When Stanislaus County Fair Destruction Derby Promoter Buster Lucas switched the dates of the fan-favorite competition from Monday and Tuesday to Friday and Saturday, he believed the field size would increase.
"We're trying to get more drivers from out of the area," he said. "This makes it easier for people to show up and run their cars. They don't have to go to work the next day."
The fair had just 13 pre-entries for 2012 Destruction Derby, down from 24 in 2011, as of last Friday. Entree fee was $50 per competitor.
"We've been fortunate to have more cars than most places," said Carl Mikkelsen, event director. "Merced had 12 drivers, while Los Banos had six. A lot of people are just not showing up. It will never be like it was. It's just too expensive now."
A decade ago, more than 60 drivers competed in the Fair's Destruction Derby. Over 100 entries were submitted.
"We ran 66 cars one year," Mikkelsen said. "I'm hoping for 20 this year. There's no sense of urgency to enter in advance anymore. Back when I drove in the 1990s, I could get a car for $50 or free. Cars are so expensive today. At a minimum, you pay $300. And you still have to build it. The old days of kicking old windows out is over. It takes a lot of time and money."
Mikkelsen also said potential derby participants are having trouble finding vehicles due to the skyrocketing cost of scrap metal and state's buyback program.
Modesto's E & R Auto Wrecking currently pays between $150 and $160 per ton for scrap automobiles.
"With the economy down, people are trying to get as much as they can for whatever they have," Manager Abraham Orozco said. "It was $220 per ton a month ago."
Motorists have been voluntarily retiring polluting vehicles through the Bureau of Automotive Repair's Consumer Assistance Program. Approved applicants receive a one-time payment.
"The state is buying and crushing cars for the Smog Reduction Program," Mikkelsen said. "They'll give you $1,000 or $1,500."
Fans will file into Food Maxx Arena this Friday and Saturday to witness the sights and sounds of metal mutilation.
The excitement level will still be high despite a decrease in driver participation numbers.
"It sells out no matter what day of the week," said Greg Mathews, a local destruction derby enthusiast, who couldn't compete this year because the schedule change conflicted with his Seventh-day Adventist beliefs."
Added Mikkelsen: "There's fewer people but they'll still put on a show."