Demolition derby is a smashing good time
The demolition derby at the Cecil County Fair is the epitome of controlled chaos.
Harnessed and helmeted contestants are behind the wheels of jalopies that have been modified to meet strict safety regulations, such as the removal of all windshields and other glass. Gas tanks also have been eightysixed in favor of much smaller fuel containers to avoid impact explosions.
Volunteer firefighters and other emergency workers dot the periphery of the muddy, rectangular demolition derby field of battle. On high alert, they are ready to pounce should a battered vehicle catch fire or a driver is injured.
Rules govern the start of the derby, too, with cars lining up on both ends of the course in opposite directions. The front of the cars face low concrete barriers, meaning all drivers must start in reverse – the preferred direction when ramming opposing vehicles. Drivers avoid front-end end contact to protect their engines.
Then the start sounds . . . and breaks loose.
“Oh, my, we got a big hit on the far side!” the announcer’s voice crackled over the public address system Thursday night during one derby heat.
The mic-man gleefully gushed his observation after one jalopy plowed into another clunker, which, much to that targeted driver’s chagrin, happened to be vulnerably sandwiched between two other vehicles at the time.
With tires sometimes spinning in the muck, the cars revved while maneuvering. Each driver was
signal all hell trying to position his car to gain a direct reverse-gear shot at an opponent’s vehicle, preferably after putting several yards of clear space between the two so the attacker could gain the speed needed for a powerful jolt.
While the hard rear-tofront collision is ideal — tantamount to a haymaker in boxing — drivers often took any shot available at opposing vehicles. Those typically smaller hits, similar to jabs and body punches, gradually wore down opposing vehicles.
For example, after one car smashed into the front passenger’s side another, sparking some appreciative “oohs” from the crowd, that vehicle’s front passenger’s side tire appeared to slant outward from the bottom and inward from the top.
Moments and a few more precise blows later, the tire peeled away and came to rest on the ground, exposing the metal rim. But that didn’t stop the driver, gamer that he is, and he continued to battle on three tires and a rim.
“He’s got a three-wheelmobile,” the announcer blurted.
Before long, most of the mangled automobiles were immobile.
“We might be down to three,” the announcer updated.
A winner was declared moments later and the drivers maneuvered their beat-up cars out the derby ring, some under their own power, others assisted with guiding pushes from plows. Then a new patch of jalopies entered the derby course for the next heat.
For fans in the packed grandstands, the reasons for the attraction vary.
“How often do you get to see people smash up their cars?” Cindy McDaniels, 62, of Conowingo, asked rhetorically. “And they don’t even seem to care that they are smashing up their cars.”
Thursday night marked McDaniels first demolition derby. She made a trip there before accompanying her grandkids to the fair’s amusement rides.
Liv Starling, 12, of Charlestown, had gone to the fair’s amusement rides before she went to the demolition derby with her brother, Greyson, 9, and their father, Chris Starling.
“She said, ‘This is just like real-life bumper cars’,” her father said.
The variety of derby cars appealed to Starling, who commented, “I can’t believe I saw a Volvo out there. There was a Volkswagen Rabbit, too. They stopped making them.”
Elkton-area resident Davina Adkins said she appreciates the time that drivers invest to prepare their derby cars, which require a great deal of mechanical work and, judging from the looks of most, some artistic attention, too.
Some of the demolition derby competitors clearly have good senses of humor. SpongeBob SquarePants jutted above one of the demolition derby cars. Painted on another derby vehicle was, “Derby Lives Matter.”
Adkins’s husband, Todd, who used to be a demolition derby driver, focuses on the strategies used during the contests, he said.
Then there is the beloved, comical commentary from Pennsylvania resident Art Jennings, a retired special education teacher, who, during most of his 35-year teaching career, also entertained as a clown and juggler called Sonney Dayze.
“He’s very funny,” McDaniels said.
Jennings has been the demolition derby announcer for 27 years. He is clearly enthralled behind that mic, using expressions like, “Round and round we go,” and, “Room to rock,” and “Hammer down.” On Thursday night, Jennings actually announced that a car had done “a hoppy doodle” after it had gone slightly airborne.
“I’ve got the best job in the world,” Jennings said. “A demolition derby is great entertainment. I love it.”
Amid the crunching chaos of a Thursday night demolition derby heat, SpongeBob SquarePants and his sidekick, Patrick, look on from atop one of the competing cars.
Pennsylvania resident Art Jennings delivers a running and ofttimes comical commentary of the demolition derby.