A crowd of more than 2,500 spectators is expected for the annual Payson Demolition Derby when it begins at 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 12 in the Payson Event Center arena. Gates open at 11:30 a.m.
The fans will be in attendance to see some of the state’s finest adrenaline-crazed drivers battle one another in one of the wackiest entertainment events ever seen in the Rim Country.
Although the local promoters of the event, Nelson Beck and Scott Honeycutt, didn’t actually invent demolition derbies, the two are responsible for introducing them to Northern Gila County residents — bringing the first to Payson four years ago.
The derby is annually held in conjunction with the Northern Gila County Fair.
What is different about this derby from past years, said Beck, is that the fair will take place entirely inside the PEC grounds, rather than splitting the attraction venues with the Tonto Apache Recreation Center as it has in past years.
“We’ll build some big tents on the north and south sides (of the arena) where all the exhibits will be set up,” Beck said. “Which means, those going to the derby can also take in the fair.”
Also this year, $750 in added money will go into the drivers’ prize fund. That is $250 more than in past years.
At the onset of the derby, drivers meet and vote on how to distribute the prize money. Traditionally they have elected to pay prize money to the top three drivers, said Beck
Those who have taken in past 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 and Rim Country Power Sports — 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 1970s and ’80s four-door sedans, the third annual trucks-only derby will be held and is expected to be even more competitive than ever.
“The first year we had two trucks and then we picked up a few more, each year, last year we had more than 10,” said Beck. “Trucks are kind of our signature event, it’s something we do that others don’t.”
The popularity of the truck events has spread to other derbies around the state.
“I’ve heard they have one in Buckeye and in Flagstaff,” said Beck. “A guy from Phoenix called me and said this year he was going to enter a truck.”
In 2007, a truck prepared by Dan and Rob Shover at Coyote Auto finished first doing so well it was invited to participate in the automobile division. In 2008, the Coyote Auto truck was second and last year finished third.
Beck expects Coyote Auto to enter that same truck again this year.
Another crowd favorite over the years has been local driver Forrest Waggoner who thrills the spectators with his often-bizarre feats.
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 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.”
For the upcoming derby, the usual halftime entertainment, which last year was a comedy act, and before that, motocross jumping, will be replaced by quad races and exhibitions sponsored by Rim Country Power Sports.
Beck promises the quad races will be exciting for everyone, especially those who own and ride ATVs.
The really good news for fans’ pocketbooks is the adult admission to the derby is a very reasonable $10. In 2008, the fee was $12.
“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. 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.
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.