The Food Maxx Arena was packed to the rafters in anticipation of an evening of rock’em, sock’em action as the 44th annual demolition derby took center stage at the Stanislaus County Fair on Monday night.
The event was once again put on by the Turlock Lions Club, which uses the proceeds to fund a variety of local charities.
Following the traditional parade of cars, the 30-car field was split into two groups for the preliminary heats with the top 10 from each heat advancing to the finals.
The car count was the biggest in recent years, almost double the 16 cars in last year’s derby, thanks to rule changes which reduced customization and required cars to be more stock. Officials were particularly pleased with the large contingent of rookie drivers looking to take on the seasoned veterans in this year’s derby.
The action was fierce in the opening heat where Turlock’s Zack Quinones was awarded the victory by the panel of three judges, with scoring based on aggressiveness and solid hits.
“I couldn’t be happier. We have a couple of issues to fix, but I think we will be fine,” said Quinones before revealing his plan for the final. “My primarily strategy in the final is to not catch fire.”
The second heat was equally ferocious as 35-year derby veteran Brian “The Undertaker” Holt, of Modesto, survived several hard hits to come away with the win.
“I know which cars to hit and which to not hit, but I have a lot of enemies that want to hit me whether I am winning or not,” explained Holt, a three-time winner of the derby.
Following the heats drivers and their crew members worked feverishly, welding and sawing on their cars, in preparation for the finals. While the remaining teams labored in the pits to put their cars back together, four RVs slowly lumbered into the arena for their rumble.
The capacity crowd was soon on its collective feet as the recreational vehicles quickly thrashed each other to bits, spewing debris all around the arena before brothers Bryce Mathews, of Gridley and Greg Mathews, of Ceres, eventually squared off for top honors
As the crowd cheered in delight, Greg was able to deliver a couple of devastating hits on his brother’s vehicle to win the RV title for the second year in a row.
“When it came down to me and my brother I thought ‘Wow, this will be interesting’ but when he started hitting me with his front end he lost his steering and I knew I had him,” explained Greg as a large crew of volunteers cleaned up the grounds which resembled a trailer park after a tornado.
Among the spectators at the annual RV demo derby was actor Jeff Goldblum (“Jurassic Park,” “Independence Day,” “The Fly”) who was filming a new docuseries on motor homes for National Geographic. The film crew came to Turlock, Fair spokeswoman Adrenna Alkhas said, after having discovered the event has one of the best motor home derbies in the country.
Throughout the evening PA announcer Doug Holt, of Oakdale, a long-time derby participant and former two-time champion, whipped the crowd into a frenzy, thanks no doubt in part by plentiful beer sales during the warm evening.
“I am 47-years-old and I have been involved in derbies since I was 16. I just love this and now to see my nephews involved is amazing,” said Holt, who ironically had to call a halt to driving in derbies after suffering injuries when he was hit by a car. “Announcing is not quite as fun as driving, but it is a good fix for an old man like me who is worn out.”
The 18-car derby finale lasted about 25 hard hitting minutes including two short red flag stoppages to allow firemen to rescue drivers who were stranded in their disabled cars which caught on fire.
As the judges tabulated their ballots, drivers congregated in the center of the arena to congratulate each other and supervise the wreckers hauling off their mangled cars back to the pits.
After a lengthy delay it was announced that 21-year-old Josh Holt, of Modesto, was the 2019 winner, beating out his dad Brian Holt. Rounding out the top five were Westley’s Jason Yamamoto, Oakdale’s Nate Holt and Turlock’s “Fast” Freddie Neto.
“Wow, that was a fast track out there tonight. There were a lot of hard hit and a lot of good drivers,” said Josh, who posted his first win in nine tries at Turlock. “This is this the best thrill ever. My dad has won it and now I finally did it. This is awesome!”
Despite finishing second, dad Brian was ecstatic with the result.
“I tried to take it easy on my boys out there. There are enough guys here already who hate us,” said Brian with a smile. “I am so proud of my boys. To go 1-2-4 is great. And I have already won it enough anyway.”