July 25, 2008
Tonight, a mix of metal, crashing and general mayhem will rule in Kamas.
The annual Demolition Derby, part of the Kamas Valley Days will take center stage in front of an enthusiastic crowd. The event, which has been sold out since early May, and is expected to attract 5,700 spectators, has been working its way back up to state prominence.
"I thing about it is the initial hit that keeps people coming back," said Dustin Hardman, a native of Marion who will compete in this year’s event.
Hardman, the youngest of the three in Triple H Racing has been looking forward to the derby all summer. The 21-year-old has been working on his car for weeks and can’t wait to perform in front of the local crowd. The Kamas Derby is just one in the many he and his brothers, Cory and Charlie, attend in the summer, but it holds a special place in his heart.
"It’s really nice. Its just fun to be in front of the home crowd," Hardman said.
A lot of legwork goes into the "crash fest" for both organizers and drivers. Hardman, a mechanic by trade, spends a lot of time just tracking his cars down. He typically searches for a 1974, 1976 or 1978 Chrysler and has driven all over state and into Wyoming just to find the right one. Once he has the vehicle in tow it’s a long road to get it derby-ready. First, he knocks out all of the glass, then he rips out all but the driver’s seat. Next, he puts roll bars where the dashboard was and another behind the seat. Then it’s hours of welding, as all of the openings doors, the hood and the trunk — get sealed shut. Then he moves to the engine, which he will either keep "as is" or replace with a Big Block Chrysler motor.
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According to Nick Wolf, the main organizer of the Fiesta Days Demolition Derby, derbies may be a dying sport. Most of the cars tough enough to stand the test of the demolition generally Chryslers and GM models from the 1960s and 1970s are becoming harder and harder to find. Interest has also begun to wane. Hardman is just one of a handful of young people interested in the sport, compared to the high numbers of young adults a few decades ago. Stock cars may begin to be used more often to keep the sport alive, but Wolf is waiting to see what happens in the next 10 years.
Hardman doesn’t let those statistics deter him. He has been competing in derbies for four years and loves the sport. He competes with his brothers and a group of friends who travel around northern Utah, into southern Wyoming and into any other area that has a decent derby. The derby devotion started with big brother Charlie, who got interested in demolition derbies after watching a few at county and state fairs.
It’s an expensive hobby for the Hardman clan, who can easily spend over $1,000 souping up a car. Dustin spent $800 on the purchase of the 1976 Chevrolet station wagon he is using at Saturday’s event and then threw in another $700 to get it competition-ready. Most cars usually don’t last past one derby and only if Hardman emerges as one of the top finishers will he make his money back.
"If you can get more than one [derby] outta it, you done good," Hardman said.
He has only won one derby thus far, but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his unlikely hobby. He is excited about the Fiesta Days event so he can perform if that’s the right word — in front of family and friends.
"It’s like high school basketball or football," Wolf said. "It’s just more fun to play at your hometown venue."
Hardman is keeping pretty humble about his chances in the affair. He’s just hoping to make a decent showing.
"As long as I can make a few good hits, I’ll be happy," Hardman said.
Sometimes up to 30 to 40 cars make it into a final derby event, but Wolf said this year’s final pool will have about 15 cars.
For those that haven’t seen a demolition derby yet, it is basically a bunch of cars in a ring trying to hit each other and disable as many cars as possible. Cars must make a hit every minute and a half. Rules apply as to the types of other vehicles and there’s no hitting on the driver’s side door. Otherwise, the sport remains a "no holds barred" grudge match.
But in Eastern Summit County, most people have seen a demolition derby before and absolutely love it. Tickets go on sale in early May, but order forms are dispersed a week prior in Kamas and online at http://www.kamascity.net. Wolf said that if a person doesn’t have an order form filled out and submitted by the deadline, they won’t get a ticket. This year the event sold out in three days and Wolf said the popularity continues to grow each year. He said that it is the combination of tradition and hard-hitting action that keep people coming back.
"Where else can you squash a car without getting in trouble," he asks. "It’s an adrenaline rush."
It wasn’t always that way. After years of success, attendance at the derby began shrinking. Wolf, who lives in Kamas and won the derby in 1999 and 2002, couldn’t bear to see the tradition dying and decided to take on the challenge of running the event with a group of his buddies. He revamped the marketing and promotions and started running year-round competitors’ meetings in addition to making a plethora of changes to get people interested in the sport again. This week alone he has already answered about 100 phone calls and continues to put countless volunteer hours into the endeavor. He does all of this in addition to his job as an excavation supervisor, but has managed to make the event a success once again.
"I’ve been told that it was one of the best derbies in the state of Utah last year," Wolf said.
Perhaps the best change he made is the money involved. enlisting local sponsorships and getting $11,000 from the city of Kamas, he increased the purse for the Fiesta Day winners.
"I can’t say enough for my sponsors," Wolf said.
With everything getting more expensive gas, cars, lodging Wolf said that derbies need to offer decent prize money just to get competitors to come and compete.
The Kamas derby is currently the highest paying derby in the state, competing only with the Hot Rockin’ Fourth Derby in Ogden that offers more prize money to the first-place winner, but hands out less overall. Not all of the money in Kamas derby is paid out to winners. Some of the money is used for ramp inspections, sponsors banners and other incidental expenses, but there is still a sizable amount dispersed. This year, Wolf will hand a total of $18,900 to the various derby winners as well as $2,000 in door prizes at the start of the event.
This year’s derby will welcome 34 males and eight females. Wolf said that women have always had interest in demolition derbies, entering the Powder Puff division. The demolition derby features five heats, with the top two winners advancing to the main event. After that, the losers compete in a grudge match for two consolation slots in the main event. The top three female winners in the Powder Puff division also advance to the final round.
Although Wolf loves the fact that females come and compete in the derbies, he said that sometimes they choose not to participate in the main event. Often their cars aren’t quite as tough as their male counterparts so they chose to just do the female-only event.
In between heats, Wolf has enlisted the use of machines that will quickly push the destroyed cars away and keep the action moving.
This year’s event will be highlighted by a special presentation to long-time derby racer Ronny Johnson. Johnson, 59, is originally from Francis, so Wolf thought it would be fitting to honor him in his final derby. He has been competing in derbies since 1965. Johnson currently lives near Las Vegas, Nevada,
"I want to show appreciation to a guy that’s been at it that long," Wolf said.
Wolf also plans on making a DVD of the event, which will be available later in the year.
The Demolition Derby will be held tonight, July 26 at 7 p.m. at the Kamas Fairgrounds.