Demolition derby ends Sonoma County Fair with a bang

Sitting in the driver’s seat of a 1990 Volvo on Sunday afternoon, Jonathan Rice readied himself for the impending chaos.

The 33-year-old Santa Rosa man readjusted a neck brace that sat tightly above his shoulders. He then reached for a yellow helmet sitting on the dashboard of the Volvo, a windowless car painted with yellow and black faces and other random drawings. Doll heads were affixed to the rooftop of the car, aptly named “The Head Hunter.”

“I feel like I’m going to win,” said Rice, an experienced drag racer who was participating in Sonoma County Fair’s Destruction Derby for the first time Sunday. “Well, that’s how I feel every time.”

Rice and the other drivers in the derby were met with a sold-out crowd at the 2,900-seat Chris Beck Arena on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. The derby capped the 11-day fair.

“It’s a right of passage taking your kid to watch the demolition derby at the county fair,” said Chelsea Kessler, CEO of WGAS Motorsports, the company that puts on the derby.

Among the crowd was Wayne Smith, 61, of Santa Rosa. He watched demolition derbies on TV as a child. Sunday’s event was his fourth time in recent years attending the derby at the fair.

“It was sort of a dream as a kid, that one day I would see it in person,” Smith said. “It’s the excitement of the crowds that you get caught up in.”

Sunday’s demolition derby was a first for Gerardo Martinez of Santa Rosa, who decided to attended the event with his wife and three children after a pair of strangers offered them some free tickets.

“I’m not sure what to expect other than having fun and enjoying the show,” Martinez said before the event.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or

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