Drivers sit strapped into stripped down junker cars rescued from scrap yards. They rev their engines and strap on their helmets. The air horn sounds as they throw the transmission into reverse. Mud soars through the air and eight cars collide with an ear-splitting crash in the centre of a muddy pit. Scraps of metal fly and cars jump into the air with the collision.
This is no car accident, this is organized chaos: demolition derby, an event that takes place every year at the Blackstock, Port Perry, and Uxbridge fairs. Drivers strip their cars down to the basic components, ripping out anything that can burn or become a missile, and then ram their vehicles into each other’s car, in an effort to disable the competition while keeping their own engine running and wheels spinning.
"It’s great to get in a car and do something you would never think of doing on the road," said Tina Carter, a co-founder and driver in the Soccer Moms demolition derby series at the Blackstock Fair. "It feels like I’m driving a tank and we have a lot of fun."
The Soccer Moms is a special class of demo derby where drivers use mini-vans, organized by Tina Carter and Brian Van Camp, to give women their own unique venue to destroy vehicles in the name of charity. "A lot of the women feel intimidated by the small cars, we drive mini-vans because they’re safer," said Tina. "They also smash a lot louder and go longer!" Each of the women who drive in the Soccer Moms series collect donations for charity, and the winner gets to choose which charity the prize money goes to.
"All of the vans are donated by Langille’s scrap yard, they drop the vans off and we get them ready for the derby," said Tina. "When it’s all over, Langille’s comes and picks the van up again, already stripped and looking like scrap metal. They’ve been a great supporter for the past three years."
The draw that makes the demo derby the highlight of many fairs across Ontario is seeing drivers act like mad men as they ram and smash into each other, twisting metal and hurling mud into the air. The occasional engine fire and the loud roar of open exhaust pipes helps set the stage in the effects department.
The popularity of demolition derby has been compared to people watching NASCAR for the crashes and fires, or why traffic slows due to drivers rubbernecking to see a car crash.
During the day, Tina is a financial manager at a car dealership, helping customers purchase their shiny, new ride. Her 25-year history in the car business is an extreme juxtaposition to organizing an event where vehicles die a loud, fiery death. "It’s a great stress reliever," said Tina. "I spend all day around brand-new cars and then I get to take them for a spin in the mud and smash them up."
When multiple car pile-ups are the objective for an event, safety is a huge concern for the drivers and organizers.
To get the vehicles ready, first the drivers will remove all of the glass and interior. Next they remove the battery and gas tank and bolt them down inside the car to prevent leaks and fires. The explosive charge in the air bag is taken out or set off, since they are bound to explode, and a piece of metal is welded over the windshield so that no flying debris too large can hit the driver. The whole process takes about ten hours. Finally, helmets, gloves, fire extinguishers and sometimes neck braces are always used.
"I’ve had a few bumps and bruises, but I’ve never been scared or seriously injured driving in the derby," said Tina. "The drivers are all very conscious to hurt the car and not the person inside, we paint the drivers-side door white just in case and the derby officials make sure no one is driving too dangerously."
There is no better time for those who want to take in the spectacle, or drive in it themselves, with the circuit of fairs and derbies in the near future. Tina’s husband Ron Carter advised that the best way to practice is to "drive in Toronto."
Come on out and take in the fun of a demolition derby at the upcoming Port Perry and Uxbridge fairs. The Port Perry demo derby will be held this weekend at the Port Perry Fair on Sunday, September 1, at 6 p.m, and in Uxbridge on Saturday, September 6, at 7 p.m. The demolition derbies are shaping up to be a smashing good time for all.