August 21, 2012
Last year on the afternoon of the last day of the Missouri State Fair, I had State Fair Idol final judging duties. But his year they didnít need me, so I found something else to do: The traditional demolition derby started at noon.
After all, there are few things more patriotic than banging functional automobiles into each other until they donít work anymore.
The first heat went by quickly. Metal was crumpled, frames were bent and wheel alignments were permanently damaged. A wheel came loose and headed straight for one of the concrete edge bumpers. It bounced back toward the middle of he field. You might swear the resulting spinning debris was rich in gold because even the people who got a nice dusting were cheering.
It is ultimately an event concerned with collateral damage: It rouses the primal urges deep in our subconscious that want nothing more than to see large metal animals kill each other.
One carís grille was adorned with the second Confederate Navy jack ó others had the American flag. But all the cars started out flying the checkered flag, which indicates that your vehicle is fully functional and that you are still fair game.
I hope you like projectile dirt clods, because that is what is on the menu.
Thereís more carnage in the second heat. The cars are well dented, like mobile piles of tin foil. Some barely seem to work in the first place, so taking them out is no trouble at all.
One driver, tired of the repeated passes that were wrecking his increasingly stationary ride, removed his checkered flag just moments before one last big hit was coming his way in an attempt to draw a foul. The hunter diverted without a second to spare and avoided the trap.
One of the cars in the stock class was so stock that it still had license plates, as though someone actually drove it here and even if they did win they probably wouldnít be driving it back.
In a way, the three-car stock heat is more interesting than the others because it allows more time to consider the strategies of the drivers. They spent a lot of time in a triple donut formation, with all three cars trying to catch each other.
It came down to a duel between two station wagons, which seem to have something of an advantage at these events, at least until they are compacted enough to be the same size as all the other cars.
If you would like to know how brutal the previous rounds really were, consider this: for a good 10 minutes it looked like there was only going to be one participant and therefore one winner in the consolation round. The survivors eventually staggered out and the derby redemption was under way.
One single fierce pileup just seconds after the round started killed enough cars to allow the rest to advance to the main event. The front of one car was so attached to the back of a second that it took the forklift a few seconds of effort to separate them. It had a more solid connection with a separate car than it did with its two back wheels.
The audience uproariously approved.
The two finalist cars in the compact round were playing automobile footsie and refusing to separate for fear that the other guy would break away and build ramming momentum. The announcer and the audience were growing increasingly displeased. I held out hope that the announcer would suddenly summon willing cars to act as mobile environmental hazards and hunt down the unwilling gladiators like so many wheeled lions.
The feature featured everything I like to see in a feature. The hits were hard, the radiators were leaky and there were even a few cars that lost all their distinguishing features to surface damage.
But even in the heat of battle, even while the cars were ripping each other apart, one driver took the time to gently tap an immobile opponent out of the field of play.
The dirt is probably so rich with metal scrapings and assorted car parts that metal detectors are going off for miles around.
Only one car survived, if you can call that surviving.