Kristy Wempe is a big fan of the annual Douglas County Fair, which officially begins today.
As a longtime 4-H member, she has fond memories of showing sheep, modeling clothes, making friends and attending the demolition derby.
The 25-year-old remembers cheering on car No. 9 during her first derby as a junior high school student even though she didn't know the driver.
"That was my lucky number and that was the car I liked," the Lawrence resident said. Since then, she has rarely missed an area demolition derby.
Wempe, health and safety marketing director for the Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross, said her male friends have competed in derbies for years. She has begged to drive their cars in an all-women's heat - called powder puff - that sometimes follows traditional derbies.
"I would sit there and pester them," she said. "I would ask them, 'Let me drive in the powder puff, let me drive in the powder puff.' Finally, I decided this year : I am just going to do it," she said.
In one week, her desire to drive will come true. Her 1972 Chevy Impala will be painted bright red - her favorite color - and emblazoned with No. 81 because No. 9 is taken.
"Eighty-one was the year that I was born," she said. "Plus if you add eight and one, they equal nine, so it works."
So far, Wempe is the only female entry in the Lawrence derby, which is expected to attract about 60 drivers and 4,500 spectators.
Chris Cheek, a derby official and former competitor, said few women compete in the sport and he isn't sure why.
"The women that are out there - they just let it go. They let loose and they tear some stuff up," he said chuckling. "That's why I don't understand why there aren't more out there. It's almost like they are scared, but that's what makes them drive harder."
'Thrown right in'
Wempe selected the car, tore out the interior and built the motor. She has received some help from friends Kyle Guenther and Luke Lang, who have competed in numerous derbies.
"They've thrown me right into it," she said. She bought the car about two weeks ago and has spent every night and weekend working on it with her friends. She expects to spend about $500; costs typically range from $200 to $1,000.
Although Wempe is entering for fun, she expects to be nervous.
"I joke around with the guys saying that when it comes time for my heat, they are going to have to pick me up and put me into the car because I am going to be so scared.
"But they told me, 'As soon as you get hit that one time, you are going to be ready to go.' So, I was like 'OK, good.'"
Cheek said experience doesn't always matter. He placed fifth during his first Lawrence derby in 1997 driving an old rusty car.
"Anything can happen out there."
His advice: Be aware.
"The ones (hits) that hurt are the ones that are unexpected," Cheek said. "If you see it coming, you can kind of brace yourself."
Wempe said her parents, K.C. and Kari Wempe, are concerned about her safety but remain supportive.
"My dad wishes me luck," she said. "He actually finds it kind of funny because in high school I was known for a few wrecks."
She totaled her mom's new car on the first day of her sophomore year and then totaled her own truck her senior year. "My dad said that I might as well try to win some money at it."
Kari Wempe seems to be impressed with her daughter's mechanical skills.
"I am really surprised. She has been working really hard alongside her friends putting this thing together," she said. "Her hugging her transmission, it is hilarious. It's just funny. I am just praying to God that she doesn't get hurt."
Easing her motherly fear is the fact that she will be more than a spectator.
"I will be working the gates in uniform at the demolition derby," said Kari Wempe, a lieutenant with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. "So, Momma's going to have a real bird's eye view of what is going on."
"Citations will be issued," she joked.