Archive for Saturday, August 7, 1993


August 7, 1993


It's taken Mark Gist 10 years to avoid getting too smashed and crashed.

"I finally won one," he said. "I didn't even think I'd make it this far this year."

On Friday night, the 28-year-old rural Lawrence resident basked in the glory of mud and exhaust fumes as the winner of the 1993 Douglas County Free Fair demolition derby.

His 1975 Chevrolet station wagon -- or what was left of it -- was the last vehicle running out of 81 cars that entered.

"All I can say is it's not going to run another one," he said.

Gist won the $600 first-place prize and two trophies -- one for winning his heat and the other for winning the derby.

"I've been trying for 10 years and I finally came out ahead," he said.

A capacity crowd of about 4,000 watched the derby, traditionally one of the most popular events of the fair. It is held in the main outdoor arena on the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds.

The object of the derby is simple: Knock out your opponents' vehicle before he can knock out yours.

Drivers are prohibited from head-on collisions or smashing into the driver's side of other vehicles. All drivers must wear seat belts and helmets. Each car is allowed three gallons of gasoline.

The derby was held in five heats of 15 to 17 cars each. The two cars still running after each heat advance to the final "smash off."

This year's entries included Mary and Sonya Ledbetter, a local woman and her daughter-in-law. A third woman driver this year was Sandy Unfred.

"We tried to get 17 women drivers this year so we could have an all-women's heat," Mary Ledbetter said. "Well, some of them backed out, some of them got pregnant and only three of us went through with it."

It was the first year the three women had entered the derby, and all three were crowd favorites when they smashed off in the second heat.

Unfred and Mary Ledbetter were knocked out of the competition with eight to 10 cars still running in the heat. Sonya Ledbetter fared slightly better; her car finished fourth in the heat.

"It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime deal, I guess," Sonya said. "It's a lot of work though."

Organizers said some participants take the derby "very seriously."

"Some of these guys wait all year for this," said Bo Harris, fair board member.

Other top finishers in this year's derby and their cash awards were: Second place, Dennis Stone, $300; third place, Doug Miller, $200; and fourth place, Gary Christian, $100. Each of the top finishers also received a trophy.

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