Brian Holt, of Oakdale, survived a grueling final round battle to earn the victory and a record $6,000 purse in the 46th Annual Stanislaus County Fair Demolition Derby in front of the packed grandstands inside the Food Maxx Arena on Monday night.
Always one of the most popular events at the fair, the event was the first of two nights of derby competition put on by the Turlock Lions Club with the proceeds once again funding a variety of worthy local charities.
Following the traditional opening parade of cars, the 27 entries were split into three groups of nine for the preliminary heats. The top five cars from each group advanced directly to the finals along with five cars from the last chance heat for the cars that failed to make it out of the first round. Drivers are judged by the amount of hits they inflict, the severity of the hits and their ability to keep their car active to the conclusion of the round.
Typically, drivers try to save their cars as much as possible in the heats, but the second heat was especially furious as several veteran drivers took turns pounding on each other. The judges were so impressed that they advanced six of the nine cars from the second heat directly to the finals.
“There were a lot of good guys that have all done this multiple times so yeah, that was a tough heat,” said Turlock’s Fast Freddie Neto, a 30-year derby veteran. “You would like to have a good car going into the finals, but to be honest, of all the cars here ours is probably one of the weakest links. I feel like I am going to a gun fight with a butter knife.”
As a local county band entertained the crowd, drivers and their teams spent the 20 minute break before the finals delicately repairing their cars with an arsenal of sledge hammers, blow torches and portable metal band saws. The resulting grinding, showers of sparks and billowing plumes of smoke caused the pits to resemble a scene from a Mad Max movie.
Former two-time fair derby champion Doug Holt, of Oakdale, also advanced to the finals with a relatively unscathed car, one of four entries the Holt family had competing this year.
“You have to be strategic and smart. There is no money in the heats so you want to stay busy, but not do those killer hits that can destroy your car. You want to inflict some damage on others with the least amount of damage on your car,” explained Holt. “We have our whole group in the finals so the first half we will kind of feel it out and see who is running good. And then in the last half it will be balls to the walls!”
A total of 20 cars rumbled and limped into the arena for the final showdown, including four cars that somehow survived out of the last chance heat. With the crowd cheering on every stinging hit, the arena quickly became enveloped in a haze of smoke and dust soon after the horn sounded to begin the round.
The finale lasted about 25 hard hitting minutes as the intensity ratchetted up considerably from the heats with several cars charging at full speed across the arena to inflict devastating hits and several cars got semi airborne following crunching blows. The final was red-flagged to a stop on a couple of occasions to extricate drivers or clean up dangerous items, such as drive shafts, that soon littered the track.
Ultimately, only the three cars Doug Holt, his brother Brian Holt, and Turlock’s Mark Cabral were still moving, albeit not very well, when officials dropped the checkered flag to end the competition.
As the judges tabulated their ballots, drivers congregated in the center of the arena to congratulate each other and supervise the wreckers that were busy hauling off their mangled cars back to the pits.
“Awesome derby tonight. The Turlock fair is always a hard hitting derby,” Cabral said as he surveyed the extensive damage to his car. “The Holt gang are always rough competition. They build tough cars and they always bring their ‘A’ game.”
After a short delay Brian Holt was announced as the winner while Cabral, Doug Holt, Westley’s Jason Yamamoto and Tucker Tarap, of Ceres, completed the top five.
“This was a really tough one. We tore the car up bad,” said Holt, who collected his fourth career win at the fair. “This derby is one of the toughest in all of California bar none. So this is special.”