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Demolition derby rivets a sold-out crowd at La Plata County Fair

Drivers compete at crumpling each other’s rides across full-size, minicar and pickup categories
About 25 vehicles competed Saturday in the Demolition Derby at the La Plata County Fair. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The La Plata County Fair’s 25th Demolition Derby at the fairgrounds drew a sold-out crowd Saturday with 1,496 tickets purchased before the event began.

Spectators watched 27 drivers across three categories smash and crash into each other’s vehicles in the muddied-up rodeo arena.

The derby featured three main events for cars, mini cars and trucks. Although the derby had more entrants than in recent years, only one driver in each weight class could claim “last vehicle standing.”

Kevin and Crystal Black traveled from Aztec to cheer on Stacey Suutherland, who was driving car No. 13.

Kevin said Saturday was the first time they’d attended La Plata County Fair’s Demolition Derby but they’ve been to plenty other derbies in Cortez and Ignacio.

They both love derby and racing events. Kevin said he used to be on the pit crew for a family who raced.

Rob and Timi Sachs of Durango said they attended the derby for the fun of it and to spend time with their grandchildren who are 2 and 3 years old.

Rob said he wasn’t rooting for any driver in particular, but he was looking forward to the day.

Lin Dobbins, county fair demolition derby co-superintendent, said the derby attracted more contestants than in previous years, making the event larger, which she said is a good thing.

About 60% of participating drivers were return derby entrants from previous years, she said.

Eight drivers entered pickups into the “truck” category, six drivers peeled into the “full-size car” category and 13 drivers jumped behind the wheel for the “minicars” category, she said.

The derby’s first round got underway after Freya Underwood of Bayfield sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The drivers participated in what Dobbins called “one and dones,” where they’d do a single round and the last driver able to drive a vehicle was named victorious.

If a driver went too long without hitting another vehicle ‒ commonly because the vehicle was too damaged to move or was stuck in the mud ‒ the driver would be disqualified.

During the minicar derby, the emcee had to shout at drivers to stop their vehicles because somebody noticed one driver wasn’t wearing a helmet. No injuries were reported, but the driver was given a helmet and the derby resumed.

Jeromy Lanier, No. 290, took first place in the “pickups” category. He said there isn’t much strategy to winning the derby when drivers are hitting each other’s vehicles from all angles. Any one of the drivers could have driven away with a victory under his belt ‒ it mostly comes down to luck, he said.

The closest thing to strategy, besides preparing the vehicle as best one can, is driving backward into other cars to protect the engine.

“Your heart and soul’s up front so you want to hit it with the back as much as you can,” he said.

It was a sold-out crowd Saturday at the Demolition Derby at the La Plata County Fair. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Drivers in the pickup derby had to restart the contest because the arena was initially too muddy to be navigated. Lanier said he isn’t sure he would have won if it weren’t for that second start, which all the drivers agreed to before the green flag.

“Couldn’t have done it without them, my teammates,” he said. “ … Everything was really sloppy and super, super sandy. But there was really no strategy to it, anybody could have done that.

“The lord was looking out for me and so was my grandpa,” he said.

The first-place title came with a prize of $1,450. But Lanier said the derby isn’t about the money.

“It’s about making (little kids) smile,” he said.

Lanier spent more than a month working on the pickup he entered. He said the last month of work was the hardest. His pickup was fitted with tractor tires so he’d have optimal traction in the arena.

He said he knew at least one other driver was using forklift tires on his vehicle.

The 2022 fair’s derby is Lanier’s third that he’s competed in. He said he took third place in his second derby and came back to take first place this year.

About 25 vehicles competed Saturday in the Demolition Derby at the La Plata County Fair. Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

He said he’s grateful for his employer, C&J Redi Mix, for sponsoring the pickup that got him through the derby.

“They take care of us over there, they treat us really well,” he said. “What other company could you work for that sponsors a derby truck?”

He said he is a mechanic for C&J and his skills definitely helped him in fixing up his truck for the derby.

The full derby results are:

  • Minicars: First, Gene Felker in car No. 4; prize: $1,575. Second, Dennis Spencer in car No. 157; prize: $945. Third, Joeleen Archuleta in car No. 7, prize $630.
  • Full-size cars: First, Jim Griffin in car No. 103; prize: $1,400. Second, Tanner Smedstad in car No. 607; prize: $840. Third, Ted Neergaard in car No. 42; prize: $560.
  • Pickups: First, Jeromy Lanier in car No. 290, prize: $1,450. Second, Ralph Brawley in car No. 86½; prize: $870. Third, Morgan Virag in car No. 86⅛, prize: $580.

cburney@durangoherald.com

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