Drivers, spectators get dirty at demolition derby

For the majority of people attending the demolition derby Friday night at the Douglas County Fair, the evening was spent dodging dirt clods and cheering.

The packed grandstands surrounding the dirt arena moved with the moments, celebrating every crash and flame. The event, arguably the most popular of all the annual fair’s attractions, had something for everyone, including spectator fights, automobile carnage and a marriage proposal — she said yes.

The big show took center stage at the fairgrounds, 2110 Harper St., with multiple heats of destruction that lasted more than three hours.

Lawrence resident Wendy Laxton has been attending demo derbies for the better part of two decades. She watched it Friday with a smile on her face.

“It’s just the excitement,” she said. “I like to see them crashing the cars.”

The ramming wasn’t all chaotic though, as Topeka resident Mike Redman could tell you. A former derby driver himself, he said he enjoyed watching the different strategies unfold.

“It’s more about keeping your car running and moving,” he said. “That’s the stressful part.”

And while hundreds of spectators cheered on the show, behind the scenes drivers and their friends worked to piece together the leftovers for the event’s final showdown. Among them were Lawrence residents D.J. Davis and friend John Green.

The two worked alongside a slew of others with torches, sledgehammers and tools in what resembled a car graveyard.

“Outside of derby it’s friendship,” Davis said of his relationships with other drivers. “But in here it’s just business.”

That business pays dividends to the survivors, with Friday night’s champion, Nick Erlacher, claiming nearly $2,000 in winnings.

“I try to win for the money,” Davis said. “But really we just go out there together to have fun.”

The fair will wrap up events today before packing up and heading out Sunday.