COLUMBIA — Surrounded by the roar of V8 motors and showers of mud clumps kicked up by tires, Ashley Elam, slams on her accelerator and steers towards a competitor's front fender.
After leaving a significant dent in her opponent's car, she maneuvers around the muddy terrain. She weaves through abandoned cars, fishtailing over several parts of the slick dirt field as aggressive drivers attempt to smash into her red and white 1996 Grand Prix.
Although all the drivers are vying to eliminate each of their competitors and be the last car moving, Elam has a large target on her back.
Out of the 25 competitors at the 2012 Boone County Demolition Derby, Elam, a 23-year-old from Columbia, was the only female.
While competing in derbies, Elam said she has learned one big lesson.
"For the guys, losing is one thing, but it's a whole another thing losing to a girl," Elam said.
Ten minutes into the compact car championship heat, only three cars remained moving. Elam was one of them. A calm and collected approach had paid off. After patiently avoiding collisions, she had her opponents nearly immobilized. She took her time lining them up, and backing into various parts of their cars.
After five minutes of watching Elam dominate the event, the judges ended the derby and declared her the winner.
In the stands, Louis Elam, her father, cheered on his daughter, eagerly awaiting his favorite part of watching her compete.
"The guys can't stand watching a girl walk through the pit with a big trophy," Louis Elam said.
After teaching his daughter everything she knows about automotive sports, the former mechanic was certain she had the knowledge to succeed in derbies.
"She got involved as soon as she could hold a wrench," Louis Elam said.
Splitting time between her father's auto shop and the dirt trails that weave throughout the Elams' 12 acre property, auto sports consumed Ashley Elam's childhood. While her father was at work, she spent hours racing her sister with the family's four-wheeler. Commonly, their adventurous nature would push the vehicles beyond their limits.
"Every day I'd come home to a laundry list of broken machines," Louis Elam said.
After spending all day racing, she would watch her father work in the shop. One of the larger projects they worked on was a 1971 red and white Cadillac.
By the time the car was in racing condition, her father realized he was getting too old for the sport. When he offered her the opportunity to drive it in that year's Boone County Demolition Derby, the 15-year-old happily accepted.
Although she did not place in her first derby, it had a lasting effect on Ashley Elam.
"It was an adrenaline rush like nothing else," she said.
That intense feeling of excitement has kept her involved in the sport for more than seven years and she has no end in sight. Ashley Elam said she thrives on being the only female competitor and will keep racing until she stops having fun.
"I was going to have fun no matter what, but tonight I had a great car and won," she said.