Gentlemen, Start Your Lawn Mowers

Demolition Derby adding locals-only lawn mower race

The trucks-only competition has become the signature event in Payson’s annual Demolition Derby. “It’s something we do that others don’t,” says parks supervisor Nelson Beck.

Photo by Andy Towle. |

The trucks-only competition has become the signature event in Payson’s annual Demolition Derby. “It’s something we do that others don’t,” says parks supervisor Nelson Beck.


Nelson Beck has added a new wrinkle to the Northern Gila County Fair’s 8th Annual Demolition Derby that should make the much-anticipated event a hoot for competitors and spectators alike.

It includes a locals-only lawn mower drag race that Beck refuses to tell the length of, saying only, “We will have a little twist in it that will make it exciting and fun.”

Beck, the town parks supervisor, stresses that the drag race is only open to Rim Country residents and he’s urging anyone interested to seriously consider participating, “Come on out and embrace your inner redneck.”

The entry fee is just $5 and the winner will pocket $100 in prize money.

In addition to the lawn mower drag race, Beck is laying plans for an inaugural lawn mower tug-o-war in which entrants will go head to head against one another to see which can drag the other’s mower over the centerline.

Anyone interested in participating in the drag race or tug-o-war should call Beck at (928) 474-7242, ext. 7 for entry forms and event information.

Also highlighting the upcoming derby, which is set to begin 1 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Payson Event Center, will be the presence of several topnotch Valley area drivers who will be in Payson for the first time to try and knock off a pair of the local derby’s most successful participants — Jim Atwater and Mickey Reetz.

“Word of how good they have been (in Payson) has spread around the state and there are some (drivers) coming up here loaded for bear, hoping to beat them,” said Beck.

In June at a trucks-only derby in Payson, Reetz — who has had several top-two finishes in local demolition derbies — was first and Jim Atwater, also a frequent competitor in the Rim Country, was second.

At the 2011 Northern Gila County derby, Atwater was first and Reetz second.

Reetz also took second at Payson’s first derby in 2006 and was first the following year.

“Those two (Reetz and Atwater) take their derbies seriously,” said Beck.

Runnin’ on adrenaline

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 Demolition 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 and Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism — 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, another trucks 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.”

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.

Another crowd favorite over the years has been local driver Forrest Waggoner who thrills the spectators with his often-bizarre feats.

At the trucks derby in June, Waggoner was named Top Local Driver and Most Aggressive. His truck, a 1976 Ford 4x4 F-250 was voted Prettiest Truck. Waggoner personally customized it as the carton character “Tow Mater” from the movie “Cars.”

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

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.

Admission prices have increased for the 2012 derby to $12 for adults (12 years and older) and $6 for children ages 3 to 11. Children 2 years and under are admitted free.


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