It’s demolition derby time in Virginia.
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Hoods crunching, radiators hissing, tires exploding. Ahhh. For devoted demolition derby goers, this is the sound of summer. There is nothing quite like the high-decibel roar of unmuffled engines and powerful bone-shaking impacts, or the sudden hail of mud flung from spinning tires.
Somehow the simple formula of demolition derbies—cars repeatedly smashing into each other until only one vehicle is left moving and its driver is crowned victorious (think: Survivor for cars)— makes demolition derbies, hands down, the biggest draw for the promoters who put on the two dozen or so of them at county fairs around Virginia each year. Anyone with a few hundred dollars to buy a scrap car and make the required safety modifications can usually enter and compete.
And the reason for the draw comes down to a fact of basic human nature, hypothesizes Gary Bohnenkamp, organizer of the Frederick County Fair: “People just love to tear stuff up.”
With their relentless hits and crashes, derbies offer an exciting and rejuvenating dose of destruction unlike anything else out there. But what makes derbies truly addictive is their unpredictability. For all the safety precautions, these are events that are, at their core, scenes of wild chaos where anything can happen. When outgunned underdogs can emerge victorious, engines can give out and then miraculously come back to life in the nick of time, ad-hoc alliances can devolve into blindside cheap shots, and family rivalries can take violent form, you’ve got drama just as gripping as anything Hollywood can offer.
“It’s a rush,” says former driver and current Augusta County Fair derby organizer Jay Bodkin. “Where else can you get into a big crash and laugh about it?” he asks. He’s right; outside the world of derbies this kind of crazy behavior would be considered, well, antisocial. But, he adds, it makes for darn good stress relief. “Had a bad week? Nothing beats crashing cars with your buddies.”
Go to Virginia.org for more information about Virginia’s county fairs.