The night started just as it had in years past. Modified and reinforced cars entered Food Maxx Arena one by one, taking a ceremonial parade lap as the crowd cheered. Behind them followed six tow trucks, stalking the cars as a vulture would their soon-to-be prey — a sign of the destruction to come.
“I’ve been watching the derby for about five years,” Shannon Nixon said. “I love the excitement of the cars and the crowd. It’s a lot of fun.”
Nixon wouldn’t be disappointed as there was plenty of excitement to go around during Friday’s Destruction Derby I: Traditional Turmoil. The Stanislaus County Fair’s mainstay featured 15 cars, a much smaller field than usual, but the smaller numbers resulted in more open space and more opportunities for high impact crashes. And crash they did.
Within the first minutes of the first heat trunks slammed and collapsed, fenders bent and crushed, hoods folded, engines began to smoke, gas leaked, and tires popped and sometimes flew off completely. Drivers maneuvered their cars around and through each other, speeding forward and in reverse with one thing in mind, smash. Amongst the mayhem were Turlock’s David Donelson and Denair’s Tony Silveira, both of whom have more than 30 years of derby experience between them.
“My father-in-law used to build these cars years ago,” Silveira said. “As a younger guy I thought it was interesting. Now it’s fun; it’s a hobby.”
“One of my good friends got me started,” Donelson said. “I really enjoy building cars and making them look pretty for my family and friends.”
Donelson spent four months stripping, welding, strengthening, and painting his #44 1968 Plymouth Furry II in time to compete in the 38th consecutive Destruction Derby. His work paid off before the fun even started as he was awarded with the honor of best looking car.
“I’m very partial to Mopar cars,” Donelson said. “They hold up well and they’ve always treated me good.”
Although Donelson’s car shone brightest amongst his peers before the start of Friday’s derby, it didn’t take long for it to be pummeled and stripped of its luster. By the end of the first heat the back and front ends were crunched like an aluminum can and one of his tires was missing. His quest for a win would have to wait until next year.
Silveira’s #12 Chrystler New Yorker only took two months of on and off work to complete and even though it wasn’t the prettiest on the track it performed like a champ. Rather than focusing on the beauty of his car, Silveira worked on its durability and power which paid off in the form of a first place finish in the second heat and a spot in the final heat of the night.
“It’s supposed to be a strong car, so we’ll see what happens,” Silveira said. “It’s all a lot of luck out there.”
Silveira’s luck didn’t bring him the first place finish he was hoping for; instead he landed in fourth place behind Freo Neto, Jr., Mark Cabral, and derby champion Dan Hicks. Still, it’s safe to assume that the thrill of destruction was enough for Silveira and that it will bring him back for more next year.