Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Derby’s a gas

Citizen Staff Writer

Incessant questions can keep us writhing awake at night.

Like who invented the bobblehead doll, what pillow stuffing is made of or why people enjoy a demolition derby.

Prior to the derby Saturday at the Pima County Fair, the closest I’d been to one was brutally backing into the washing machine my parents left at the end of the driveway for the trash man.

I steered clear of derbies because I thought they’d be dumb. Real dumb. Worse, even, than the fourth season of “Mork and Mindy” when the couple gave birth to Jonathan Winters.

I was wrong.

Nothing could be dumber than Jonathan Winters hatching out of an egg.

And the derby was actually a gas, excuse the pun.

“It’s totally fun,” said Jim Wilson, 47, driver of car No. 77 Saturday. He’s driven in more than 40 derbies in the past 15 years. “Where else can you legally destroy a car like this?”

Wilson paid the $25 entrance fee and spent about $75 outfitting his 1976 Oldsmobile to fit derby specifications.

The last car moving got $1,000. Wilson’s was smashed up and stagnant about halfway through.

While the derby itself seemed to have no rules, with cars careening about with the sole goal of ramming into and disabling each other, a lengthy list of regulations had to be followed to enter the event.

Gas tanks had to be ripped out of their precarious side positions and reinstalled where the back seat used to be.

Windshields and all other glass had to be removed.

Drivers had to wear seat belts.

Most of these rules made obvious sense, though one still stymies. Nobody was allowed to enter a hearse.

Perhaps it would be an ill omen.

I could find no deaths reported from past derbies, though there was plenty of destruction.

“You can’t take road rage out on the highway anymore; you get arrested,” said bystander Clay Heffner, clad in a biker vest and bandanna, as if arrests were previously not made for road rage.

“The derby is good, clean fun.”

With mud globs flying and the sickly scent of gas fumes wafting through the air, I’d argue with the clean part. But I won’t argue with the fun.

Still others say derbies serve an even deeper purpose.

“It’s a kind of release,” said Chad Morris, 24, who couldn’t make it Saturday but has driven in past derbies.

More than just an automotive thrill circus, he said, the derbies are cathartic.

They get rid of anger, anxiety, frustration – not to mention any junker that’s just sitting around the yard.

Just throw in an engine and make a few adjustments, and you’re set to clang and bang into a state of bliss.

Three theories outline the history of derbies, which revved into existence in the 1950s.

One says they originated in Long Island, N.Y. Anyone who has seen New York drivers may readily agree.

Another puts the birth of derbies in Hales Corner, Wis., not far from Milwaukee. Anyone who has seen the “Happy Days” episodes where derby contestant Fonzie becomes victim of the Mallachi brothers’ “Mallachi Crunch,” may agree with this one.

The third theory purports that demolition derbies evolved organically in an unnamed town in Ohio. A car crash at an intersection turned into a free-for-all with a screeching, gawking crowd, and now Ohio is one of the demolition derby capitals of the world.

Any or none of these theories may be true, as may another myth on how to use a demolition derby move to evade the cops.

If a police car is stopped behind someone, the driver in front can throw his car in reverse and blast backwards into the cruiser, according to a post on the urban legend site Snopes.com.

This deploys the police airbags and fully stops the cop, leaving the driver free to flee.

This is good to know. Now we can almost sleep at night. As long as we figure out who invented the bobblehead doll and what makes up pillow stuffing.

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter whose new goal is to drive in a demolition derby. Listen to a preview of her column at 8:10 a.m. Thursdays on KLPX 96.1 FM.

Listen to her webcast 4 p.m. Fridays at www.party934.com.

E-mail rynski@tucsoncitizen.com

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