Demolition Derby

Demolition Derby

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Demolition Derby

    Demolition derbies have made their way through history as races that only involve crashes. There is more to a demolition derby than just crashes. Demolition derbies are more complex than what is seen from the stands because of the long hard work it takes to get a car ready, and the actual competition of the derby.


There are three stories about where the first demolition derby was held. Islip Raceway (Long Island, NY), Hales Corner Raceway (Hales Corner, WI), and an unknown town in Ohio. The first and only story with creditable proof is that Larry Mendelson, a 28 year stock car racer noticed that the most cheering and excitement happened when cars crashed. He held the first demolition derby in 1958 at Islip Raceway. Another story is that Hales Corner Raceway had held a demo years previous to Islip. According to legend, 'Crazy Jim' Groh had a few too many cars on his dealership lot. So he got a few people to drive them as a promotion. The only other proof to back this story are the Happy Days episodes 64, 64, 66 'Fonzie loves Pinkie part1, 2, 3' shows demolition derbies. This show was based in Milwaukee during the 50's. These episodes featured Fonzie battling it out with the Mallachi brothers. The last account is that an un-named town in Ohio was a scene of road rage gone wild in the mid- 50's. Two cars collided at a busy intersection and both continued to battle it out drawing a large crowd to the scene. This story fails to name a town or date, and only gets some credit ability because Ohio is a mecca for demolition derbies ( par. 2-5).



When credit needs to be given to the inventor of demolition derbies it goes to Larry Mendelson and Islip Raceway because they were the first to officially organize a derby.


There are many modifications that need to be done to a car before it is ready to go to the demolition derby.  A car cannot be bought demolition derby ready. There are many rules to take into consideration and many alterations that need to be done to car when getting the car ready for a demolition derby.

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As said by one demolition derby driver, "You want your demo car to be nothing more than a motor and a tranny and a steering wheel" (Doyle 6). There are many rules to follow when getting a car ready for competing in a demolition derby. In each state the rules are different. One rule that is the same in all states is that the driver must be 18 years of age and have a valid driver's license ( par. 10). When making alterations to a car the rear seat must be removed. All dirt and loose particles swept out of the car before arriving at the track. There is a maximum of three gallons of gas allowed. The tanks must be removed from original position but cannot be located in the driver's compartment. A metal firewall is recommended put between the driver and the tank ( par.3-4). Gas tanks are usually moved into the back of the car where the backseat was originally. In Canada the gas tank needs to be substituted for a C.S.A. marine tank or custom metal tank ( par. 24).


All glass, including head, tail, parking, and turn signal lights must be removed (not broken out). Windshields must be removed (this is sometimes opposite, they may be kept in the car in some places). All doors must be securely fastened either by welding, chains, or metal straps. Doors opening during the event disqualify the vehicle. The battery must be moved within the driver's compartment, but must have suitable cover, and must be fastened down by metal straps-no bungies. There are many rules that are for safety in case of fires. Two major ones are that the fuel line cannot run through the driver's compartment and a hole must be cut out of the hood to expose the carburetor ( par. 6). All airbags and sensors must be removed ( par. 38). This is a safety measure because all the drivers are doing in a derby are crashing into each other and the airbag will inflate and be in the way. All work must be done prior to arrival at eh event ( par. 54). The car cannot be freshly rescued from a junkyard and put into a demolition derby without the many changes needed.


      In a demolition derby, the winner is the car that finishes. Period. Demolition derbies are at more than 750 fairs across the country ( par. 1). Destruction attracts drivers who demolish not just automobiles, but also, on occasion, school buses, farm machinery, lawn mowers, and motor cycles (Conniff par. 10).  There are not just many types of derbies but also many track types. The ring-track derby is the standard derby. Here vehicles can go anywhere within a large circle. A vehicle is disqualified for leaving the circle. In the oval-track vehicles crash in to each other while driving around an oval-shaped track. This is most like NASCAR racing. The figure-8 track is a race where the vehicles drive on a track shaped like an eight. The vehicles cross and crash into each other at the tracks middle point. Drivers call this point the "X".


       The headlight derby is a derby where the headlights are left in the cars (usually taken out along with all other glass) and the stadium lights are turned off. The cars then run by the light from their headlights. The last car running with a headlight still working is the winner. Balloon-race is another demolition derby. In this race a balloon is attached to the front and back of each car. When both balloons have been popped, officials eliminate the car form the competition. The backward derby is a derby in which vehicles are allowed to drive backwards only. The sack race is run with two people in each car. The driver wears a sack over his head. A teammate in the passenger's seat gives directions to the driver. Cat-and-mouse is an eighth kind of racing in demolition derbies. The race is limited to ten cars. Nine cars, called "cat cars," chase a single "mouse car" around the track. The mouse car wins if it can go around the track five times without getting knocked out. The last known demolition derby is the football derby. In this derby two teams compete against each other. Each team is made up of four American-made cars. They fight to push a little imported car over the other's goal line (Savage 31-35).


      There are many rules for a demolition derby competition. The rules that are about entering the contest are mostly about drivers their pit crew, insurance, and derby rules. All drivers must attend the driver's meeting the day of the event ( par. 9). The meetings are about the rules of the derby. Rules covered at the meeting are, all people around the driver's car must have a signed insurance waver. If all people do not have the waver the car and driver may be disqualified. Only one tow vehicle per demo car is allowed in pit area. One driver and one pit member will receive free pit passes on the day of the event. All other pit members must pay a fee ( par. 1-3). Each person, drivers and pit members must sign the insurance waver. The insurance waver may say something along the lines of, demolition derby is a hazardous and high-risk sport, anyone with a health condition or who is pregnant should not compete. The event coordinators are not responsible for any injuries sustained either by driver or pit crew. It is the driver and pit members' responsibility to carry their own insurance ( par. 5-6).


      To compete drivers register their vehicles and pay as pit fee. A derby official then inspects the vehicles. This is called "teching." The official makes sure the vehicles have certain medical and safety features. The rules are drivers must crash into each other at least once a minute. Crashing head on is not allowed, and drivers cannot smash into the driver's side door. Drivers are also not allowed to drive in a wild and uncontrolled way. Vehicles cannot leave the boundary area. The driver cannot leave their vehicle during the derby unless of fire (Savage 14). During the derby the drivers must wear an approved safety helmet, plus face shield or goggles. Safety belts also required ( par. 2).


      A demolition derby requires officials, also known as signalers. Two signalers stand outside the boundary area, they wave green flags to signal the start. If a car catches fire or rolls over the signalers use a red flag to signal a time out. A checkered flag is then waved to signal a winner (Savage 17). To be a winner, a driver must be the last to make contact and then be able to move at least 12" in any direction. If there is a tie, the final two cars are hopelessly locked together the prize money is split and a coin toss decides who gets the trophy ( par. 21-23). All cars entered are allowed one fire and may try to restart ( par. 8). If a car is in the derby and has caught on fire after the fire is distinguished the driver may try and restart. If the car restarts the driver and car may stay in the event.


      There are two other rules that have to do with running cars that have lost their event. One rule is that if a car has been run, lost, and another driver needs a car for the final event it may be borrowed. This may only happen if the car has been run the same night the other driver needs the car. Another rule about running cars that have lost is called a consolation run. A consolation run is a run or derby for anyone whose car is still running but did not win his or her event, also known as a heat ( par. 9, 11).


      At the end of the night after all the cars have participated and all the heats are over all parts and vehicles must be removed from the event site ( par. 55). Some demolition derby event sites may have the drivers hand over the title for cars they do not want to haul home and dispose of the car themselves. For nasty rivalries, earsplitting noise, and bone-rattling collisions, nothing beats the mud-caked, low-staked, high-speed, steel-and-horsepower free-for-alls of demolition derby (Conley par. 1).


Demolition derbies are more than the painted-up pieces of steel smashing into each other in a cement course. There is a history of confusion, long hours of stripping the car down, and many rules that keep the drivers safe at the derby. The prize money seldom covers the cost of the vehicle and the entry fee, much less hospitalization. But drivers come anyway, for the pure and simple pleasure of hitting somebody else as hard as they can with 3,000 pounds of steel. Serious injuries are surprisingly rare, but it is true, demo drivers do die at their sport. Smashing the family car is wholesome entertainment out there, and the demolition derby is always a county fair's hottest ticket, outselling over events such as tractor pulls, monster-truck shows, and even Garth Brooks concerts (Crash par. 10).


Works Cited

"Birthplace and History of Demolition Derby." Schuttes Demolition Page. 2002 3 Mar. 2003 <>.

Conley, Kevin. "Crash Courses." Sports Illustrated 11 Nov. 2002: 82. 3 Mar. 2003 <>.

Conniff, Richard, Joe McNally. "Crash, Slam, Boom!" Smithsonian Magazine Jan. 1999 <>.

Crash, Slam, Boom! Conniff, Richard. Smithsonian Magazine. 27 Feb. 2003 <>.

"Demolition Derby Rules." The Herald Dispatch. 5 July 2001 3 Mar. 2003 <>.

"Demo Rules." Internet Demoliton Derby Association Homepage. 25 July 2002 27 Feb. 2003 <>.

"Destruction Productions." Destruction Productions. 2003 3 Mar. 2003 <>.

Doyle Jr., Mike, Denis Boyles, and Matt Marion. "The Last Ride to Oblivion!" Men's Health Mar. 2000: 101. 3 Mar. 2003 <>.

Savage, Jeff. Demolition Derby. Minneapolis, MN. Capstone. 1995

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