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Demolition Derby

A demolition derby under way at the Greenwich, Ohio Firemen's Festival, 2005


Demolition derby is a motorsport usually presented at county fairs and festivals. They originated in North America and quickly spread to other western nations.

While rules vary from event to event, the typical demolition derby event consists of 10 or more drivers competing by deliberately ramming their vehicles into one another. The last driver whose vehicle is still operational is awarded the victory.

Demolition derby can be very dangerous but are very fun, serious injuries are rare but they do happen. To make the event safer, all glass is removed from the vehicle, and deliberately ramming the driver's-side door area is usually forbidden. The driver's door is often required to be painted bright orange or a contrasting color for visibility. Most demolition derbies are held on dirt tracks or open fields that are usually soaked to become muddy to further slow the vehicles. Drivers use the back end of the vehicle to ram to protect the engine compartment from damage.

Most demolition derby competitors are amateurs, though some professional teams tour events. Competitors have traditionally used junked full-size American sedans, especially those from the 1960s and 70s, which were larger, heavier, and had more robust frames than later full-size vehicles. (The mid-1960s Chrysler Imperial achieved near-legendary status for its crashworthiness, and is still banned from most derby events.) Vehicles are purchased from junkyards and private owners, usually for less than $500, though some rust-free 1974-76 Chevrolet Impala Sedans and station wagons may go for more than $1000. A vehicle may be patched up and re-used for several derbies.
A demolition derby in the early 1970's.

With the dwindling availability of these older vehicles, smaller full-sized vehicles of the 1980s are more frequently encountered today. A separate class of demolition derby for compact cars is increasing in popularity. Compact car events have the advantages of an abundant supply of usable vehicles, which also tend to be more mobile and thus, more entertaining to fans. Being largely front-wheel drive, their back ends can sustain considerable amounts of damage before the vehicle is immobilized. However, this increased speed, coupled with the fact that compact cars tend to be less crashworthy, makes injuries more frequent. Vehicles from the 1990s and later are thusfar rarely used as their more complex engine emissions controls are difficult or impossible to re-tune for derbying.

Bizarre versions of the sport using combine harvesters (seen yearly in the Lind, Washington and Lorain, Ohio derbies) and lawn mowers have been practiced in various parts of the world. Larger vehicles such as pickup truck and SUV's were rarely used in derbying - though school bus demolitions have long been a popular exception - but have recently begun becoming popular in demolition events. Recently a new class for minivans has been added to some derbys because of the abundance of older vehicles.

The vehicles are stripped of interior fixtures, trim, plastic, lights, and glass, and repainted, usually in loud, garish designs. Additional modifications include trimming sheet metal from around the wheel wells, removing parts of bumpers, welding the doors shut, relocating the battery, and occasionally cutting an escape hatch in the roof. To make the cars last longer, they are occasionally pre-bent, frames notched, rear bumpers removed, trunk lids notched, and rear coil springs are replaced with leaf springs. In many instances, roll bars, fire extinguishers, and other safety equipment is installed.

Demolition derbies were first held at various fairs and race tracks by independent promoters in the 1950s. There are unconfirmed reports of events occurring as far back as the 1930s utilizing the abundant supply of worn out Ford Model T's.

The sport's popularity grew throughout the 1960s, becoming a standard of county fairs in rural areas, and becoming a quirky subculture nationwide. ABC's Wide World of Sports, featured demolition derbies on several broadcasts in the 1970s. The popular ABC sitcom Happy Days included the character Pinky Tuscadero, a professional demolition derby driver and occasional love interest to the show's most popular character, Arthur Fonzarelli. Demolition Derbies are found by many to be very amusing.

By the 1980s, the sport's popularity began to level off, and then possibly decline throughout the 1990s. With the demise of Wide World of Sports, television exposure became virtually non-existent. In addition to safety concerns and the shortage of full-size vehicles, some felt that the sport has shown little change or innovation beyond its original premise of giant lumbering cars sloshing through mud.

In 1987, cable channel ESPN did broadcast The Demolition Derby World Championship from New York. That was the last time that ESPN or any other national network featured Demolition Derby on TV for almost a decade.

In 1997, The Nashville Network (later part of CBS) returned demolition derby to national television in its "TNN's Motor Madness" series of various motorsport events. However, as part of MTV Networks' takeover of CBS Cable operations in 2000, demolitition derbies, as well as the rest of the CBS motorsports operations, were removed from programming as part of MTV's move to shut down the CBS Charlotte operation based at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Pay per view was demolition derby's only national television outlet in the new millennium. Two $50,000-to-win derbies were held in Widewater, Canada from 2000-2001.

Later in the 2000s, a proliferation of cable television shows about vehicle customizing occasionally showcased junked vehicles in bizarre competitions. Spike TV's "Carpocalypse" [1] was a reality documentary series on variations of demolition derby filmed in Orlando, Florida. The Speed Channel also has aired Team demolition derbies in 2005. Cable TV's exposure has led to renewed interest in demolition derbying.

Glossary

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Demolition derbies in Europe

The large amounts of motor oil, gasoline, and other chemicals spilled into the ground, and unfiltered vehicle exhaust released into the air at derbies prompted several European countries to enact environmental legislation that effectively banned the events, just as the sport was beginning to establish itself there.

Great Britain has been an exception to this trend. British "banger races" (known as Full Contact Demolition Racing, Bump to pass, Thunder cars, and as Enduro races in the USA) differ from American derbies in that drivers actually attempt to turn laps on a race track, while also trying to knock the other competitors off the track. The events often climax with an American style derby, with the last driver whose car is still functional awarded the victory. Banger racing's American fanbase is strongest at tracks in the Pacific Northwest.

Rollover competitions

Also included at many demolition derbies in the US and UK are rollover competitions, where the object is to drive a car so that only the wheels on one side hit a ramp, causing the vehicle to roll over repeatedly. Drivers take multiple runs at the ramp until their vehicle dies. The driver who completes the most rollovers before their vehicle ceases to function is declared the winner. Compact cars, especially hatchbacks, are used in rollover competitions. Their lighter weight enables them to roll more easily than larger vehicles.

Figure 8 racing

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Various classes of vehicles have competitions staged on figure 8 shaped tracks. While many figure 8 racers are serious competitors who try to avoid crashing. Bump To Pass Figure eights are also quite popular as they involve less prep work from the usual figure eight racer which usually can also race as an oval track street stock. Demolition derby vehicles - especially school buses - often compete on figure 8 tracks. The best known figure 8 track in the US is Riverhead Raceway in Riverhead, New York.

Monster truck racing

Template:Main Junked vehicles are also destroyed for entertainment at monster truck competitions, so demolition derbies are often staged there as a preliminary event. The rise in popularity of monster truck competitions, beginning in the 1980s is sometimes cited as coming at the expense of demolition derby popularity. While derbies featured mostly local amateur talent, monster trucks popularized a new set of competitors and vehicles recognized nationwide by fans.

Demolition derby video games


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