Demolition derby a team sport for Columbia family

Monday, July 26, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:55 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 26, 2010
Jessey Gonzales of Columbia took sixth place in the modified car class at the demolition derby Sunday night at the Boone County Fair. Gonzales jumped from his car when a radiator hose broke, spilling radiator fluid on him and engulfing his car in white smoke.

COLUMBIA — Before the action starts, Trevor Howard is always nervous and takes a lot of bathroom breaks. But that's the way it can be when your entered in a contest that rewards causing as many car accidents as you can.

Howard, a 35-year-old construction worker from Columbia, competed against 10 other drivers in the modified class of Sunday night's demolition derby at the Boone County Fair.

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There is a lot of preparation involved in the event, and the Howard family works tirelessly to make sure the cars of Howard and his nephew Jessey Gonzalez are ready for the mud ring when the time comes. Lots of work is put into safety considerations, but the drivers still risk severe injury.

In 2005, five years after Howard began competing in derbies, he broke his arm in a competition. The officials looked for his wife, Kymberly Howard, but could not find her. She had already ran onto the muddy track to her husband's side.

"If somebody's hurt, the family's there," Kymberly Howard said. 

After the injury, Trevor Howard nearly left the sport.

"I quit for a year, and said I was never going to do it again," Trevor Howard said. "The adrenaline rush kept me going." He said he cannot see himself giving up the sport as long as Gonzalez is driving in derbies.

Both drivers work for Howard Construction Company, owned by Trevor's brother, Lee Howard, who along with Theodore Howard, Trevor Howard's son, are part of the five-man pit crew that helps prepare cars for the derbies. Theodore Howard says when his father is driving he can get frustrated with other drivers who aren't following the rules.

"It gets aggravating sometimes, when something cheap happens and the officials don't see it," Theodore Howard said.  "You really can't do anything about it, because you don't want anything to happen."

Trevor Howard and Gonzalez both escaped serious injury Sunday night. Trevor Howard won $200 for a fourth-place in his event, while Gonzalez finished sixth. 

Gonzalez, 24, has been driving in derby events since 2004.

"We try to help each other when we're out there," said Gonzalez of his uncle. "It's never been just between me and him."

The sport seems to be a perfect fit for the family.

"It's a perfect coordination of everybody," Kymberly Howard said. "You have a mix of every generation that puts great effort into every derby car."

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