Demolition Derby Races Into Payson

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A motorsport event that has thrilled millions of fans for the past 50 years will debut at the Northern Gila County Fair.

The inaugural Demolition Derby, sponsored by the Payson Parks and Recreation Department, Mazatzal Casino and Honeycutt Rodeo, will be held 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10 at the Payson Event Center.

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Old, rusting cars, usually built in the 1970s, are often used in demolition derbies like the one that will debut Sept. 10 at the Payson Event Center.

Payson Parks and Recreation Department Park Supervisor Nelson Beck predicts the derby "will be one of the best spectator events of the season and a ton of fun will be had by all."

Beck is hoping local entries fill the field and the event won't have to be opened to Valley area drivers.

"We'd like to make it locals-only if we can," he said.

To make the event even more enticing, sponsors have added $1,000 in prize money.

For those unfamiliar with demolition derbies, Beck says the rules vary from event to event, but the typical derby consist of 10 or more drivers competing by deliberately ramming their vehicles into one another.

The last driver whose vehicle still runs is declared the victor.

Opinions differ on the origin of the sport but a popular version is the first derby was held in Long Island, N.Y. in the late 1950s.

But the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says the term was added in 1953 which means it was in common use well before the late 1950s.

The sport grew in popularity throughout the 1960s especially at county fairs and festivals throughout rural America.

In the 1970s, ABC's Wide World of Sports broadcast several demolition derbies and in the sitcom Happy Days, the character Pinky Tuscadero, a love interest of the one of the main characters, Fonzie, was a demolition derby driver.

Probably the most renowned derby occurred in 1972 in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The nationally televised event drew Indianapolis 500 champions Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Bobby and Al Unser. During the derby, the drivers destroyed high dollar new cars including a Rolls Royce donated by Evel Knievel.

The most popular cars among demolition derby drivers, who usually are amateurs, are older full-sized American sedans which can be purchased from junk yards and repaired.

All glass is removed to make the cars safer and deliberately ramming the driver's side door is usually a no-no at most derbies. Drivers usually use the rear of the car to ram an opponent and protect their engines from damage.

In Europe, the derbies are known as "banger races" and drivers attempt to run laps on a race track while trying to knock competitors off the track.

Banger races are also held in the Northwestern parts of the United States.

Some of the more bizarre versions of the derbies include rollover competitions, figure eight racing and using harvesters, lawn mowers and school buses.

The community of Lind, Wash. annually hosts a combine harvester demolition derby.

The entry fee to the Payson derby is $40 if paid before Aug. 25. After that date, it is $60. Entry forms and complete derby rules can be picked up at the parks office located at Green Valley Park.

For more information, call Beck at (928) 474-5242, ext. 306.

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