Monday, September 7, 2015

Gladiator Combat at the Three County Fair

Demolition Derby.  It’s the closest you can get to blood sport in the politically correct northeast, and it’s it right here at home.  Kill-crazed drivers swarm the field in battered wrecks, bent on annihilation of their fellows. The last car rolling wins.  Local farmers and merchants encourage their sons and daughters to compete, for family honor.  They find themselves up against the spawn of criminals and outlaws, and the nature of the victor is always in doubt.

Finally the day comes for the Derby - the affair that will settle everything.  Trucks converge on the fairgrounds with a fleet of cars, and the drivers and their supporters trickle in through the afternoon.  The get read backstage as the field is readied by dragster tractor pulls and clowns.

Everyone knows what's coming next.  Meanwhile, the sun beats down and the teams other among their cars.  Some hope, others wish, and a few prepare . . .

There was a time when drivers fortified themselves for the combat with whisky.  Those that do so today, do it in secret.  The only consumable liquids you'll see backfield are water and sweet drinks.  

The situation is somewhat different for the fans, who have a beer emporium right across from the entrance to the grandstands.  And there's food and drink for the kids everywhere you look.  This is, after all, a country fair.

The grandstand seating sold out, with thousands of fans filling the stands, roaring louder with every new crash.  Fun as that sounds, the best place to be is the box seats. There you are up close and personal, like the ringside seats in a boxing match.  

Families put their kids out front, like bait for the drivers, where they shake their little arms and yell.  By the end of the night the lucky ones are spattered with dirt from the field mixed with antifreeze and transmission fluid – the blood of beasts sacrificed on the field.  All of them have a story to tell, and a few have souvenirs – pieces of car that fly into the seats when car hits the concrete barriers with particular emphasis.

Nothing stands between the fans and carnage but a few referees and some cabled concrete barriers.

At Northampton they race on the old horse track, where the grandstands saw countless fillies running under the Labor Day Weekend sun, and the betting windows did a brisk business below.  The betting is closed now, but when the beer if flowing and the cars are out there butting heads hard, you want to a pick favorite, and anything can happen . . .

As day turns to dusk the carnage intensifies.  Drivers are shrouded in smoke and fog of their own making and the track is marked with the blood of the four-wheeled beasts.  Firemen stand ready, but mostly the competitors work things out among themselves.

The spectacle starts with little cars and ends with the big bruiser V8s - Deathmobiles like the one made famous in the movie Animal House.  When it's all over the survivors stand atop their cars as trucks haul away the bits of wreckage.

It’s an American tradition for sure, like deep fried Twinkies and sweet sausage grinders.

Words and pictures (c) 2015 John Elder Robison