Just in case you're unfamiliar with what happens at a demolition derby, here's a simple explanation. People race old, beat-up cars they welded together from old tools and scrap metal, crashing them into other cars made of similar junk in hopes of putting them out of commission and winning the race.
That's it, except for some administrative fine points. There are several heats, which are to determine who races when and ultimately crown the winner. That's all anyone had to know Saturday when the Southern Regional Championships of the Xtreme Demolition Derby made its debut before 1,000 metal-crashing-loving fans at the N.C. State Fairgrounds. The winner would snatch an $11,000 purse and compete to win what the organizers call the first-ever national demolition derby championship.
To give it a little social responsibility, local celebrities competed in a race that featured a raffle to benefit the North Carolina chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. But the main events featured racers from all over Eastern North Carolina, and even some who drove down from Pennsylvania just to compete for the chance to go on to the nationals, where the purse is considerably higher.
A Raleigh racer, Kris Sherer, was in the thick of things Saturday and put up a valiant fight.
His No. 172 car was painted with the word 'Killa,' which better describes the car than its driver's small, lanky frame. Sherer seems mild-mannered--except when he's behind the wheel of "Killa," where he put the pedal to the metal and knocked several cars out of commission with a series of ramming, side-swiping and rear-ending techniques before getting knocked out himself.
"Making the car is the most fun," said Mike Morrison, a member of Sherer's crew, especially using the torches and many hammers needed to build the cars.
Less fun, agreed Morrison and crew member Aaron Armstrong, was having to wait around as the late afternoon sun bore down in the pit area. At one point, the crew was reduced to complaining about the heat and lack of cold brews to pass the time--alcohol is prohibited at the state fairgrounds.
Sherer and many of the other drivers and crew members like to work around cars and scrap metal so they can have immediate access to old car bodies, engines and welding tools to build these testaments to the strength--and occasional weaknesses--of steel and iron.
Their car was typical of other racers'--the gas tank is behind the front seat and the battery is in the floorboard of the passenger seat. "This is so we can reconnect the battery cables if they come loose," Morrison said.
The only protection the driver has against injuries is a helmet, eye protectors and a seat belt--meaning they have to endure a variety of bumps and bruises. But the cars are built strong to keep injuries to a minimum. "The cars are welded steel and are made of scrap metal parts and a more than a few hammers," Morrison explains. He and Armstrong are both automotive mechanics, and Morrison is also a driver who plans to compete in the ever-popular demolition derby at the N.C. State Fair in October.
Another local racer, Kenny McNamee, recycles junk cars, motors and transmissions and works for TT&E in Garner. He attributes his love of the sport to his father.
These events may not be for everyone, though the scene Saturday was pretty wholesome. Families with infants, toddlers and teens were hanging out in the parking lot and in the stands during the many breaks in the action, listening to live music played between the crashing and clanking of scrap metal on wheels.
And there didn't seem to be any reason to be afraid of the Confederate flag tees and box-cutters peaking out of the front or back pockets of jeans. Somehow, they fit perfectly as part of the scene. If you want to check it out for yourself and can't make it to the national championships in Denver on Oct. 8, there's always the State Fair--or next year's Xtreme Demo Derby regionals scheduled Aug. 12. Or you can check out the derby series' Web site at www.xddldemoderby.com. But it's neither as hot nor loud as the real thing.
The next two weeks there are back-to-school parties hosted by several nightclubs. I look forward to seeing you there.