Kamas Fiesta Days proves demolition is, indeed, family fun
A sledgehammer doesn’t usually play a major role in family-friendly events, but then, the Kamas Fiesta Days demolition derby is not like other events. It’s intense and physical both in the dugout arena at the rodeo grounds and in the pits that surrounded the bleachers. More often than not, and despite last-ditch repair efforts that would make an OSHA worker queasy, the event was about hot, nasty destruction, and the ties that bind its competitors.
Take the Jones family, of Tabiona, for example. Dusty Jones, along with his father, his brother, brothers in law, and his father in law, were all working overtime to make sure his car would be ready for the Grudgematch, the name for the event’s losers’ bracket.
Dusty’s steering column had been compressed by a front-end collision, and Dusty was furiously trying to expand it so he could steer again.
Dusty’s brother and brothers in law were elbow-deep under the hood of the vehicle, tinkering with a hose that had come unfastened. His father, Ray Jones, stood at the back of a flatbed truck next to car cutting through a piece of square steel tubing with a torch. With one end still fluorescing red, Ray passed it to Dusty in the driver’s seat, who tried to grab it delicately with a multi-tool’s pliers before dropping it onto the floor. He gingerly picked it back up and braced between the steering column and what would be the dash panel – now just a steel beam – where Ray welded the three components together. Dusty turned his head away from the sparks falling around his knees with the nonchalance of a man waiting in line at the post office.
Women take the wheel
Of the 40 competitors, 13 were women. They joined the action in an all-women Powderpuff round, of which the top three winners of which advanced to overall finals with the men’s winners.
Looking down from the announcer’s booth over one of the last heats before the finals, Emalee Tripeler, who advanced to the finals, said she got into the sport through her husband.
“I didn’t even know what (demolition derbies) were before I met my husband,” she said. “We got married and he was like, ‘This is my life, so get used to it,’ basically.”
She took to the lifestyle with passion, first driving trucks, then switching to cars this season after taking a year off for the birth of her child.
This was the first year Tripeler built her own car.
“I’ve always been interested in the mechanical side of it, but I didn’t get how it all came together,” she said. “But when my husband walked me through step by step, it was fun to learn to be innovative and to find ways to make the rules work to our build.”
During the competitions, she said she and her husband would worry about each other, cheer for each other and celebrate every hard hit. Though the drivers are protected by a matrix of thick steel beams and safety rules that prevent maneuvers like ramming the driver’s side door, accidents do happen.
Tripeler said she heard one of the women drivers, Autumn Hardman, broke her nose during the Powderpuff round.
Hardman had seen an opponent start gunning for her from across the arena, and decided to “meet her in the middle.”
And so she did.
“Dead in the middle,” Hardman recalled at the base of the announcer’s tower, where she had just spoken to the race doctor.
Her right cheekbone was swollen and bandaged.
“I didn’t quite brace like I should have,” she said, not sounding disappointed.
“When I went forward (from the impact), the steering wheel went up and it clipped my visor, so it went through the visor because it pushed it up, and it went into my face,” Hardman said. “It hurt a little bit but we’re good now.”
It turned out her nose was not broken, though she had spent a few minutes spitting blood. Hardman won the Powderpuff round, which she said made the injury worth it.
Like Tripeler, Hardman and her husband both compete.
“I like the adrenaline,” she said. “And I like the time I get to spend with my husband building (cars). He teaches me all these new things and doing the stuff together, it just makes it awesome.”
The Powderpuff bracket was followed by the Grudgematch round, where Jones finished in the top three, earning a spot alongside Tripeler, Hardman and nine other competitors in the finals round.
But before he could compete, Dusty and his family had work to do.
The car had been mauled badly in the Grudgematch, taking on the shape of a banana when viewed from the side.
Dusty hadn’t gotten enough purchase from his tires in the last round, so he put bigger tires on, which needed roomier accommodations. The crew banged out the back left wheel well with a sledge hammer to make the wheel fit.
Dusty also had to prepare the transmission, so his younger brothers-in-law brought over a bag of dry ice. Dusty stuffed his hand into inside of the bottom of his shirt and used it like a glove to drop the sublimating white chunks into a box leading to the transmission, which would keep it cooler than regular ice.
Dusty then got out and cut off big swaths of gnarled metal from the back left wheel well, which had crunched into pockets like scar tissue under the car, and his father hurriedly pounded the glowing wounds in with the sledge. As Ryan pounded, a race official told the Jones’ it was time for the finals, so Dusty jumped in and drove the car to the entryway on the other side of the arena, his front left wheel sticking occasionally on the way. As the parade of cars approached the arena entrance, children ran out behind the bleachers to greet them, waving and giving a thumbs-up to the competitors.
The cars entered the arena in front of a sold-out crowd of 6,300, who packed the bleachers, spilled out into the corrals and bullpen and perched on the scaffolding.
Though Kamas City councilman Kevan Todd said he wouldn’t describe Kamas as “a derby town,” the city is certainly not lacking in enthusiasm for the event. The derby has sold out for the past 14 years.
The finals, like the rest of the heats, started with the roar of engines, and the cars pacing around the arena in a circuit until the announcer it was time to compete.
After a few hard hits, Jones’ car was stuck in first gear, and the wheels were jammed so badly he could only start the car if the wheels faced directly in front of him. He continued into the final five cars traveling at a speed no greater than 10 miles an hour, unable to deliver anything but a love tap.
Eventually his car was pinned and crippled in a collision with two other cars.
The competition ended when Robby Layton pinned Alexis Twitchell’s car against the wall of dirt that surrounded the arena.
“It wasn’t a move, it was luck,” Layton said afterward. “I was over in the corner — and my drive line is in a pretzel right now — I’m sitting there; my seat’s broken; my drive line is hitting me, it’s pinned in first gear. I just drove and it worked out.”
The Manti resident emerged pumping his fist, then reached into Twitchell’s car to shake her hand.
On one foot he wore a medical boot – a preventative measure to keep from fracturing his talus after an injury two years ago.
“Tonight I think I did something to my other foot, because it does not feel good,” he said after he was declared the victor. “I hope its fine, but we’ll see.”
The $8,400 he won would go toward getting his wife, who he said was making her debut in demolition derby this week in Heber, a new wedding ring.
Her name, he said, was Demri, and pointed to the back of his mangled blue vehicle where it the name was circumscribed in spray paint by a thin, pink heart.
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