Despite sellout crowds, demolition derbies are a dying sport
July 22, 2011
"It’s a 1975 Chevy Caprice Classic: 350 motor, more rust than metal. I’ve got some digger tires and you better not tell the owner what I did with it. He thought I was going to restore it," Josh Snyder explains, half joking, half serious.
This description of Snyder’s derby car fits the build of many vehicles souped-up for tonight’s demolition derby in Kamas and next month’s event in Coalville. Snyder, who is entering the Summit County Fair Derby in Coalville for the fifth year, carries on more than a family tradition. He is a participant in one of Summit County’s greatest summer sports.
"If you go to Salt Lake or Ogden and someone asks where you’re from and you say Kamas or Coalville, the first thing that comes to mind is the derby," said Cory Hardman, who organizes the Summit County Fair Derby. "Coalville and Kamas (are known) for having the best and hardest-hitting derbies where the best cars show up."
As well known as the derbies may be, with their burning, smashing vehicles and sold out arenas, they are fading into the past. The decreasing availability of older cars due in part to Cash for Clunkers, scrap prices sending more cars to the junkyard and increasing prices for used cars along with a lack of youth interested in the sport are all contributing to the decline of the derby.
According to Nick Wolf, who is in charge of Kamas derby promotions, from 2007 to 2010 the number of cars decreased from 48 to 32; he expects around 30 this year. The Summit County Fair administration reported 24 cars in Coalville’s derby last year and expects around the same this year numbers that have also been decreasing.
At 20 years old, Snyder is one of the few members of the younger generation willing to put in the time and effort to compete against veterans with bigger budgets and more experience. For him, it’s still about the fun, not how much money he can invest in a car.
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"I don’t put much into (my car). Most everything on this car is whatever I can pick up. For some people it’s more about the money than having fun," said Snyder. "I think the point of the derby is you take a rusty car and have some last fun with it. When my dad used to do it, he knew a guy who would show up, kick out the glass, chain the doors and derby."
Going back to "the good old days" is something organizers hope will bring back some of the sport’s competitors. The Coalville derby features a retro-style heat in which the only modifications allowed are removing windows and chaining or welding doors.
"When I took over I wanted to bring derbies back to where they used to be. Nowadays it’s got to where we are buying custom drivelines and rear ends. I wanted to go back to the basics," said Hardman. "Part of the reason I started the retro heat was to encourage more young people to come out and give it a try before they spend a lot of money on a car. I hope we can encourage new people to take up the sport."
Wolf has also been working to stir up new interest in the sport. In addition to ensuring all of his contestants are ready to go with parts or mechanic help, he also offers a hand to anyone interested in the sport but unsure where to start.
"I personally extend an offer to help the younger generation of kids and put them down the right track," Wolf said. "I’m more than happy to help anybody out there, especially somebody that’s new."
While the Kamas and Coalville derbies may struggle to find cars and drivers in the upcoming years, one thing is for certain: their fan base is as strong as ever. The Kamas Derby sold out the day tickets went on sale; the Coalville derby also expects a sell-out crowd when it kicks off August 6.
"It’s a heck of a good time, for the drivers and the fans," Snyder said. "You hear the cars and crowd. You’re in the moment. Who doesn’t like to see something blow up and crash?"