The risks and rewards of demolition derby
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — They don’t do it for the money, most demolition derby drivers will tell you. It’s about the family, the memories, the rush.
“I bought this thing on Monday for $300,” said 15-year demo driver Nathaniel Bray, as he unloaded his black and pink, stripped down car from his trailer.
On this night, the first of two at the fair, the derby was for smaller compact cars, anything from Toyota Celica’s to Honda Civic’s. The prize was $800.
The cars were brightly spray painted with numbers, initials or monster teeth. Though it’s hard to make such a small car, with its angry bee engine sound, seem intimidating.
“PPK, that’s me,” said Greg Kight, of the initials spray painted on his car. Kight started in derbies at age 12. “Papa Kight, PPK, that’s what my grandkids call me. They’re all up in the stands watching.”
Kight’s son, Kyle, and son-in-law, Jeff Hoitt, were there to lend a hand. All three would drive on the following night.
It can be a dangerous sport, demolition derby. Kyle, who makes vehicle windows by day, was missing nine teeth due to having a car dropped on his face. He and a friend were working on a car when a jack slipped, leaving him pinned. The friend left.
“Someone called 911, but the only person who showed up was a cop. They thought I was going to be DOA. I went to the hospital, got out and went back and kept working on the car.”
And drivers are no strangers to pain. “I’ve been sore for a couple weeks after these things,” said Greg. “If you don’t see a hit coming you can get whiplash pretty bad.”
Brothers Anthony and Benjie Meulen, Kyle’s cousins, parked their trucks and trailers a few spots down.
This would be Anthony’s fifth time participating in a derby, Benjie’s been wrecking for 20 years.
“It’s a big rush and that rush is super addicting,” said Benjie, as he unloaded his bright orange car with the word ‘Hillbilly’ on the side. “It’s about the fun.”
In true Indiana fashion, about half the field ate a fried pork tenderloin before the derby got underway.
Rain drizzled as the sun peeked through the overcast skies, creating beautiful lighting over the derby’s muddy stage. Two hundred fans helped the announcer count down the start.
The 11 cars went full throttle, banging and bashing their cars against one another. Smoke billowed, drivers yelled, fires flared and mud flew. There was even a rainbow.
The drivers battled for 30 minutes until only one car was left standing. Winning driver Cole Rhoton, muddy and tired, climbed atop his car and let out a huge cheer, thrusting his helmet into the air.
“That felt great,” he said. “I loved seeing the crowd go wild.”
Rhoton’s dad, Clayton, who also participated in the derby, crawled up on Cole’s car to celebrate with him. And there’s a third member of the family, celebrating in spirit: Though Clayton’s father passed away four years ago, his hat is still taken to every race.
“Man, this is a family thing. I’m so happy for him,” said Clayton. “It means so much to us.”
Fair Queen Paige Wells, a senior at Butler University, shoes were covered in thick mud, congratulated Rhoton and handed him the checkered flag in front of the cheering fans.
Drivers fear the demolition derbies of the past are slowly fading away, becoming something new. Cars are becoming lighter, smarter, less boat-like.
“I don’t see myself retiring from this anytime soon,” said Greg. “I’ll run small cars if I have to. Especially with the love from my fan section up there in the stands.”
Source: The Indianapolis Star, https://indy.st/2K8jhPT
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com