Demolition derby drivers devote long hours to earn bragging rights

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:08 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Eddie Chick of Hallsville prepares Tuesday for Wednesday's demolition derby at the Boone County Fair.

*CORRECTION: Thirty to 40 drivers are expected to compete in Wednesday's demolition derby. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of competitors.

Eddie Chick’s car has gone through three transmissions and more than $5,000 in repairs and received loaner parts from five different vehicles.

Now it is ready to be destroyed, again.

Chick’s “Buick that won’t die” has survived seven demolition derbies and has the battle scars to show it.

Dents, dirt, dust and rust cover what used to look like a 1972 Buick. Despite this substantial damage, Chick has tuned it up and is ready to test it again.

Chick, who lives in Hallsville, is a 26-year veteran of demolition derbies, contests in which cars intentionally crash into each other until only one is left running. He is one of six close friends from mid-Missouri who will compete in Wednesday night's demolition derby at the Boone County Fair. There are expected to be 30 to 40 drivers competing on Wednesday night.*

Drivers commit long hours to getting their cars ready to compete for cash prizes. The top five finishers receive cash prizes — up to $1,000 for the winner — but they all say earning bragging rights over fellow drivers is the real goal.

Rob Baker, of Winterset, Iowa, grew up in a demolition derby family.

"I grew up with a welder in my hand," Baker said. 

As a child, Baker had the opportunity to learn from his father and uncles, who were well-respected drivers. He competed in his first derby at the age of 15, with only a driver's permit. Once he gained some experience, the Bakers made a formidable team.

"Going into races, it was people's goal to knock out a Baker," Baker boasted. 

After competing in more than 400 derbies, and placing in the top five of the majority of them, Baker formed a derby production company, R&R Total Destruction Promotions. Baker's company is responsible for officiating, providing cash prizes and inspecting cars before this year's derby at the Boone County Fair.

Chick, who has been working on cars since he was a teenager, enjoys every part of being a demolition driver, especially repairing his cars.

"A hundred hours wouldn’t put a dent in the amount of time I’ve put into this car," Chick said.

Between derbies, he experiments with different materials to keep his car functioning. The majority of his car is different metals welded together, but one of his most creative adjustments was using a cardboard campaign sign to force cool air to blow on his radiator.

Drivers who live in the same area build close bonds with each other, putting in long hours while working on their cars together.

The friendships help drivers get an edge once the derby begins. Although they are not officially on a team, drivers often work together to eliminate other competitors. In the dirt arena, drivers use their rear fenders, the most durable part of demolition cars, to pin cars up against walls or between cars. 

"You try not to mix it up with your friends, until it's time, and we all know when it is time," Chick said.

Once only a few drivers remain, the real competition begins. The friends that commonly trade auto parts or exchange tips do everything they can to get an edge. To beat out their friends, lots of drivers employ the mad dog technique, a kamikaze style attack where the hope of avoiding contact is abandoned in favor of inflicting as much damage as possible.

Despite entering his Buick in its eighth contest, Chick is still aiming to beat out his friends.

"I may not have a lot of car left, but I will compete," Chick said.

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