Goshen News, Goshen, IN

July 25, 2013

ELKHART COUNTY FAIR: Demolition derby a popular fair finale

By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS

— GOSHEN - That car-smashing, cheer-inducing spectacle of destruction known as the Nation-Wide Demolition Derby is once again set to close out the Elkhart County Fair at 7 p.m. Saturday.

According to longtime derby coordinator Brad Trenshaw, the hugely popular demolition derby is essentially bumper cars for grown-ups, though without the bumpers. Instead, contestants use real cars reaching speeds of up to 15 miles per hour to pummel vehicles into submission, with the last car standing — or at least still able to move around — declared the winner.

“It’s the culmination of the week of the fair, the grand finale if you will, and it’s always a packed event,” Trenshaw said. “You’ve got people packed in the grandstands, people in the aisles, people down on the track. It’s great.”

When asked what it is about the derby that keeps people coming back, Trenshaw just laughed.

“Everybody loves a good crash. It’s as simple as that,” Trenshaw said. “Beyond that, I think it’s just a good way for people to let off a little steam and have some fun at the same time. It’s just one of those things where it’s a good, clean way for people to let of some energy and be a little silly. And it’s just a fun time. It really is.”

While the rules of the derby are fairly loose, safety can be an issue anytime you’re dealing with large moving vehicles, so there are safety precautions to adhere to for those wishing to participate.

“There are certain rules and regulations that drivers have to follow, like no glass in the windows or windshield area. They have to have a roll bar on the driver’s side, the brakes have to work, things like that,” Trenshaw said. “There are definitely certain things that we have to follow that have to be there or you’re disqualified.”

While the final numbers are not yet in for the total number of drivers who will be participating in this year’s derby, Trenshaw noted that on average the derby attracts between 55 and 60 drivers. He anticipates this year’s turnout will be no different.

“For this year now we don’t have our final count because most of the drivers don’t show up until the last day with their entry forms,” Trenshaw said. “But we usually average about 55 to 60 vehicles a year.”

Due to the large number of drivers participating and the relatively small confines of the makeshift arena where the derby is staged, the cars are first divided up into smaller groups, or “heats,” with the winners of each heat then placed into one final heat for a chance at the derby crown.

“A heat is essentially where you take maybe 10 or so cars, put them in the arena, put them up against the grandstand wall, start the countdown, and then they ram each other,” Trenshaw said. “Then once all the cars are pretty much done, then they bring in the next heat, and so on. We may run three or four heats, then we’ll take the winners of each of the heats and put them all into one heat to see who comes out on top.”

As for the vehicles themselves, Trenshaw said most drivers typically find cars that have been previously wrecked and refurbish them. Many drivers also prefer older models, such as those from the 1980s, when car makers still made full-frame vehicles that are better able to withstand the punishment doled out during a typical derby.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an expensive hobby, but it really depends on what kind of shape the car is in to begin with,” Trenshaw said. “I don’t really know how much money they put into them on average. Some of the cars have been in accidents before, and they’ll just throw some tires on them and go. Others require a little more work. So it could be a cheap process or an expensive one. It just depends on how passionate you are about it.”

Stick around ...

- The Mad Bomber Fireworks show is scheduled  to take place at dark Saturday evening over the grandstands area.