis beats Fresno on two counts: Clovis is one of the few towns to have a fully laser-armed force, and their police get better pay and benefits. However, impartial observers say that in most situations, Fresno cops are better than Clovis cops, who tend to be snobbish, somewhat racist and more than a little trigger-happy. Clovisites call this a "natural defensive response" to Fresno's "encroachment" on Clovis' land and business.
AUTODUELLING IN FRESNO
At time of printing, Fresno has one major operating arena, Fresno-Roeding (9), located at a former park on the west side, along Highway 99. Opened in 2030, Roeding's two-level tri-oval surface has proven very popular with both duellists and fans. Roeding's other attraction, its Zoo, dates back more than a century. The arena facilities were built around the zoo, which has a very large collection of animals and an exceptional research center (through Fresno State).
Fresno's other arena is the famous Harshman Memorial Stadium (10). Formerly the Fresno County Fairgrounds, Harshman is one of the oldest duelling arenas in North America. At its zenith, Harshman hosted the first AADA World Championships, but since then the aging arena has been eclipsed by the bigger Fresno-Roeding. In 2032 the Stadium was closed for remodeling (during which the FRA has been running a full seven-day duelling schedule). When it reopens on the 11th anniversary of the birth of autoduelling, Harshman should once again make history - as the world's first urban arena made specifically for off-road duelling.
Fresno's AADA chapter is currently divided into several competing factions. the Fresno Auto Killers (FREAKs) are mostly white, young duellists who live in the fashionable riverfront, Fig Garden and Van Ness neighborhoods. Their cars are blue, without device. The Grain Blighters, on the other hand, are a loose-knit bunch of Midwestern refugees (called new Okies by almost everybody).
Despite being the majority ethnic group, many Hispanics cling to secretive habits learned decades ago. Their duelling group, known as the "F-14s," is a part of this - the name probably applies to all Hispanic youth, rather than just the duellists. It is known that the name's origins go back to the 20th century. The F-14s (or whatever) are known to have a high regard for their cars' appearances. Painted in intricate patterns, often with decorative chrome, a gathering of Hispanic duellists is indeed a stirring sight.
An Asian group - the Valley Dragons - though much smaller than the others, is noteworthy in that the 2032-33 Division 20 world champion, Ray Nguyen-Cai, is president. Dragon colors are white with red and gold trim, with some bearing a chrysanthemum emblem.
The Clovis Autoduelling Association, though small, works with the police in enforcing the anti-duelling statute. They have no set colors, but almost always compete in the higher price categories.
In Old Town, a group of bandits have more or less succeeded in gaining control. known contemptuously as the Amigos, they claim to speak for the 100,000-plus Old Townies and want autonomy and recognition. The Amigos operate out of the ruins of Fulton Mall, and their colors are olive drab and khaki (usually with various Spanish slogans on the sides). They have been linked to several ambushes on Highways 99 and 41 - which intersect in Old Town - and are considered terrorists by the CHP and CVC, who both refuse to negotiate with them.