Perhaps the biggest Payson Demolition Derby crowd ever turned out for the smallest-ever number of cars and trucks, but a smash ’em-up finale and a bunch of muddy kids saved the day.
The Demolition Derby headlined the two-day Northern Gila County Fair and at $12-a-head proved a solid moneymaker for Payson — despite the $4,000 in prize money handed out.
The fair itself drew a decent crowd despite the hovering threat of rain this year, to gawk at the prize-winning calves, steers, sheep and other critters lovingly hand-raised by the 4-H club members, not to mention the displays of giant vegetables, evocative photographs, brilliant paintings and a host of other exhibits.
But the Saturday night Demolition Derby drew the biggest turnout — staged in the evening instead of on a fair-ending Sunday afternoon this year.
But with just three cars entered and half a dozen trucks, the ballyhooed event seemed ready to break down — especially when Mesa combatant Glen Madden’s already astonishingly mangled car stalled out in the middle of the ring before the action even started. He called for transmission fluid, only to have his engine catch fire in a great cloud of smoke — as the safety crew rushed into the arena with fire extinguishers.
Then, incredibly, Madden got his crushed-beer-can of a wreck started and the mayhem commenced.
The three cars entered battered away at one another, to the growing delight of the ample crowd, all amiable despite long delays and the threat of rain.
An iron-nerved driver in a bright yellow Impala triumphed in each of the three car-on-car heats, belying the conventional wisdom that you need a Cadillac or a Pontiac station wagon — or maybe own an auto wrecking yard for spare parts — if you want to win.
Between heats, as the survivors were likely as not towed off the field to deploy sledge hammers and welding torches to get their heaps back into the arena for the next show.
That pause to repair proved the cue for the announcers to summon all the kids in the stands down onto the muddy field, for two different kid fests. In the first round, the organizers commanded the kids to shed their shoes as the parents in the stands groaned. The swarm of kids then breached the berm and scrambled for a scattering of hula hoops, toys, apples and oranges in a strange, Mad Max riot of cuteness.
In the second kid-based interlude, the announcers called back all the under-8-year-olds and staged a wild dance contest. Bouncing kids did cartwheels, ballet moves, rap gestures — and even break-dancing wallows in the mud, ensuring hours of laundry penance for parents.
The high point proved the second matchup for the half a dozen trucks, including father-son rivals — Mike Wick and Mike Jr. The Wicks operate an auto service business in Star Valley and their trucks started out with a gleam and ended in a crumple.
The trucks roared and spun, maneuvering desperately to charge back-long into the front end of an opponent’s wildly maneuvering vehicle. The winning strategy generally involved delivering a crushing blow with the back end to something vital in the opponent’s front end.
The trucks thundered and careened, frames crumpled, hoods buckled, engines smoking. Several got pushed on top of the berm — and died there. Several started belching smoke, through which the arena lights shone ominously. In the end, only a single truck and a single car could still move — and the crowd got all the noise, smoke and destruction they sought.