Imagine this — in a modern society overprotected with strict nanny laws and rules, adrenaline-crazed drivers gather in a bullpen-like arena with a goal of ramming their cars and trucks into one another until only one is left running.
Sounds far fetched, doesn’t it?
As wacky as it seems, it is an actual event that draws thousands of spectators each fall to the Payson Event Center where they take in the Gila County Demolition Derby.
This year, the derby — sponsored by the Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism and Honeycutt Rodeo — begins at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11 in PEC. Gates open at 11:30 a.m.
Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for ages 5 to 11 and those 4 years and under are free.
Town parks supervisor Nelson Beck, who helps run the derby along with Scott Honeycutt, is expecting 2,000-plus spectators for the fourth annual event that will draw drivers from around the state as well as Payson.
While it is the seasoned, veteran, Valley-area drivers who usually dominate the derby, a foursome of locals more than held their own last year.
Forrest Waggoner took second in the trucks division, losing to Valley driver Glenn Madden in the hotly contested finals.
“Forrest drove like a banshee,” said Beck.
Also in the truck division, Dion Lloyd was third.
Brett Carnes and Casey Bramlett entered the cars division and, while neither finished in the top three, the two were very competitive.
Carnes is no stranger to the derby, having finished third in 2007.
Beck is not certain the four Payson men will enter the upcoming derby because all entry forms are not yet in.
However, he expects the truck division to again be popular among the local drivers.
Last year, it attracted nine trucks, the most in the history of the derby.
“Trucks are our signature event, it’s something we do that others don’t,” said Beck. “This year they promise to be a crowd favorite.”
Among the local drivers who have enjoyed success in the division are Dan and Rob Shover of Coyote Auto.
Their specially prepared truck was first in 2007, second in 2008 and third the following year.
“Dan has said he will probably enter a couple of trucks,” Beck said.
This year, the trucks division will see an increase in added money from $750 to $1,000, or the same as the cars division.
The added money is put in a pool with entry fees and then divided among the three top drivers in each of the divisions.
The winner receives 50 percent of the pot, the second-place finisher pockets 30 percent, and 20 percent is give to the third-place driver.
Last year, an impromptu bumper-to-bumper truck “tug-o-war” was so much a crowd favorite that Beck and Honeycutt have decided to hold it again.
“It’s not open to the public, it’s a type of sideshow for the spectators,” said Beck.
Those who have taken in past Payson 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 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 usually dole out prize money to the lucky watermelon destroyer.
Prior to the melon-squashing event, the contestants make a grand entry to introduce their vehicles to the audience.
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 during 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 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 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 or online at: www.paysonrimcountry.com.