Payson Drivers Add Heart, Soul To Derby

Local drivers represented Rim Country well during Sunday’s Demolition Derby which closed out the 2011 Northern Gila County Fair at Payson Event Center. In the truck event, “Freaky Freddy” Collins slams into the Coyote Auto entry driven by Rob Shover.

Dennis Fendler

Photo by Dennis Fendler. |

Local drivers represented Rim Country well during Sunday’s Demolition Derby which closed out the 2011 Northern Gila County Fair at Payson Event Center. In the truck event, “Freaky Freddy” Collins slams into the Coyote Auto entry driven by Rob Shover. Photos by Dennis Fendler


With their legendary drive and trucks built for punishment, it’s no surprise the boys from Phoenix won first place for both the truck and car Demolition Derby on Sunday at the Payson Event Center.

What did surprise and please the crowd was the commitment displayed by “Freaky Freddy” Collins. He’s a local who works part-time as a cook at Denny’s, sings Louis Armstrong during karaoke at the Buffalo Bar and drives in the truck derby every year. He’s got his heart in the fight. That heart won him the Best Local Driver trophy along with prize money for coming in second place and winning the Most Aggressive Driver prize in the truck derby.

A fact: Payson is the first town to hold a truck derby. Now, it’s a beloved locals event.

This year the Derby happened to fall on the 10th anniversary of 9-11. To commemorate the day, a Volkswagen Jetta with an effigy of Osama bin Laden sat at the center of the ring to motivate the drivers to crash into it and each other. By the end of the Derby, bin Laden lay outside the car in pieces and the Jetta had shrunk to half its size.

The winner of the truck derby was Justin Suhr, from Phoenix.


Members of the Arizona Lawn Mowers Racing Association wowed the crowd at Sunday’s Demolition Derby.

But if the violent, crumpled world of truck smashing was fair, Collins would have triumphed in fact — instead of just in the hearts of his fellow Paysonites.

Five trucks entered the championship round of the truck derby. No. 01 — driven by Steve Shover, had to scratch after the opening warm-up round because his clutch went out, said Jerry Honeycutt, event organizer.

As the trucks smashed into each other, four quickly got bunched around the al-Qaida car — Freaky Freddy’s No. 99, George Dodson’s No. 911, Suhr’s No. 747 and Rob Shover’s No. 861.

Shover’s run ended with that dog pile, smoke billowing out from under the hood from his busted transmission.

Forest Waggoner’s No. 187 di d not even make it to the pileup because his shifter broke. He sat on the other side of the arena.

Since Collins piled on the last, he could have finished in first place.

“Whadd’ya wanna do, Freddy? You could win now if you stop,” said Honeycutt.

Instead, Collins motioned to have the trucks pulled apart so the Derby could continue as long a someone had a gear left to grind. Dodson quickly dropped out of the running, leaving only Collins and Suhr to carry on.

At first, Suhr looked mortally wounded. Collins rammed the truck over and over, although one of Collins’ tires had sheared off at the rim.

“Watch out, Freddy, he could be playing possum,” said Honeycutt over the loud speakers.

And that’s exactly what Suhr did. He suddenly revved his engine and tore into Collins, pushing him out of the arena. Collins ended his run with three tires outside the log barricade.

“You could have won, Freaky Freddy, but you decided to keep on going. Way to man up!” cried Honeycutt, awarding him second prize and most aggressive driver.

In the car division, only one Payson driver threw his radiator into the ring to go up against the organized Phoenix boys.

Carl Plumb drove car number 55. He owns Carl’s Towing over in Star Valley.

He and his buddy and co-worker, Mike Wicks, who also moonlights as a scuba diver for law enforcement doing evidence recovery, converted a car that had sat abandoned for two years into their Derby car.

Plumb was the oldest driver at Sunday’s event.

“My mind says I’m 20, but my body doesn’t,” said Plumb.

Seven cars entered the car derby championship: No. 86, driven by Mickey Reetz; No. 73, Jim Atwater; No. 14, Chris Hamilton; No. 021, Jeff Chiles; No. 29, Butch Bettis; and No. 88, Michael Dechant.

The boys from Phoenix take their car derbies seriously. They enter events all over the state. They carefully research the cars they use and the engines they put into those cars. Prior to entering a derby, the Valley drivers will “pre-dent” their cars to increase the strength of the car, explained Wicks and Plumb.


Jim Atwater of Mesa (No. 73) shows the moves that captured him the first-place trophy in the car division. There’s not much left of the No. 29 car driven by Butch Bettis.

“See that dent in the trunk? That was put there by the driver to make the back end stronger,” said Wicks.

The car derby started out with the guys repeatedly banging into the al-Qaida car. Then they turned their fury on one another. One smashed into his foe with such force the car got shoved completely out of the arena, scattering spectators near the rodeo holding pens.

Dechant rammed into the Jetta so hard, he drove up over the top — crushing it and destroying his back end. That move won him the most aggressive driver award, but he had to settle for third place.

The shoot-out ended up between Atwater and Reetz.

Reetz has won for the past couple of years, but he came in second this time. His car suddenly stopped going into gear after he slammed into Atwater, who was at the time sitting against a log at the end of the arena.

“Atwater, you win first place, but I’m a little disappointed you didn’t get some better hits in,” said Honeycutt, handing Atwater the championship trophy.

This year, Honeycutt had the trophy made out of car parts, pistons, gears and a drive shaft for a unique piece of art.

Two other trophies went out for best local driver and first place in the truck derby.


Judi Lance 5 years, 4 months ago

I saw no mention of the truck pull and no pictures. It was one of the highlights of the entire event! Grayson Lance won the 3/4 ton division, David Hardman won the 1/2 ton division. All 4 competitors were local boys! Awesome! The crowd was on their feet!


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