Derby a smashing good time

Gary Christian, of Lawrence, had an unusual plan for driving a car that was painted bright pink.

“Yeah, hit as hard as I can with the front end of the car. That’s how it works,” said the 15-year veteran of the Demolition Derby at the Douglas County Fair.

Hundreds of fans watched from the bleachers at the Rodeo Arena of the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds on Friday evening. They cheered for the destruction, especially when one car would fly across the arena and pound into another of the old cars designed just for such action.

“Oh yeah, that’s part of it right there,” Christian said. “People pay to watch stuff get hit, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

About 48 drivers competed in different heats and classes for prizes. To win a heat, drivers must make their car outlast the others and keep a wooden stick attached to the front of their vehicle from getting smashed.

The cars are designed specially with only a driver’s seat, and a shield protects the driver from the special gas tank in the back.

“I built a safe car, and now I go out and have some fun,” Christian said.

Steve Johnson, of Lawrence, returned to the derby after a 12-year absence. He ran in the first heat and finished in fourth place, so he was waiting for the consolation heat later on.

“I hit a couple people hard. It’s fun,” he said.

But Johnson said his engine kept dying, so he wanted to fix it before his next turn in the arena.

The fans couldn’t resist a good crash.

Baillie Beebe, 9, of Eudora, sat on the shoulders of her father, Daniel, and watched as the engines roared and dirt flew inside the arena.

“I’ve outgrown it, but she’s never seen one,” Daniel Beebe said.

“What do you think?” asked Baillie’s mother, Bambi. “Pretty cool, huh?”

With wide eyes, Baillie nodded her head.