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“Daredevils and showoffs may not be safe and sane, but they are fun to watch:” Your best demo derby stories

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photo by Chris Bojanower.

As one of our commenters pointed out, really, anything that happens in a demolition derby is by definition crazy. After all, bashing cars into other cars until they no longer run isn’t exactly normal. That said, when we put the call out for your demo derby stories, you didn’t disappoint, so let’s round up some of the more entertaining ones.

First, R.P. Pettibone seemed to have witnessed the oddest demo derby, as per our prompt:

By far, the Craziest thing I have ever seen was in Conesville, Iowa, at a Motorcycle rally weekend party, was a Motorcycle Demolition Derby. The drivers were pretty padded up, Mad Maxx style. Some in old football gear. But the action was real. It was done in an old horse corral so the speeds didn’t get too high. There were mostly Old Japanese bikes with kick starters. (Yamahas, Kawasakis) The competition went until the last bike running was declared the winner. Good Times!

Indeed, we hadn’t expected anybody to ever run a demo derby on a motorcycle, but we see that the tradition is alive today.

We’d also kinda hoped some of you had first-hand experience in a demo derby, and indeed, at least a couple of you have. Alex came through with his story of beginner’s luck:

True story. In the Spring of 1987 my new wife brought along a beater 1978 Pontiac Phoenix. An absolutely rubbish car. We were having dinner with another couple and I asked my friend how I could just get rid of it. He said: “Hey Al, why don’t you just take it over to Seekonk (speedway) and drive it in the demo derby over Memorial Day?” I was young and nuts, so I agreed. My friend bought a beater from a friend and entered as well. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Kids painted up our beater in livery that proclaimed it #666 The Car From Hell.

Brought the car over in the afternoon, and then went back with the family and friends at the appointed time. Pit lane guy came by and told me that I was in heat 2 for the Figure 8 races. I calmly replied that I was here for the demo derby. His reply was: Well you have to survive the figure 8 to get to the demo derby. Now I was really scared.

The next couple of hours were a bit of a blur. I managed to survive the figure 8 by driving slowly and crossing the 8 as few times as I could. Got smacked around, but I avoided a T-bone. The Car From Hell had issues to say the least. One was that was a hard starter immediately after having been run. There were a few red flags during the demo, and I was a little slow coming out of them because of the starting issues. All of a sudden I realized that there were only a few cars left. I could hear the announcer screaming about the cars including Car 666. It was pretty cool. I managed to finish off one of the last 3 and then squared off on the last one. Whacked him T-bone and backed up to hit him again when he waved me off.

I actually won the demo derby. Only time I ever did it. It was a thrill. And I got a check in the mail a couple of weeks later for $500!

He seems to be the only one of us who’s entered the bullring, but Terry Bowman did once put some skin in the game:

I remember back around 1989, a good friend stopped by my shop and asked if I had a good battery that he could use in a Demo Derby that night. I said yes I did, but I wanted it back after the event. I went to the event as a spectator to watch and to make sure I got my battery back. It was cool to watch and he was the last car to be knock out (the car, a wagon got stuck on another car and could not move, which took him out of contention). The car was a mess and not sure how it was still running , but when my buddy got out of his car, he opened the back door (that’s where the battery was located) removed it on the field and brought it over to me and says “here is your battery back, Thanks”. Had the battery (Interstate) for over 6 years before I gave it away to someone else. Guess the story is more about a “GREAT” Battery.

Finally, some of you objected to demo derbies on the grounds of personal beliefs, and we get that. But Dr. Lundberg seems to have a deeper reason to suspect demo derbies:

When I was growing up a derby was organized in a field near our home. We went out of curiosity, and what still stands out in my memory are two things:
1) Watching a guy work on the 3-carburetor W-engine in his really beautiful gold ’58 Impala before the start.
2) Watching that Impala destroyed when the other drivers attacked it first as soon as the event started.

This was in 1962, so the Impala was only 4 years old at the time.

Triple carbs came back to haunt me again, on that very same spot when later they built a Chevrolet dealership there. We went there again when my mom wanted to buy a new Corvette in 1967. She chose a 427 in pale yellow. It also had 3 carbs. She said it would be my car when I turned 16. But, the salesman wouldn’t let her test-drive the ‘Vette, and told my mom to come back with her husband. She was so angry we left. I couldn’t believe it. Another high-school dream down the drain.

The next year I got to shop for my first car (still not 16 years old yet). Only about a half-mile down the road from the derby/dealer location was a used car lot. Sitting there was a ’58 Impala, black, with the triple-carb 348. I had $200. The guy wanted $215. My mom wouldn’t give me the fifteen bucks. She said I’d kill myself in it, too much power. Pointing out that she was going to give me a triple-carb 435 HP ‘Vette didn’t sway her any.

To this day I still have never had a three-carburetor car. Even my ’64 GTO has one of those common square things on top of the engine. In its defense, this time the square thing is a 2,000-cfm throttle body for the 572″ engine and its Dominator EFI. But still… a lifetime history of single square things is kind of a drag (pun intended).

Is there such a thing as being cursed by a Demo Derby?

As always, thanks for entertaining us with your stories!