One of the most popular big events of the Delta County Fair is back.
After a three-year hiatus, the fairgrounds arena will once again fill with the thrill of cars smashing into one another when the Demolition Derby kicks off the 112th annual Delta County Fair this Saturday night at the fairgrounds in Hotchkiss.
"It's been one of the most popular events at the fair," said Fred Carson, who helped bring the event into the fair lineup in the late 1990s. "It fills the grandstands."
The derby consists of two classes, farm truck, and car, with preliminary heats determining who advances to the finals and a shot at the grand prize of $3,500.
Also making a return is the ATV Barrel Challenge. Circuits include a three-barrel challenge similar to horse barrel racing, and a pole-bending class. First place winners in each class will receive prize money, with winners determined by the best combined times.
Carson, who lives in Delta, said he's very happy to see the return of the derby. It started in the mid 1990s when the fair was starting to die out. He, Cliff Morgan and Rod Hall all joined the board to help find a way to bring the crowds back. In 1997 they held the first derby, and it was a smashing success.
At the time, Carson was already involved in demolition derbies. He got hooked when a friend talked him into entering a derby in another town. "And away we went," he said. He began traveling to fairs and competitions around the country, and at one time was the organizer and promoter for derbies in Dove Creek, Rifle, Cortez, Montrose and Delta.
Demolition derbies are big business, said Carson. Some have payouts of a half million dollars or more. A derby in Las Vegas attracts some 2,000 cars, with preliminary rounds running throughout the week. The total payout can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Teams making the circuit used to come from as far away as Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah to the Delta County Fair. One year the derby attracted 40 entries, and up to 13 cars competed in each heat. "That was a real crowd-pleaser, he said. "The more cars in the arena, the happier the crowd is."
Most of the cars used in derbies tend to be older models from the 1970s, said Carson: the Ford LTDs and Crown Victorias, Chevy Impalas, Cadillacs, and cars with heavy frames built when steel was still used in manufacturing.
The derby is about more than the driver putting his (or her) foot on the pedal and crashing into other cars. "It's a race of strategy," he said. The object is to make a hit every two minutes, and to keep the car running, because the last one still going is the winner. The more skilled drivers don't just crash into their opponent's car. "They try to bust a wheel off or bust a radiator," or any maneuver that can cripple a car.
"It gets exciting, but that's what fills the stands," said Carson.
And while it's each driver for himself, drivers must also abide by all the rules, said Carson. Among them, drivers aren't allowed to charge a car head-on, or hit the driver's side door. (Rules are available on the Delta County Fair website, deltacountyfair.com.)
Teams are made up of a driver 18 or older, a pit crew member, and a vehicle. While pre-registration is encouraged, same-day registration will be accepted up to the afternoon of the event. Registration forms and rules are available at DeltaCountyFair.com/derby.html
Pits open at noon, with inspection at 3 p.m. Gates open to the public at 6 p.m., and action begins at 7:30 p.m. Sponsors are also welcome.
The derby promises "a great night of destruction." Carson said he won't be driving in the derby, but will be helping out on a limited basis, including judging. "I'm happy to be back," he said.