The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
Big Fat Whale  |  Failure  |  Hoopleville  |  Idiot Box  |  Lifestyle Features  |  Reality Check

Crash for clunkers

With the economy breaking down and the world spinning out of control, America looks for hope . . . in demolition derbies?
By GREG COOK  |  August 20, 2009


VIEW: More demolition derby photos by Greg Cook. 

An air horn calls the demolition derby to a halt, as firefighters dash across the Brockton Fair's muddy track and shove an extinguisher under the hood of one of the banged-up cars. It's a small fire, quickly doused, and the action soon continues, but not for John Francis Jr., whose late '90s Mercury Sable wagon's back, front, and sides are already caved in by collisions. "I lost reverse, couldn't turn right," the 21 year old from Randolph says afterward as the Sable, with its left rear wheel bent at an uncomfortable angle, is winched onto the back of a tow truck. "Then I lost the starter and the battery. Everything went wrong all at once."

It's a warm July evening as people in T-shirts and shorts crowd the grandstands overlooking the dirt track, ringed with jersey barriers and wet down to prevent cars from getting too fast. Dangerously fast. Yes, the thrill of demolition derbies is the multi-car pile-ups and, especially, when a car gets up a head of steam crossing from one side of the track to the other and wallops another vehicle. But so much of this survival-of-the-fittest competition, in which the winner is the last vehicle moving, is about failure.

Perhaps that is why demolition derbies seem like the perfect metaphor for our times.

Demolition derbies originated somewhere in the mid 20th century, tapping into two primal American passions: cars and destruction. They are legion in New England, particularly in Massachusetts (there's a big one this weekend at the Marshfield Fair). But in this season of great financial failure, when even Detroit auto makers are begging for handouts, demo derbies can feel like a symbolic re-enactment of our large societal breakdown. When all this economic destruction has been wreaked upon us and feels out of our control, demo derbies offer the cathartic satisfaction of fucking some shit up ourselves.

Even still, while demo derbies can seem like a renegade pursuit, it's actually a family sport — mostly local mechanics and auto-body guys and tow-truck drivers, and their kids. Other relatives watch from the stands. At the Brockton Fair's derby, which is organized by Lynch's Towing, many of the drivers are following a long-standing tradition. "My dad does it," notes Jenn Mann, 32, of East Bridgewater, who has been smashing cars in demo derbies since she was 16. "My grandfather used to do it. My boyfriend does it. My brother. Hopefully I'll pass the tradition down. I have a seven year old and she thinks she's a derby girl already."

Where to see the car carnage
Marshfield Fair Route 3A, Marshfield | Demolition derby August 21, 27, and 28 | Demolition derby figure 8, August 24 and 29
Westfield Fair Russellville Road, Westfield | August 22
Cummington Fair 97 Fairgrounds Road, Cummington | August 28
Spencer Fair Smithville Road, Spencer | September 4 and 7
Three County Fair Bridge Street, Northampton | September 4 and 6
Franklin County Fair 87 Wisdom Way, Greenfield | September 11 and 13
Speed and the big bang
By the time the fourth heat gets going, the sun has set and big spotlights illuminate the track. Soon eight of the original 10 autos are kaput — including Mann's '94 Ford Crown Victoria. Butch Epick of Brockton, in a 1992 Crown Vic, rounds one of the dead cars, and accelerates across the muddy field, straight toward a white, pink, and red 1996 Cadillac DeVille with "ouch" painted across the hood, his sole remaining competition.

"I saw one guy moving and I figured that was the guy," says Epick. It's a go-for-broke shot because, at that point, he has no reverse.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Photos: Demolition Derbies, Fabulous fakes, Enter the matrix, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Demolition Derbies, Fairs and Carnivals
  • Share:
  • Share this entry with Facebook
  • Share this entry with Digg
  • Share this entry with Delicious
  • RSS feed
  • Email this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Share this entry with Delicious
  •   GRAFFITI GONE GOOD  |  September 30, 2009
    One after another, young patients approach Caleb Neelon as he paints in the lobby of Children's Hospital Boston.
  •   THE DIGERARTI  |  October 02, 2009
    Strapped into Erik Conrad’s electronic vest, I stood waiting for the personal digital assistant, attached by a wire to the outfit, to make a GPS connection.
  •   GANG OF SIX  |  September 23, 2009
    Around town lately, you may have noted the screenprint that Andrew Moon Bain designed for the four-person exhibit “4 Thieves” at Firehouse 13.
  •   LOVE BUG  |  September 25, 2009
    At the 2003 Venice Biennale, Damián Ortega presented what has become his signature sculpture, Cosmic Thing . He dissected a 1989 Volkswagen Beetle and suspended the individual parts in mid air so that they resemble a 3-D assembly diagram.
  •   TAKE A LOOK  |  September 17, 2009
    A year ago the future looked bright as the RISD Museum debuted its shiny new Chace Center.

 See all articles by: GREG COOK

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2009 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group