Audience members could only watch in disbelief last weekend as some of the state’s finest adrenaline-crazed drivers piloted trucks in a bull pen-like arena with a goal of ramming into one another until only one was left running.
It all took place during a Town of Payson-hosted Demolition Derby held June 9 at the Payson Event Center.
The derby was one of the highlights of the Third Annual Mountain High Games that also included a 5K run, ATV rodeo, bike race, Dutch oven cookoff, horseshoe and archery contests and sawdust games.
When the dust finally settled in PEC, it was a pair of seasoned Valley-area drivers who claimed the top two spots in the derby.
Mickey Reetz, who has had several top-two finishes at other Payson demolition derbies, was first and Jim Atwater, also a frequent competitor in the Rim Country, was second.
At the 2011 derby held in conjunction with the Northern Gila County Fair, 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 Town Parks Supervisor Nelson Beck who years ago teamed with Scott Honeycutt of Honeycutt Rodeo to introduce Payson to demolition derbies.
While Valley drivers walked away with first and second place prize money, it was a local driver, Forrest Waggoner, who took home the majority of awards.
The Payson High School graduate was named Top Local Driver, Most Aggressive and in an audience vote was given the “Prettiest Truck” award.
He was driving a 1976 Ford F-250 4x4 that he customized as the cartoon character “Tow Mater” from the movie Cars.
“Forrest is an audience favorite,” said Beck. “People enjoy watching him compete.”
The derby was the first trucks-only event held in Payson. The derbies held annually during the Northern Gila County Fair feature a trucks division, but focus mainly on car events.
While the crowds last weekend were not as large as those at the fall derbies, Beck plans on hosting another trucks-only event next summer.
“It went pretty well for the first time around, so we’ll probably give it another try,” he said.
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.
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.
For the derby, all glass must be removed from the vehicles 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 trucks competition are 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. “Trucks 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 are enforced.
As unique as truck derbies are, 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.
More on Mountain High Games
Parks officials said the Demolition Derby had 1,500 attend and more than 368 contestants in the various events. With 46 participating in the ATV Trail Rides, the event drew more than double the event last year and 32 in the ATV Rodeo. There were 76 in the horseshoe tournament; 89 in archery; 44 were in the 5K and 18 participated in the Mountain Bike races. There were 47 in the Sawdust Games and four competed in the Dutch oven cookoff.
“We are very blessed to have a community that is willing to, at the drop of a hat, jump in and help — we had this happen over and over again throughout these events and it was amazing,” said Cameron Davis, director of the Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.