Credit Nelson Beck and Scott Honeycutt for bringing to the Payson Event Center one of the wackiest entertainment events ever seen in the Rim Country.
In 2006, the two introduced demolition derbies to locals and the annual events have since drawn crowds of more than 2,500 and some of the state’s finest adrenaline-crazed drivers.
The derbies are annually 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., Sunday, Sept. 13.
Gates open at 11:30 p.m.
Those who have taken in the first two derbies know they provide metal-crunching, bone-jarring, crashing, smashing action at its best.
“They are crazy,” Beck said.
The demo derby competitions begin with a warm-up event in which drivers battle one another to see which one 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 this year include Honeycutt Rodeo, Chapman Auto Center, Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Rim Country Power Sports and Coca Cola — usually dole out prize money to the lucky watermelon destroyer.
Prior to the melon-squashing events, the contestants make a grand entry to introduce their vehicles to the audience.
In addition to the traditional derby that usually features 1970 and ’80s four-door sedans, the third annual trucks-only derby will be held that is expected to be even more competitive than ever.
“The first year (2007) we had two trucks and last year we had five,” Beck said. “We are expecting seven or eight (trucks) this year,” said Beck. “Trucks are kind of our signature event, it’s something we do that others don’t”
Sponsors anticipate adding $500 to the truck prize money pool.
In 2007, a truck prepared by Dan and Rob Shover at Coyote Auto did so well it was invited to participate in the automobile division.
Beck said he expects the Shovers to again enter the derby.
Valley drivers Mickey Reetz and Steven Quills have dominated past auto derbies.
In 2006, Quills was first and Reetz second. In 2007, Reetz was first and Quills second.
Beck is unsure whether the two Phoenix drivers will return this year.
Among the Payson drivers, Brett Carnes has traditionally shown well reaching the finals in 2007.
Beck is promising the upcoming derby will be more action-packed than ever, partly because the promoters have more experience hosting them, the interest in Payson drivers is growing and fans of the sport are hooked.
“From what I’m hearing, 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.”
Last year’s halftime entertainment of a Pro-Tour a surprise comedy act and quad races sponsored by Rim Country Power Sports have replaced motocross exhibition.
Beck promises the comedy act, “Will be a lot of fun” and the quad races will be exciting for everyone, especially those who own and ride ATVs.
In addition to the races, Power Sports will set up outside the arena exhibitions of the Artic Cat ATVs the firm sells and services.
The really good news for fans’ pocket books is the adult admission to the derby has been reduced to $10 from $12 from what was charged in past years.
“Tough economic times right now,” Beck said.
The admission for children 4 to 11 years is $5, same as in the past. Children under 4 are free.
The history, 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.
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 Payson truck derby is, 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.