Engines roared and cars collided Saturday during the Destruction Derby at the Sonoma County Fair, delighting a sold-out crowd that packed Chris Beck Arena for an evening of metal-twisting action.
Ashley Gruetter jumped up from her seat in the grandstands to yell approval of the carnage before her. The Santa Rosa woman picked the derby to celebrate her 28th birthday along with a group of friends she brought with her.
“It’s extremely trashy,” she said of the event. “In the best kind of way.”
The crowd erupted when Ed Riley’s 1974 Cadillac blew a radiator hose in the first heat, sending white smoke pouring from the engine. The Lakeport man won the heat despite the damage.
Riley said prior to taking the muddy oval that he’s never more at peace than when he’s behind the wheel of a car during a demolition derby.
“Anger management,” said his wife, Tia Everett.
The event also appeared to be cathartic for spectators, who shook the grandstands by stomping their feet while yelling their lungs out. Perhaps demolition derbies are an antidote to the pent-up rage many feel on their everyday commutes.
“It’s kinda sad,” Pat Richardson said of the satisfaction she feels watching drivers plow into one another. “Really, we’re normal people.”
Prior to the start of the event, Alfredo Macias with Moondog Motorsports gathered drivers along pit row to go over the rules of the competition. They included no tag-teaming competitors.
“We’re not here to hurt people. We’re here to have fun,” Macias said.
His admonishment was met with skepticism from Riley, who told Macias “there isn’t a driver here who doesn’t want to roll someone over.”
Craig Chandler laid bare his state of mind driving a 1963 green Ford Galaxy that had the word “Fury” spray-painted on the sides. Affixed to the top of the car was a replica machine gun.
Chandler, a Healdsburg native who recently moved to Montana, described the chaos of a demolition derby as throwing “rocks in a blender.” The veteran driver expressed confidence in his ability to slow the action down. But his evening ended early when another driver pushed his Galaxy up a dirt berm and he couldn’t get the car to reverse.
“It’s a small car,” he said back on pit row, where other drivers worked on their damaged vehicles to try and get them ready for the main event.
One driver worked feverishly to extinguish a fire in his car’s engine compartment. Another flattened himself beneath his car to work on the rear axle.
Soon they were back on the oval, smashing into one another before an adoring crowd.
When it was all done, Bryan Shadinger of Arbuckle stood atop the podium, followed by Riley, who earned second place.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.