Mason Dixon's life was on the line when his 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible was split down the middle

Rick Castro was a firefighter for Hillsborough County for 31 years before retiring in 2016. His career with Fire Rescue began in 1985 when he earned $5.43 an hour at Station 13. Over the decades, Castro responded to thousands of emergencies and assisted with saving many lives. One of his most memorable experiences involve pulling a local celebrity and fellow car enthusiast from a bizarre 2005 car crash - a collision that left a 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible sliced in half.

Muscle cars and rock and roll
Like the two generations before him, Rick Castro grew up in Hillsborough County. In those pre-streaming days, he got his rock and roll fix listening to local radio. He regularly tuned into WRBQ-FM (Q105) for the Q Morning Zoo. The program featured randy discussion, skits, and mixed comedy bits. One of the show's most famous personalities was Mason Dixon.

Castro recalled listening to Q Morning Zoo for years and described it as "nothing but hilarious."

"I would laugh from the time I put it on until the time I had to turn it off," Castro said. He especially enjoyed Dixon's humor and described him as brilliant.

Castro had another connection to Dixon, beyond enjoying his radio show. Both he and Dixon orbited in the same local car enthusiast circle, often crossing paths at auto shows and meets. Though neither were on a first-name basis with one another, they had a shared passion for muscle cars.

In fact, when Castro arrived on the scene of a car crash on Mobly Road in Northwest Hillsborough back in 2005, he immediately knew the 1970 red Dodge Challenger belonged to the well-known disc jockey. It was a commendable feat in recognition considering the convertible was not in its usual state. It had been smashed into halves.

This story is part of Hillsborough County’s 50-for-50 Series, a historic review of some of the memorable events, dates, and people in the history of Hillsborough Fire Rescue, which was born on Aug. 27, 1973. Want to know more? Read additional stories that show the growth, bravery, and specialized operations of Hillsborough County’s largest department.

1970 Dodge Challenger convertible split in half

Dixon was heading home from a promotional event when a teenager crashed her Toyota 4Runner into his Challenger. After careening off the road and then overcorrecting her car, the driver T-boned Dixon's convertible. The impact split his vehicle down the middle.

"The fact that the car was cut in half - that was pretty intriguing in itself," Castro recalled.

Castro was acting captain that summer day. The moment he and his crew arrived on the scene it was obvious that Dixon's clock was ticking. The DJ suffered from internal bleeding, broken ribs, and significant injury to his lung and spleen.

Castro approached Dixon and did his best to assure him. He still remembers the exact words he spoke to Mason as the DJ faded in and out of consciousness. "Mason, it's Rick Castro. I'm riding captain on the engine today. You're in good hands. You'll be fine," he said.

Dixon will never forget the surreal moments after the wreck. "I remember kind of looking at everything and it was all in black and white, then it went to color, then to black and white, then it went back to color. So I'm sure my brain was pretty rattled. And I had a lot of blood on my face because of the glass that shattered on the side window, probably because my head hit it," Dixon said.

As far as pulling someone from a car crash, Dixon was an easy rescue. With the car's front and back ends in almost complete separate pieces, and the convertible top down, it was a simple matter of removing what was left of the Dodge's driver side door. From there, it was a typical "load and go," and Dixon was hustled into the ambulance and whisked off to the hospital.

The other driver in the collision was fortunate enough to avoid significant injuries. The SUV she was driving, according to Castro, appeared mostly undamaged despite the unique destruction it had caused. Strangely, the scene of the collision had very little crash debris.

A career of close calls

Castro saw a lot of dangerous traffic collisions and horrific tragedies over his multiple decades as a first responder. Enough, he said, to make you grow thick skin. Thinking back on Dixon's wreck, Castro is still amazed that the crash wasn't worse.

"If he would have been hit closer to the steering wheel, I'm pretty sure he would have been dead," Castro reflected.

Dixon was incredibly lucky that June day in 2005. Though his Challenger was totaled, Dixon survived.

When asked about the crash, the DJ evoked a 1940s tune titled "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis.

"To quote that old song about 'I owe my soul to the company store,' I owe my soul to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue," Dixon said.

As for Castro, he continued working with Fire Rescue for another 11 years. He looks back at his job as the "best job on the planet."

"I would recommend the job to anybody," Castro said.

Image Caption: Mason Dixon's 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible was smashed in half by a Toyota 4Runner in 2005. The car needed to be realigned in order to load on the tow truck.
Last Modified: 3/25/2024, 2:51:48 PM

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