A festival of destruction: Demolition derby

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Engines roar. Tires squeal. Dirt flies in the air. Then, it happens. Metal collides with metal, crumpling like aluminum foil, and fluids mix into the mud. And the crowd goes nuts.

Cars crash into each other at the Utah County Demolition Derby as the drivers fight for a shot at the grand prize. Photo by Elliott Miler
Cars crash into each other at the Utah County Demolition Derby as the drivers fight for a shot at the grand prize. Photo by Elliott Miler

Demolition derbies are a fan favorite for county and state fairs, and the Utah County Fair is no exception. Lines of thousands of people stretched endlessly across the fairgrounds Aug. 17, kids and adults alike eager to see cars and trucks collide in the chase for the grand prize of $7,000.

The rules of the derby are simple: Drivers must collide with another car once at least every two minutes to stay in the round. If the car gets stuck in the dirt or on a concrete barricade, the unlucky driver has a minute to dislodge his vehicle or else he’s out. If the car flips, the driver is out, which happens more often than one would think. This goes on until three cars are running, and then the three winners of each round go on to the championship round.

Simple, right? Until the action begins and cars roar towards each other across the dirt to completely end one another. Then rules become strategies and strategies can be the difference between a near-miss and a cracked radiator.

Michael Stansfield is directing the fair for his first time, but he’s not a bit surprised at the capacity turnout of 8,500 people.

“This is sold out every year. This year we released the tickets on June 1,” he said. “For all intents and purposes, the tickets sold out in a few weeks.”

This year was a little different, though; the stadium was brand new and bigger, allowing the fair to bring in more people and sell more tickets. And as predicted, more people came and the new stadium carried the tradition of a sold-out show.

“There was a businessman in Spanish Fork that offered to donate $1 million…and then it was matched by the county and the city,” Stansfield said. “It’s a beautiful stadium.”

Demolition derby cars, which are really more like tanks, take quite a beating before they are deemed immobile. Engines crack, leaking fluid all across the dirt. Hoses snap loose, belching steam and smoke into the air. Flames shoot from tailpipes and tires even fell off, leaving the driver with nothing to roll on but a rim and a few prayers.

And yet, drivers persist to be the king of the derby, crashing into each other and spraying dirt into the roaringĀ stands, providing a few lucky observers a little souvenir.

Derby cars may look like heaps of junk dug up from the era of peace signs and Beatles music, but the drivers consider these weapons of mass destruction pieces of art. Most drivers have well-organized teams and sponsors helping to run the show and ensuring these masterpieces of mutilation keep up to snuff.

Colton Jacobsen and Maddie Sanchez of Elk Ridge have tried every year to get tickets, but they always sell out before they get a chance. But they got lucky this year and had a “spectacular time” watching the demolition.

“It’s cheap entertainment, it’s a good time,” Jacobsen said.

“Nothing’s better than seeing cars smash,” Sanchez said.

So why the hype? Stansfield said it’s not only fun for all ages, but it’s also an essential piece of what shapes and defines who we are as a nation.

“A county fair is a unique American institution and it’s all about families,” Stansfield said.

The demolition derby is consistently sold out, so watch for tickets in early June next year, and pounce on them as soon as possible. This festival of flying parts only comes around so often, so don’t miss out and don’t forget to bring a friend.

“You look at the kids and you look at the fun they’re having and that’s what it’s all about,” Stansfield said, “It’s all about family and we have a lot of families in Utah County.”

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