Derby Days

Annual demolition derby is always a smash

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Nelson Beck has never wavered in his conviction that there is plenty of room on the Rim Country recreation calendar for one of the wackiest entertainment events ever held at the Payson Event Center.

His faith that demolition derbies would be a huge draw paid dividends when the first two events, in 2006 and 2007, drew crowds of over 2,500 spectators and some of the state's finest adrenaline-crazed drivers.

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The roar of engines and the clash of crashing metal and the cheers of fans will close the 54th Annual Northern Gila County Fair with the return of Honeycutt Rodeo's demolition derby. This year the event will feature several more contests, including one just for trucks. To learn more, call the Payson Parks and Recreation Department at (928) 474-5242, ext. 7.

Those two derbies were held in conjunction with the Northern Gila County Fair as will the third annual event when it heats up PEC at 1:30 p.m., Sept. 7.

Those who have taken in either of the first two derbies know they provided metal-crunching, bone-jarring, crashing, smashing action at its best.

"They are crazy, but the sportsmanship has always been good," Beck said.

New this year will be the appearance by Pro-Tour FMX, a freestyle motocross exhibition and demonstration team. On the squad is former California state 4-Stroke champion D.J. Umphres. The daredevil riders are said to perform some of the most exciting and dangerous motorcycle tricks in the sport. Among the tricks are the Double Grab Heart Attack, Cliff Hanger, Tsunami, One-Handed Indian Air and Cat Knack.

The demo derby competitions usually begin with a warm-up event in which drivers battle one another to see who can be the first one to drive over, and squash, a watermelon strategically placed in the middle of the arena.

Of course, the sponsors, which include Honeycutt Rodeo, Chapman Auto Center and Payson and Parks and Recreation, usually dole out prize money to the lucky watermelon destroyer.

In addition to the traditional demolition derby event that features 1970s and '80s full-sized American cars outfitted to fit the rules, there will be a powder puff event for women.

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The contestants make a grand entry to introduce their vehicles to the audience.

Also, a trucks-only derby was held at the request of several local drivers. A truck prepared by Dan and Rob Shover at Coyote Auto did so well it was invited to participate in the automobile division.

Beck says that the truck division races will again be held this year.

The first two derbies were dominated by Mickey Reetz and Steven Quills, who last year finished one two respectively.

In 2006, Quills was first and Reetz second.

Beck is unsure whether the two Phoenix drivers will return again this year.

Among the Payson drivers, Brett Carnes has shown well reaching the finals in 2007.

Beck is promising that the upcoming derby will be better and bigger than ever, mostly because the promoters have more experience hosting them, the interest in Payson drivers is growing and fans of the sport are hooked.

"Rumors are there were will be more local cars, the Valley drivers are coming back and the stands will be full," he said. "It should be a great time."

Admission is $12 for adults and $5 for children 4 to 11 years. Children under 4 are free.

The rules

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

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Organizers expect more Rim Country contestants in this year's derby. Past derbies have been dominated by Phoenix drivers.

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

Opinions differ on the origin of the sport but a popular version is that the first derby was held in Long Island, N.Y. in 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 junkyards and repaired.

For the derby, all glass must be removed from the cars to make them safer. Also, deliberately ramming the driver's side door is a no-no. Drivers usually use the rear of the car to ram an opponent and protect their engines from damage.

Rules for the upcoming trucks competition will be different from the guidelines for cars.

"In trucks, the fuel cells have to be relocated at the center of the bed, be bolted down and have splash shields," Beck said.

Beck is unsure of what year or make trucks will be popular with Payson's adrenaline-crazed drivers but expects Chevrolets, Fords and Dodges to be featured.

"They can be up to 1 ton, but cannot be duallies (dual rear wheels)," he said. "Two- or four-wheel drives are OK, but only one driveline, front or rear, can be used."

Also, maximum and minimum bumper height limits will be enforced.

As unique as the upcoming truck derby will be, there are other more bizarre versions held around the country and in England. Some of those include rollover competitions, figure-8 racing and using harvesters, lawn mowers and school buses.

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

Copies of the rules regulations and entry forms for the Payson derby are available at the parks and recreation offices located at Green Valley Park.

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