By the time the rumbling began on Tuesday, evening had already settled over The Great Frederick Fair. Bright pinpricks of light from the Ferris wheel shone through the sides of the grandstand, standing out sharply against the sky’s blue-gray clouds.

What started out as a low growl just after 7 p.m. soon grew to a deafening roar as a squadron of clunkers motored their way onto the dirt track in front of the stage, making kids clap their hands over their ears to block out the noise.

“We want to know,” an announcer growled into his microphone. “Are. You. Ready?!”

Families packed into the stands in front of him shouted their approval, but they were quickly drowned out by the rickety groans of car engines. Minutes later — after a “Five! Four! Three! Two! One!” from the audience — the demolition derby had begun.

With punched-out headlights, dented doors and sloppy paint jobs, the cars weren’t exactly pretty to start with. But it didn’t take long for some of them to look more like crumpled up pieces of notebook paper and tanks that had survived combat zones than automobiles. Squinting through smoke pouring from their hoods, drivers rammed into each other, occasionally twisting around in their seats to slam into their competitors in reverse.

Tyler Hausler has been driving in derbies for 10 years now, but he’s still usually sore the day after demolition night, he said with a chuckle. This year, he towed a car from his home in Sharpsburg to participate in Frederick’s derby. A white number “1” stood out against its bright orange paint, and a small black air freshener dangled inside one of its rear windows.

Hausler wasn’t the only derby veteran in attendance Tuesday night. Donald Toms, a lifelong Thurmont resident and the owner of Hobo’s Welding & Mechanic Service, has been participating in the demolition for 38 years. His two grandsons grew up coming to the fair to watch him compete, he said. This year, they drove in the derby themselves.

Toms was almost 30 years old when he competed in his first derby in 1983. He’s 67 this year and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.

“I might do it till 80, if I can,” he said, laughing. “It all depends on my health.”

Driving in the derby also runs in the Clark family. Shane Clark grew up watching his dad compete in the demolition at the fair every year, and his dad, Larry “Skeets” Clark, grew up watching his own father participate.

This year, Larry helped his son get a car ready to participate in his third derby. Together, they moved its battery from beneath its hood to a black plastic crate at the foot of the passenger seat, knocked out its windows and bound its doors shut with a thick rusty chain. To get in, Shane had to hop through the driver-side window — “‘Dukes of Hazzard’ style,” he said with a laugh.

To compete, all drivers are required to at least wear a helmet and safety glasses, Larry said. The derby’s organizers are firm on these rules.

"They tell you, 'Wear safety glasses. If you come to me and you don't have an eyeball,'" Larry said, covering one eye, "'your glasses better have a hole in them.'"

As the minutes ticked down to the start of the derby, Jessie Lowe was a little nervous, she admitted. The 16-year-old Linganore High School student had seen her dad and older siblings participate in the demolition in previous years, but it was her first time sitting behind the wheel herself.

She had company in this year’s demolition, though — her big brother also competed Tuesday night. Lowe had teased him in the days leading up to the fair, she said with a laugh, telling him things like “You better watch out!” Still, he and her dad had helped her get her first car ready.

She painted it black with two orange hearts splashed onto its hood and a frowny face on its trunk. It hadn’t turned out as nice as she had wanted it to, she remarked Tuesday evening, making her mom laugh.

“It’s a dirty car,” she exclaimed. “It’s not supposed to be beautiful!”

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier

(1) comment


Why build up a car just to wreck it? I guess it is educational...

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