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40-car pileup at the county fair

Mid-Missouri gets a demonstration in demolition.
Monday, July 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:17 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

Sometime during the second heat of the Boone County Fair’s Demolition Derby, Mark Winscott’s disfigured mass of an automobile finally died. Up until that point, Winscott and his spray painted chariot of destruction refused to give up. The first time, he got stuck on a mud barrier that formed the outline of the course. His car still ran, but in a demolition derby, the cars are like sharks. If they’re not mobile, they’re considered dead.

After successfully escaping from that predicament he re-entered the fray, but soon after stalled in the middle of the course. Again, Winscott coaxed his car back to life, but quickly he found himself pushed into the same barrier that held him the first time. Winscott’s cheering section (composed of 30 or so friends and family) threw their hands in the air and shouted for the car pushing him out of bounds to back off.

Soon, the vehicle pushing him didn’t matter. His car stopped running. He took his hands off the wheel, and slammed his fist into the ceiling of the car a few times and let out a quick blast of expletives, inaudible due to the roaring of a half dozen muffler-less engines.

After a few minutes of idly waiting in his now stationary car, he jumped out and walked to the fence chat with his fans. He enjoyed and a beer and a cigarette, all the while dodging the clods of mud that spinning tires hurled in to the grandstand seats. And good news: it’s just a bad battery connection. Winscott will be back for the consolation heat.

“C’mon guys! Hit somebody!”

Though the fairgrounds were mostly deserted on this last day of the fair, there was still a sense of an oncoming “grand finale” that the destruction of many, many cars would bring. The presence of several beer tents (that seemed to be conspicuously absent during the rest of the fair) also give the demolition derby a festive edge.

About a half-hour before the destruction began, cars were still arriving on trailers. A call from grandstand announcer Bill McDermott sends people rushing to their seats. “Boone County! Are you ready for some demolition derby action!” he said. As the cars lined up for the first heat to begin, they revved their engines, pumped their fists, and otherwise cued their friends and family to cheer for them. The cars were old and loud, and stripped down, with raisin-like, crinkled bodies. Since glass shatters, there are no windshields or windows in the cars. The spray paint that adorns them represents the family sponsorship that makes them possible. The words “mom” and “dad” were some of the most common sponsor insignias. When the flags are dropped and the heat began, the grinding motors even over-power the sounds of metal crashing into metal.

After the first few minutes of a demolition derby, when cars are running well and crashing into each other with a lot of speed, rear bumpers quickly get compressed and jacked up, revealing axles, frames, and other vulnerable automotive innards. If the action ever gets a little stagnant, McDermott baits the drivers with, “ C’mon guys! Hit somebody! This is a demolition derby!” Soon after, front bumpers get mangled, and then tires start popping. At this point only a few pathetically mangled cars remain, and they slowly slog through the mud, picking their shots carefully. With all the stranded cars still out there, no one gets a long running start anymore. By this point, the cars resemble clumsy hippos tripping over each other, and the last clumsy hippo still tripping wins.

Mrs. Demolition Derby

Regina and Bill McDermott have sponsored demolition derbies in Missouri for 13 years with their company Grandstand Attritions, based out of Springfield, Illinois. Regina McDermott said that demolition derbies are very well established in mid-Missouri. About 40 cars participated, with mostly local drivers.

Regina McDermott said that despite the chaos of a demolition derby, organized strategy is fundamental to success. “A lot of people think you just go out there and put your foot to the gas and go, but that’s not the way it is. You pick your shots and try to protect your front end.”

She should know. Mrs. McDermott has been competing in demolition derbies for 29 years, and when she started, she was about the only woman doing it. “I was the first one in many places. It’s getting so that women are starting to participate more now. Usually we have one to two women driving per show.”

Demolition derby draftee

Demolition Derby contestant Josh Kimbrough also follows McDermott’s cautious strategy. “I learned last year that you can’t hit too many people with your front end and last very long. Besides that, it’s ‘whatever happens happens.’ I really can’t help it,” he said.

Last year, Kimbrough was given a car by a friend that owns a junk yard, and found himself lined up to be battered in a demolition derby before he even knew it. “They said, ‘Do you want one?’, and I said ‘Sure.’ I thought they were just joking around. The next day we went out and did it,” he said. With only one race under his belt, Kimbrough said the prospects of getting pummeled by tons and tons of steel still makes him a bit nervous. “I’m not quite used to it yet. There are a lot of cars here and it might be pretty serious.” At the end of his heat, Kimbrough made it out with nary a scratch. In fact, his car was one of the first to stop running. Its body was relatively untouched. The spray paint was still legible.

“Duck and move”

Mark Winscott’s consolation heat is up next and his crowd is asserting its considerable presence. Kids wear shirts adorned with his number (#20), and others wave homemade signs. From now until his car dies again, he‘s a local hero. “My favorite part is when I see my brother knock ‘em down,“ said Kayla Winscott, Mark’s younger sister. Through the excitement, however, she does admit that demolition derbies can be dangerous. “Sometimes I’m scared for him,” she said.

Winscott, 21, of Columbia, has been participating in demolition derbies since he was 16. As a kid he fell under the spell of the grandstand lights and decided that demolition derbies were for him. This year, he put between 400-500 dollars and about 80 hours of labor into his car. Quite an investment for a mobile battering ram. Winscott describes his strategy like a boxer: “Duck and move” he said. For Winscott, demolition derbies are thrill rides. “It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s better than jumping out of any plane,” he said. Just before the heat starts, Winscott said that adrenaline and reflexes take over. “You forget about everything in the world out there,” he said. That’s why I do it.”

When Winscott’s consolation heat finally begins, he quickly finds himself in another frustrating predicament. Another car has him pinned out of bounds. There is nowhere to duck or move. His wheels spin, he’s stuck, and he’s out. His mother, sister, aunt, and others quiet down a bit. A few minutes later flames begin to slither out of a stalled car and Boone County firemen put it out with fire extinguishers. The crowd erupts with cheers and bellows. It looks like someone forgot to duck and move.


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