Demolition Derby

Dauntless Driver

Dauntless demolition derby driver

I haven’t been to the Essex County Fair yet. In fact, given the number of concurrently scheduled commitments, it’s likely I won’t make it at all this year.

It’s a pity. I love it. Less perhaps for the events themselves, and more for the top rate people watching. Good stuff. And I do have a weakness for fried dough and meditating on fuzzy baby ducks which — if I keep lobbying my bride — I may some day even get to raise myself. (So far she’s dismissed the idea as inhumane, basically raising coyote fodder.)

I’ve gotten excited about the idea of raising ducks. I did some research, found a catalog, ogled the pictures, read the descriptions, circled my favorites and told me wife. Emergency brake! “What? Raise ducklings so the coyotes and foxes can eat them? Are you crazy?” Needless to say, she’s not too keen on the idea. There’ve been a couple of heated conversations. I’ve demurred but repressed the desire. At least for now. (Rosslyn Redux.)

One of the most anticipated Essex County Fair events each year is the demolition derby competition. That should probably be all caps: Demolition Derby. It’s big.

I ruminated a bit on my love/hate relationship with the event over on the Essex on Lake Champlain community blog in an unimaginatively titled post, “Demolition Derby at the Essex County Fair“. I’ve paired it down even further for this post. Two powerful words. Destructive. Competitive. Celebratory. No need for fluff or drama on my part, “Demolition Derby” says it all!

Here’s the crux of my reflection, though it took me a little more beating around the bush to find what I really meant to say first time round. If you waited for the abridged version, you win.

It’s hard to imagine Elkanah Watson who first launched the fair in 1848 anticipating the demolition derby or the rollover show. Half a century before automobiles debuted, oxen and horse powered wagons and carriages would have been the rural Essex County equivalent to the gas powered vehicles that are now ubiquitous. Certainly there would have been little desire to smash or flip and effectively destroy horse drawn vehicles while risking life and limb in the process. And yet we are fascinated with the brazen competitors in their windowless jalopies sporting spray painted taunts, “Hit me hard!” and “Fear this!”

Although I admitted earlier that attending the demolition derby conjures all variety of highway horrors that I’d rather abandon in the dusty recesses of memory, I admit an almost morbid intrigue. I drive slowly by houses where demolition derby cars are being fine-tuned and decorated with war paint. I’ve spent hours talking to demolition derby veterans, trying to understand their experience. And I’ve stopped at the fairgrounds the day after the demolition derby more than once to snap photographs or to watch the crusher flattening the wrecked cars and stacking them on the bed of a tractor trailer for recycling. Morbid. (Essex on Lake Champlain)

I reread the post before publishing and realized a couple of things.

  • I sound like a sissy.
  • I sound like a major sissy!
  • I sound like I’m being condescending or derisive even though it’s not the way I feel. Just perplexed. And conflicted.

I’m simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the demolition derby. Ever since I was a peach lipped lad, back when I called it the “Smash’em Up Derby” and attempted small-scale facsimiles in the driveway with my brother and sister on tricycles and Big Wheels, the demolition derby competition has provoked a complex reaction in me. The sort where a visceral cringe is immediately followed by a sneak peak.

In particular, I’m fascinated with the cars and drivers before the demolition derby. And then again afterward. The preparation for battle, and the detritus of battle. The howling engines and belching smoke and shuddering car carcasses and flames and sirens and medics trigger an irrepressible wave of adrenaline (good) followed by an equally irrepressible fight-or-flight response. So I skip the middle and savor the before and after!

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