JOHN DAY - The driver revs up the engine. Exhaust spews from the tailpipe as the engine roars. The horn sounds and the driver slams the car into reverse, hammers the accelerator to the floor, and steers toward one of the other cars. With a gut wrenching crash, the cars slam together in a muddled heap. Then, as quickly as possible, the cars shoot outwards, and then back, slamming into each other repeatedly. Finally, there is only one car left, the others sitting helplessly in the arena, unable to move.
Why do the drivers participate in a demolition derby?
"It's something to do," Steve Patterson said. "It's a chance to destroy something and get away with it and have fun doing it."
Patterson has participated in all but four of the past 16 demolition derbies, an annual sporting event in Grant County, sponsored by the Whiskey Gulch Gang, in which drivers smash their cars into one another until there is only one car left moving.
This year, the derby will be held at 7 p.m., Saturday, July 23, at the Grant County Fairgrounds. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for kids 12 and under, and children 6 and under get in free.
"It's just a lot of fun," Bill Joseph said. "Where else do you get a chance to do something like that when you don't have to worry about the insurance?"
Joseph, who owns a disc jockey business, 1/2 Fast Productions, and works for Pepsi Cola 7Up of Grant County, has competed in the demolition derby for the past two years, but won't be competing this year because of previous plans.
Patterson, a 12-year veteran of the demolition derby, has never won. The closest that he came to winning was in Baker City a few years ago, where he took home second place.
There are several derbies held throughout Oregon, which form a sort of circuit, and some drivers participate in the circuit. There is only one derby held in Grant County each year, with anywhere from 20 to 35 drivers participating.
Some drivers spend a lot of money to get their cars prepped for the derby, but not Patterson.
"I try to do it on my own," Patterson said.
He changes the oil and transmission fluid in every car that he buys. While some drivers think that this is a waste of time and money, Patterson thinks that it helps him stay in the competition longer. He also removes the glass from every window, and installs a grater bar on the drivers door, which helps to prevent the door from being caved in, should it be hit. He also strips the engine down to the bare necessities, and paints it.
"If you can get a car that'll go two derbies, you're doing pretty good," he said.
Most of the cars that are purchased for the demolition derby are bought from private sellers. The point is to try to find the best, cheapest car that will run the longest, but won't cost you a ton of money. The older a car is, the better. Older cars were built more solidly than newer cars, derby drivers say, and therefore are able to stand up better to the beating to some extent. Patterson has had only one car that has gone more than two derbies.
Some drivers participate because of the chance to win some money, but most do it because it's fun.
"When it quits being fun, I'll quit doing it," Patterson said.