Cars, vi­o­lence and the Amer­i­can dream

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

IN the tiny Penn­syl­va­nia town of Ebens­burg, deep in the heart of Amer­ica’s Rust Belt, 80 cars signed up for the de­mo­li­tion derby at the Cam­bria County Fair. By the end, there were only two win­ners – and 80 wrecks.

Few sports are as em­blem­atic of the sim­ple Amer­i­can life of yore than the de­mo­li­tion derby, where the goal is to be the driver of the last car standing – hav­ing de­stroyed all other cars in a deaf­en­ing bat­tle of metal on metal.

More than 4,000 peo­ple paid US$8 to sit in the stands on a Thursday night and en­joy the spec­ta­cle of revved-up en­gines, crushed fend­ers, flying bumpers and ex­plod­ing ra­di­a­tors.

There are hardly any rules in this mo­torised slam­fest, split into two cat­e­gories – four- and six-cylin­der en­gines.

Each round be­gan with about seven or eight cars lined up on the sides of a rec­tan­gle of earth about 100 me­tres long.

At the start, the drivers put their cars in re­v­erse as fast as pos­si­ble in an at­tempt to hit other cars ac­cel­er­at­ing in the op­po­site direc­tion.

The first of scores of crashes fol­low, with the nas­ti­est trig­ger­ing “ohs!” and “ahs!” from the crowd.

Each driver must wear a seat­belt and a hel­met.

The cars – re­cov­ered from a junk­yard or bought for a few hun­dred dol­lars – can­not be spe­cially re­in­forced and their in­te­ri­ors must be stripped. The hood is chained down to keep it from flying off.

It is for­bid­den to smash the driver­side door. The rest of the car is fair game.

“The most chal­leng­ing thing is prob­a­bly keep­ing your car whole,” said Jor­dan Storm, 20, a heavy-equip­ment op­er­a­tor whose fuel pump un­for­tu­nately went out.

The bumpers are the first to fly off. Then the tyres blow out. The en­gines die in a gasp of white smoke. A cou­ple of cars catch fire. A derby of­fi­cial halts the frenzy so a dozen fire­fight­ers can douse the blaze with ex­tin­guish­ers. Then the bat­tle re­sumes. For Storm, what was the best mo­ment of the night?

“I hit that guy so hard, he came up on my hood and his tire was this close to touch­ing my steer­ing wheel,” he said, still buzzing with adren­a­line. “It was pretty fun. I liked it.”

One af­ter an­other, the smashed-up car­casses pile up in the mud ... un­til there are only two still op­er­at­ing. The sur­viv­ing ve­hi­cles are wheez­ing af­ter 15 min­utes of booms and bangs.

The back end of one of the fi­nal­ists in the six-cylin­der cat­e­gory, “1/2 Nutz”, is bogged down in mud, its tyres flat and the sus­pen­sion bro­ken long ago.

The front end of ri­val “Moo” bashes into its rear, al­ready hit dozens of times.

For a few ter­ri­ble sec­onds, the driver of “1/2 Nutz” is stuck: The sound of his des­per­ate click­ing on the ig­ni­tion to restart the car is heard.

“Moo” mean­while keeps bump­ing “1/2 Nutz”. A minute passes, the time in which the rules say a car must strike an­other to avoid elim­i­na­tion.

“Moo” – a 2001 Ford Con­tour – is de­clared the win­ner of the six-cylin­der cat­e­gory at the derby.

And when the driver emerges, re­mov­ing her hel­met is a 44-year-old woman, Amy Ch­es­ney.

“Strat­egy, that’s about it,” ex­plained Ch­es­ney, who at 6am the next day will be back at work at a nearby shoe factory.

One of the de­mo­li­tion derby of­fi­cials, John Pratt, has been judg­ing races for 25 years in Penn­syl­va­nia, West Vir­ginia and Mary­land. With 80 cars, this event has been his big­gest com­pe­ti­tion of the sea­son.

Some der­bies pit big­ger ve­hi­cles against each other, such as heavy trucks and mini­vans.

The for­mer vol­un­teer fire­man was nos­tal­gic for the days when drivers were less strate­gic.

“They’re pussy-foot­ing around,” Pratt said, pin­ing for der­bies where most ve­hi­cles were dec­i­mated in a minute. –

Photo: AFP

Drivers com­pete in the an­nual de­mo­li­tion derby at the Cam­bria County Fair in Penn­syl­va­nia on Septem­ber 9.

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