COLUMBIA — Seventeen years ago, Wil Lawrence was hooked on cocaine and methamphetamine. To get away from drugs, Lawrence took up fixing cars to compete in demolition derbies.
"This is my rehab," Lawrence said.
Lawrence first took part in a demolition derby at the Boone County Fair 17 years ago, and he's competed every year since.
"The first time (I competed) I was scared to death," Lawrence said. "I didn't know what to expect. But I ended up falling in love with it."
Lawrence says he keeps coming back because it gives him a thrill.
"I'm an adrenaline junkie," Lawrence said. "(Demolition derbies) let you go out and take all your agitation out."
And he's good at them. Lawrence said that he's won several derbies in the past, and he almost always places in the top three.
Demolition derbies have become a family affair for Lawrence.
"I got my kids all involved in it," Lawrence said. "Hopefully they carry it on."
Lawrence's 19-year-old son, Steven, has taken up his father's passion by competing in demolition derbies himself. On Wednesday, the younger Lawrence was his father's passenger.
"It's a little iffy," Steven Lawrence said before the race. "I'd much rather be driving myself."
The Lawrences started their own team three years ago, at Steven's suggestion.
"Me and my son was in the shop one day and he said 'Let's start our own derby team.'" Wil Lawrence said. "I was like 'All right.'"
They decided to name their team "Solo Boyz" after Toby Keith's song "Red Solo Cup."
Steven has seen how demolition derbies have changed his father over the years.
"After he got into doing this, he always wants us to be together as a family," the younger Lawrence said.
"If it wasn't for him, I'd probably be dead," Wil Lawrence said, referring to his son.
On Wednesday night, the Lawrence boys hopped in their red "Solo Boyz" car hoping to win the full-size stock weld competition and the $1,200 grand prize.
Their derby ended quickly, as their car was knocked out of the race within a minute. The Lawrences were one of the first to be eliminated from the group of ten cars.
"We got hit pretty good in front and broke the tie rod in," Wil Lawrence said.
As the "Solo Boyz" car exited the pit, almost all of the car was damaged. One of the only things on the car left unharmed was a skull that was propped up on top of the car.
"This is my other passenger," Wil Lawrence said before the derby. "I'm into demons and stuff like that."
It's fitting for Lawrence because demolition derbies have allowed him to exorcise his own demons.
"I get the high that I look for in these cars," Wil Lawrence said. "That's the truth."
Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.