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Fierce Fans: The road to Death Valley

Images: Sean Gasser

The moniker “Death Valley” sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it? Tiger fan Michael Drago is leaning into the menacing name for Tiger Stadium. He’s the guy with the LSU hearse. Naturally, we had a lot of questions for Drago about his deathly wheels.

How did you get the idea to buy an LSU hearse? I mean, that’s a pretty original symbol of LSU pride.

The idea for an LSU hearse came from the “Welcome to Death Valley” sign in Tiger Stadium.  I just felt like a hearse would be an interesting play on that.

Do you drive the hearse to games? How do you display it during LSU football season?

We do drive it to the games and tailgate with it.  We set up a large tailgate for a number of years, but now we only tailgate for a few games a year.  We were set up across from the stadium on Nicholson Drive for years, but two years ago, LSU stopped allowing parking on the side of Nicholson Drive so we no longer have a set place to tailgate.

How long have you been a Tiger fan? Are you an LSU alum?

I’ve been an LSU fan since I can remember.  My father is a huge fan, and he passed that on to me.  When we were kids, we went to all of the games with our parents, and I just fell in love with LSU football.  I am an LSU alumnus.  I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in Philosophy.  I also hold a masters of business administration from the Flores MBA Program at the LSU Ourso College of Business.

You mention on your Facebook page that you’ve entered the hearse in a few car shows. What’s people’s reaction like when they see it for the first time?

We have been in a number of car shows and the reaction is always pretty strong.  Most people think it is a great idea and they love the paint job on the car and the coffin.  I was lucky enough to have the hearse used for the opening scene in the movie about LSU Football Ole War Skule.  The car is also pictured at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.  It was also named the number one Fan Vehicle in College Football by Tailgater Magazine.  We also have done segments with Robin Meade for Headline News and CNN.  It was featured on the Travel Channel and also a number of other shows.

You wear a pretty interesting costume when you drive the hearse. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

The Vestments I wear are real.  I own an antiques business and they came from a European church.  When I saw a purple and gold set of vestments I knew they would go great with the theme of the hearse.  They are a play on the reverence that LSU fans have for football and the whole tailgating experience.

How did you acquire the casket you display with the hearse? Does it have a use other than looking pretty menacing?

The coffin is custom built.  It has a television inside along with a stereo system, a bar and an ice chest.

Who did the paint job on the vehicle? Did you design it yourself?

Paul Crocker painted the vehicle and made the coffin.  He is an artist that currently lives in Hammond.  I came up with the plan for the vehicle and hired him to paint it.  We worked together on a number of the ideas for the airbrush work.

What’s the strangest encounter you’ve had with the vehicle at an LSU game?

Maybe the strangest thing to happen was when Senator David Vitter showed up at the tailgate party.  I was wearing my priest vestments at the time and so many jokes came to mind.  I kept it all to myself and just took some photos with him.

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