Nathan Holt, 21 of Modesto, smashed and bashed his way to victory in Monday night’s “Traditional Turmoil” Demolition Derby, presented by the Turlock Lions Club, in the Food Maxx Arena at the Stanislaus County Fair.
Much like the Unser moniker at Indianapolis, the Holt family name has become legendary at the derby. Nathan’s father Brian along with his uncles Doug, Brandon and David, have all previously won the derby, which is considered one of the biggest and most prestigious events in the state.
The Holts flexed their muscle in the first of the night’s two preliminary heats as Nathan, Brandon and Doug swept the top three positions on the judges' scorecards. Turlock’s Fast Freddie Neto finished the nine car heat in fourth to capture the last automatic transfer spot into the finals.
“It was definably rough out there, but we were able to handle ourselves pretty well,” said Nathan Holt as his crew pounded on the car with sledge hammers in preparation for the finals back in the pit area. “Our biggest competition in the finals will probably be each other. We will take it easy until the end and then it is every man for himself.”
The remaining eight cars went at it in heat #2 and, despite flying solo, Brian Holt was able to take the top spot ahead of Turlock’s Mark Cabral, Stockton’s Joe Reyes and Anthony Hicks of Turlock.
“It was a good heat and things went pretty well. Both tie rods were bent and the frame was bent in the back, but we got it fixed and we are ready to go and try it again,” said Cabral, a 30-year derby veteran. “We are going to try and stay clean early and then go for it at the end.”
Seven of the nine cars that failed to qualify in the opening heats were able to limp back into the arena for the consolation round to fill the last four berths in the final. Lea survived to win the heat and transfer to the final along with Hilmar’s Kurtis Van Foeken, Oakdale’s John Hearther and Turlock’s Ruben Shackelford.
The 17 cars entered in this year’s event was the lowest car count in recent memory. Only a few years ago the count was near 50 and cars were even turned away.
“The down economy, a shortage of big, heavy cars from the 1970s and the value of scrap metal have all contributed to a smaller field,” explained Carl Mickelson, who has directed the derby for the Turlock Lions Club for the last 19 years. “The event used to be limited to Stanislaus County residents only, but we have opened it up to everyone and we need to get the word out next year.”
With everything on the line, including a $3,000 purse to the winner, the hitting in the grand finale was even more frenzied and furious. Enough car parts littered the field to stock a Pick ‘N Pull when the final horn blared out
After a tense 10 minute wait for the judges to tabulate their ballots, Nathan Holt was declared the winner.
“It is a blast when you get to hit your family,” said the new champion. “It feels great to keep the family reign going here.”
In a near Holt sweep, Brian Holt, Brandon Holt, Van Foeken and Doug Holt rounded out the top five.
“I am really happy for him,” said Brian Holt with a smile, “I wish they had let it go a couple more minutes though. Me and him were just getting ready to really go at it with each other.”