A friend recently sent me an editorial from another paper about the writer’s experience at a demolition derby. It was a bit disappointing and many of my derby friends were upset by it.
“Every juvenile delinquent between the ages of 15 and 50 wanted to knock the windows out of the family car and join in the fray” was a quote from the editorial. Wow!
*Stands on the soapbox with microphone*
Demolition derbies are a family sport! Calling the drivers who put countless hours and funds into building their cars are far from being “juvenile delinquents.”
Many of these guys and gals shop around for cars they will use during the derby season. They have preferences whether it’s pre-1980s, a “W” body or a station wagon. These people don’t just buy the first thing they see. Then, each event has its own set of rules for how the car can be built. It is quite a bit more than just “knocking out the windows.” The entire interior has to be stripped down to just the driver’s seat. A battery box is installed where the passenger seat was. The gas tank is installed behind them which means both have to be removed from elsewhere and reconnected inside the car. Crossbeams are installed for safety, sort of like a cage. Also required is a device attached to your seatbelt and gas line, so if something were to happen, the gas is quickly shut off to prevent fires. You take everything out of the car that is not needed such as the headlights. For the most part, this takes some time. It often turns into a group project with friends, teammates or family members.
Safety for not only the drivers, but the spectators is the top priority. Spectators are only allowed to be so close to the action. There have been many times a vehicle has landed on concrete pavers or dirt berms. In my 10 plus years of filming demolition derbies, only one vehicle has launched into the driver stands in the pit area. It didn’t hit the stands but landed right in front of it. Nobody was hurt and the crowd went wild for the awesome display. That was a close one for me. This is also why the dirt tracks are watered down, to prevent the cars from going too fast to prevent injuries in and out of the arena. The chances of someone getting squashed in the stands are extremely low.
It’s also a very dirty event. White shirts are not recommended. The cars will kick up mud into the audience. Be sure to cover your drinks! This mud will stain as it contains years of car fluids from oil, gas and whatever else leaks into the mud. Recommendation...don’t wear clothes you like!
Of course, the cars are loud! If you look, most exhausts go straight up, out of the top of the car, so there are no mufflers to quiet them down.
The following was stated in the editorial...“Fathers in running for father of the year had perched some of these youngsters upon their shoulders, knowing I suspect that the little monsters deserved the best of derby fever. After the vehicles roared off...the crying of some very unhappy children, who, unlike their parents, didn’t quite associate deafness and death by flying clods with fun. Maybe next year mom and dad. It perhaps takes some maturity before humans recognize true entertainment for what it is.”
I’ll have to say I think little kids love derbies most of the time. Usually, the little tykes have earplugs or some form of ear protection. Sometimes they can get sprayed with mud and it might shock them and they may cry. Some of the young kids would cry more if they got left at home and didn’t get to see the show. Judging parenting skills by seeing who brought little kids to the show without knowing the whole scope of their routine is extremely rude.
It’s clear to me this writer hasn’t attended many derbies. He didn’t see the camaraderie between drivers, the generations of families that do this every year, the bonds built and the time and dedication put into building these vehicles.
There is nothing better than getting behind the wheel and feeling that surge of adrenaline as you floor it and go for a hit into the nearest car. It is all in fun. You are putting on a show and to hear the roar of excitement from the audience.
The drivers are fully aware of what they are getting into. They sign a waiver knowing there is always a chance of getting injured, just like with any other sport.
I invite you to go to the pits after a show and take a closer look at the cars and talk to the drivers. I think you may change your perspective.
We do this for the love of the sport!