There was some wild driving going on in Lawrence Friday night. Fortunately, these drivers avoided the city's streets.
The Douglas County Free Fair's annual Demolition Derby featured 85 smash-`em-up, crash-`em-up cars in five heats. Three entries suffered from car trouble before reaching the arena and were forced to withdraw.
Andy Booth, 23, said he has been driving in derbies for about five years. He explained that derby officials wet down the arena's surface prior to the event to prevent cars from reaching dangerous speeds. "The first heat takes about 45 minutes because you just can't go very fast," he said. "It's too muddy and you don't hit each other too hard."
Kicking off the event, Booth and 16 other drivers plowed through the mud and parked along the arena's edge, waving to spectators and revving their engines. Cars bore spray-painted numbers, sponsors' names and messages to families and friends, and most provided clues of what was to come with dents and crumpled body parts from previous competitions.
The crowd counted down from five and shouted "Go!" as officials signaled the start of action.
THE MOST common technique involved heading for a corner and then backing up at top speed until smashing into the front end of another car. Veteran derby spectators used blankets to ward off the blasts of mud from spinning wheels.
The mud caused the downfall of several drivers, who found themselves stuck and unable to get back in the game. A key rule in the derby required each car to collide with another at least every 60 seconds, or be disqualified.
Booth's radiator hose exploded when he was one of only four drivers left in the first heat. He reached out and pulled down the stick from the side of his car, signaling that he was out of the competition.
When the last two cars remained alive, a tractor caravan entered the arena to tow out stalled cars.
Cars picked up speed as the heats progressed and most of the mud had been displaced on the capacity crowd. Lawrence firefighters reacted quickly and frequently to the derby's siren and red flags as each heat featured at least two car fires.
The two top drivers in each heat received a $100 prize and held a "Great Smash-Off" to determine the derby's grand champion. Finalists were Dennis Stone, Dan Miller, Randy Elliot, Craig Krambeer, Tom Wiseman, Dwight Byers, William Elston and Jim Miller, all of Lawrence; and Allen Miller and David Curtis, both of Eudora.
THE DRIVERS showed no mercy, flying around the arena backwards, ganging up on each other, pinning cars against the concrete barriers and annihilating one another.
Finally, it was down to Stone and Dan Miller. They circled the corpses of demolished cars and tentatively bumped each other occasionally until Miller headed for a corner, backed up pitilessly and aimed the winning blow at Stone's front end.
The top four finishers Dan Miller, Stone, Elliot and Jim Miller were awarded trophies and cash prizes.
When all cars had been towed from the arena, Dan Miller said he would probably use his $600 award to buy another car. "I usually get two, maybe three, derbies out of one car," he said.
Miller said he was nervous to be up against Stone in the final minutes of the smash-off. "I knew his car was in better shape," Miller said. "And we're real good friends. I've asked him about 15 times to make sure there's no hard feelings."
"I've wanted to win for years and this is the first time I've won here," said the beaming driver.