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You'll Get a Bang Out of This Story

  • Ted Landphair

Looks like the auto on the right, which already looks the worse for wear, is about to get zapped once again.

Looks like the auto on the right, which already looks the worse for wear, is about to get zapped once again.

Average folks are deliberately smashing into one another without fear of jail time

There's a really destructive form of entertainment being staged in many parts of the United States. It's called the demolition derby. The derbies are a huge hit at county fairs, where they draw big paying crowds, and there's a regular circuit of these loud and smelly events throughout the Midwest.

The noise comes from old, stripped-down cars, with powerful engines roaring, bashing into one another in a stadium or rodeo arena. The smell comes from burning oil and transmission fluid, leaking from crippled cars.

The rules are simple: the last car running wins. When the starter drops a flag, everybody begins backing up and banging into each other or trying to get out of the way. A wonderful demolition derby car candidate. Just knock out the windshield, take the gas tank inside, and off you go.

A wonderful demolition derby car candidate. Just knock out the windshield, take the gas tank inside, and off you go.

Notice that we said BACKING into each other. Eighty percent of the event is spent in reverse gear. The drivers - both men and women - must look over their shoulders as they search out an opposing car to ram. That's because a car's most vulnerable targets - the engine and radiator - are up front.

The gas tanks and batteries are removed and placed in the safer back seat, and the doors get extra bracing. There are no windshields, so there's nothing to break and cut the driver.

Obviously these old junkers are not allowed on the highway.

Prize money is modest - maybe $1,000 to the winner - just enough to find more old clunkers to tinker with. Junkers line up, rear ends facing the arena, before the start of a demo derby event at a county fair.

Junkers line up, rear ends facing the arena, before the start of a demo derby event at a county fair.

Some drivers spend months building a car that will last 10 minutes in the ring before being destroyed. Then they salvage parts, keep the motor, and tow what's left to the junkyard.

What's the appeal of all this destruction? Demo derby drivers and fans alike say it's an adrenaline rush, and it's the one place where drivers can wreak total havoc on the cars around them and not get pulled over by a police cruiser.

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