August 30, 2007

Dirt, Dust, Danger: Flames, Metal and Mud at the Trumansburg Demo Derby

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Smoke billowed from demolished cars and blanketed the air, covering my view and choking my lungs, while mud splashed against my face; shards of metal ricocheted into the bandstand and cars exploded in flames — a man even got hit by a raging car! — all at the Trumansburg County Fair Demolition Derby this past Sunday.

Despite the dirt, dust, danger (and occasional disaster), at the heart of the Trumansburg’s Derby is good small-town folk, old-fashioned fun, fierce adrenaline and what seems like, well, tons of luck. As 20 cars line up face-to-face, the event begins. Cars mindlessly tear into one another in a chaotic mix of heavy metal, sweat and burnt rubber. The six semi-final winners compete at the end of the night for the championship. How do these drivers manage to win?

“Well, the car kept running!” first semi-final winner Tom Ferretti Jr. said, explaining how he managed to be the last man standing this past Sunday. Holding his new shiny red trophy with a golden plastic car mounted boldly on top, Ferretti smiled proudly, if not awkwardly. After a yearlong recess from Demolition, Ferretti, a local ice cream shop owner, decided to get back on the track.

“To get back in there and win is just a lot of fun,” he said. Despite narrowly escaping what seemed like imminent death by avoiding crashing cars left and right, Ferretti remained unfazed — after doing this for 21 years, he has been around the block.

“Small explosions happen all the time,” a local youth serving as usher casually explained. And early in the second round this usher was proven only half-correct. The flames that erupted from one dense pile of cars were only slightly larger than enormous! Not to worry, “Gas is easy [to put out],” Trumansburg firefighter Jeremy Vann explained. The volunteer firefighters responded to the uproar with ease, quickly blanketing the rummage in suffocating foam.

And just as the flames had barely disappeared, drivers jumped right back into their vehicles and revved their engines, hungry for more destruction. Surprises shocked as often as cars smashed. Incredibly, one semi-final winner was a teenage girl. It was almost as shocking seeing this young, redheaded girl win as it was witnessing a tire pop with a clamorous bang, and a car reversing at full speed onto the hood of another car, as if it were a ramp.

But what’s the payoff for enduring such danger? $500, a seat in the Demolition Derby Finals in Syracuse next month, “plus a championship trophy!” says announcer Jay Milligan, president of J.M. Productions Inc., which puts on the Derby. Kyle Adams, a 22-year-old Trumansburg resident, received this honor, winning the Trumansburg finals.

Utterly shocked by his accomplishment, Adams thanked his brother-in-law Buzzy Weber who provided him with a car. When asked if he will compete in the Syracuse finals, Adams shrugged modestly, and said, “Probably.” According to the J.M. Productions Inc. webpage, anybody above the age of 16 can enter and “any two or four door, hardtop, stock two-wheel drive car weighing between 2,600 and 4,800 pounds is permitted,” except, of course, for “Chrysler Imperials, station wagons, 4 x 4s, T-tops, Camaros, Firebirds and El Caminos.”