JOHN DAY - The smoke rises above the arena, dimming the light from the sun. With each thud and crash of metal on metal the crowd becomes more and more excited.
The 17th Annual Demolition Derby was held Saturday, July 23, at the Grant County Fairgrounds. There were 30 cars entered, five of which were driven by rookies.
The first event was the Texas Barrel Race, with a jackpot prize of $100. The race was won by Mike Westlake, a rookie driver from John Day.
"It was a kick in the ass," Westlake said.
After the barrel race, the contestants and their cars were introduced. Cody Frazier won the Best Looking Car for his 1971 Ford.
After introductions, the crashing and smashing began.
First up were the rookies. This year's other rookies were John Pereira, Jake Pereira, Steve Hueckman and Eric Bush.
Each of the cars lined up facing each other. They were told not to start moving until the log was dropped in front of the gate where they had entered.
All eyes were drawn to the center of the arena, and, as the drivers waited anxiously, the crowd grew silent. There was a dull thud as the log hit the dirt, and the cars roared to life.
The cars smashed into each other, denting metal and scratching paint. It didn't take long for the drivers to smash each other's cars into dented smoking piles of rubble.
The winner of the first heat was Eric Bush of John Day.
After the first heat, trucks were brought out to drag the broken-down cars out of the arena.
As soon as the coast was clear, the arena was once again filled with cars, this time being driven by veteran drivers.
Tyler Nodine, a driver from John Day, was entered into the second heat, but was soon eliminated due to difficulties with his car.
"My car broke down and wouldn't run," Nodine said. "But I'm here to have fun, not to win."
The winner of the second heat was Tom Pfeifer of Prairie City.
The arena was once again cleared of debris, and once more cars trooped in. When the smoke cleared, there was only one car still running.
The winner of the third heat was Pipper Dobson of Burns.
After the third heat, each driver and pit crew were given a chance to get their cars up and running again for the final match of the night. It was to be a free-for-all for ever car that the drivers could get running. The last car standing would be declared the winner.
After nearly all of the cars had been repaired, the drivers again entered the arena.
Rookie Eric Bush took home the first place trophy and $1,500.
"Ron Sevey's car was tough and mean, the pit crew was solid and all in all it was a sweet, spleen-damaging experience," Bush said. "A super thanks to the Whiskey Gulch Gang."
Brady Ellis of Burns received $1,000 for taking home second place, and Steve Patterson of Prairie City took home third place and $500. Winners of the preliminary heats were awarded $250.
Judging by the applause and cheers from the crowd, an estimated 1,500 people in attendance enjoyed the event immensely.
"I think it's awesome and we need more of them," Danny Herrera said.
"It was pretty good," John McLarren said.
Herrera and McLarren both attend Grant Union High School.