With the drop of the official’s green flag “Traditional Turmoil,” the first of two Turlock Lion’s Club Annual Demolition Derbies, roared to life on Monday night in front of the packed to capacity grandstands in the Food Maxx Arena.
After about 15 minutes of metal crunching, car munching hard hits the officials threw up their red flags to signal the end of the first of two preliminary heats as the crowd stood and cheered. Of the 12 cars that entered the arena, only a couple were able to limp off under their own power while the remaining drivers waited for a tow truck to haul their battered cars back to the pits for repairs.
Five drivers were announced as the heat winners which gave them an automatic berth in the finals. The remaining drivers from each preliminary heat went into the consolation heat for once last shot at making the finals.
“That was frustrating. I broke a motor mount early on and I couldn’t get the car to do anything after that,” said Turlock’s Dave Donelson, whose car was voted “Best in Show.” “We will be back for the consolation round. My guys are pretty darn good.”
The pits are a scene of organized chaos as teams used circular saws, sledge hammers, crow bars and acetylene torches to make emergency repairs.
Only two gals were entered in this year’s event including Stockton’s Kathy Reyes, who earned second place in the first heat.
“A lot of girls run one or two derbies and then fade out, but I have been doing this for 15 years. Not every girl can stick it out. I have been in some wars,” said Reyes. “My dad (Joe Reyes) has been at this for 40 years and I just followed him.”
The hits were even harder in Heat No. 2, which consisted of mostly veteran drivers including two of the four legendary Holt brothers, of Modesto, all of whom have won the prestigious Stanislaus Fair championship in the past.
“That was a rough one. My brother’s car is whipped up bad, but mine came out okay,” said Brian Holt, the defending champion who is competing against his son Nathan this year. “It’s fun to compete against him. If we are in the final together we will go after it for sure.”
The 23 cars entered in this year’s event was the smallest car count in recent memory. Only a few years ago the count was near 50 and cars were even turned away.
“The economy has hurt and also the lack of big, heavy cars from the 1970s. It’s hard to find them now,” explained Howard Knapp of Turlock, one of the many Lion’s Club volunteers working the event. “We need to keep it going because all of the money we make goes right back to the community.”
Knapp also mentioned that officials are looking at various ways to increase the car count including moving the event to a weekend date to allow competitors more travel and preparation time.
When the 10-heat event qualifiers and the five survivors from the consolation bracket met in the arena for final showdown in the grand finale, the hitting was even more frenzied and furious.
When the final horn sounded only the two cars of Reyes and Westley’s Jason Yamamoto were still moving among the metal debris littering the arena.
Following a 10-minute wait, the judges tabulated their ballots and Modesto’s Guy Mullins was declared the winner while Hilmar’s Kurtis Van Foeken, Kathy Reyes, Yamamoto and Brian Holt rounded out the top five.
“It was exciting and a lot of fun out there,” said Mullins, smiling. “We had a great time with a lot of hard hitting.”