Wrecking Crew: Derby Drivers Crunch Junkers

This article originally appeared in the Daily Inter Lake on Aug. 23, 2004. View published clip (PDF).

Front-end loaders smoothed dirt roughed up by horses’ hooves, like a Zamboni preparing the ice for a game of hockey. Dirt was piled to the side in an almost circular wall. Then came the water trucks and soon the mud.

The demolition derby: A little bit hockey, a little bit mud wrestling, a little bit…

Dark clouds hung overhead, and the wind picked up. Spectators milled into the grandstand, some having stood in line for an hour. Country music played over the PA.

The Pink Pig was first to come wallow, followed by Spiderman. Then there was Jungle Jack Hannah. The Cable Guy had big white teeth on his front fenders.

The cars—if they could be called that—lined up along the dirt wall like animals at a feeding trough, ready for the pre-derby Show and Shine competition.

“The guys are all gussied up for ya!” barked the announcer. “Just check these cars out!”

Engines revved. The sound was like a giant bike with a giant clothes pin holding a giant baseball card to a giant wheel, moving quickly. The whole event is hyperbole.

Amidst cheers of judgment, Spiderman took first place.

The cars left the arena and lined up for the main event. Engine snorted like horses as the National Anthem was sung.

It was time. More cars entered the arena, once again lining up against the dirt wall. The derby started slowly, looking like a square dance in which no one wanted to dance, but soon the mud started to fly and the air filled with smoke and the smell of oil and gasoline. A sheriff’s deputy asked people to stand behind a yellow line, away from the fence and the car carnage.

The crowd roared as cars rammed into one another, car bodies changing shape with each impact. It was all about velocity, and nothing about nuance. Forward or back, just point the car and stomp on the gas.

A car that seemed to be named Scorpion lost its tail, backed over it, and soon stopped for good surrounded by another body part or two. Others slid into the retaining dirt wall and got stuck.

“I cannot believe that guy is still moving!” said a boy of a car burning rubber from where a rear fender scrunched against a tire. Its trunk was almost in its back seat.

The demolition derby: It’s a zoo out there.