I had an absolute blast over the weekend at the Arnprior fair grounds, as I attended the Fall Brawl dem0lition derby. I had actually just watched Grandview U.S.A., a silly movie from the 80s (just re-released on DVD yesterday, you demolition derby fans!) that had little to recommend it other than Jamie Lee Curtis’ young naked boobs and Patrick Swayze’s powermullet. See, Swayze is the superstar driver at the local demolition derby, and Curtis is the chick who runs the derby, cause that’s what her dead father would have wanted, and…I digress. Good boob scene, anyway.
I had laughed at the movie though because I thought it was implausible. I thought that demolition derbies were just people who showed up with old cars they didn’t care about any more, smashed them into each other in a ring, and then left their cars behind and went home. I didn’t realize they were actually competitive, well-attended events with prize money and fans and people who put a lot of time and effort into the cars! People care about demolition derbies!
Many of those people – more than 1,000, at least – live in Arnprior, and came out to see the Fall Brawl. Generous people, who put more than $500 bucks in a jug I took around the track to raise money for the Doc and Woody Fund for the operating rooms at CHEO. I hadn’t heard why I was taking the jug around, or what was happening, I just heard my name on the speaker and someone handed me the jug. It turns out it had something to do with a “powderpuff derby”, which was apparently me and several women. It consisted of everyone putting on cardboard boxes, and then the women knocked me over and sat on me. I’m still not convinced I ever understood what was going on there. But it raised $500 bucks! Somehow!
I had a great time walking around looking at the other derby cars and meeting the other drivers. There was a really nice guy from Quebec whose car said “fight woman cancer”. He gave me $5 right away when he found out I was doing this for CHEO, and he ended up in my heat with “CHEZ 106″ and “CHEO” emblazoned on the hood of his car. I think he may have actually gone back and spray-painted it on in the two intervening hours. Very cool.
Other cars had great stuff painted on them. Some professional stencils, other sponsors painted on with a paint brush, with occasionally accurate spelling. My favourites were two guys who had painted their phone numbers on their cars. One guy’s car said “Mr. Single”. They were my favourites because at first I thought – can that possibly work? And then I thought, two of them have done this. That means that somewhere, sometime, it actually DID work! For someone! Then I pictured the girls in the crowd with their cell phones out…maybe waiting there, thumb over the “send” button, waiting to see if the guy with the phone number car won his heat…that would mean he’d have an extra $100 and a trophy, which might make for a good date…
Then it was time for the real derby – there are rules and stuff! You can’t smash someone’s drivers’ side door. I guess that’s understandable, to avoid injuries. You are supposed to back into people, because that saves your car, and hitting them head-on can damage your engine. And you’re supposed to do a courtesy pass before starting to smash people. I guess that’s about it. Oh, you can’t gang up, and you can’t flip someone over intentionally. I think everything else goes.
Many people approached me to see if I was nervous. I wasn’t – I’ve crashed many a car in my life, and doing so on purpose couldn’t be that much different. You drive around. You smash stuff. How hard can that be? Also, I thought that the car the guys at Ed’s Auto Parts had built me was pretty much a tank, and few bad things could happen to me in that monster. I suspect the people asking me if I was nervous were doing so in order to make me nervous when I actually got in there – a lot of gamesmanship at these derbies, apparently – and there is more prize money at the Fall Brawl than at most of these things.
I watched some of the other heats, to see how people did it, and saw a couple of fires and a flip-over and a few violations and disqualifications. In the end though, it just looked like a lot of cars smashing into each other. I can do that. So I wasn’t nervous at all when I got in there. My two concerns were being able to drive with both feet instead of just my right foot, which was an unusual feeling, and being able to jam the car into reverse instead of park, which happened by accident quite often.
It began, and I drove around and smashed things. Driving backwards was hard, so I went for a few head-on collisions instead. After all, I was driving a monster Crown Vic ex-police car. I could survive a head-on smash or two. I got one guy pretty good, backed over another guy’s hood, then slowly drifted into the wall as my engine stopped. I figured I was out of it until Ed walked up on the sideline and told me I was stupid and I just had to press “start” again and the engine would catch. Turns out he was right, and thirty seconds later, after driving into the wall a couple of times and then putting it into park and then finally finding reverse, I was back in it.
I ended up finishing second in my heat. Thanks mostly, I think, to the badass car I had and the fact that I had taken a minute’s break by not being able to figure out the engine. At the end, I was pushed up against the wall by the eventual winner, and while trying to restart again and again, he was backing up and smashing into my car again and again. Two of my wheels ended up suspended on the wall, and I could no longer move, so I conceded. Then a backhoe came into the ring, pushed me off the wall and I drove out.
The car was still in great shape, apparently, although the wheels looked bent strangely to me. I could have driven again in the “grudge match”, which could have put me into the final, but I had to go – I had been there since 11:00, and it was now close to 6:00 in the afternoon. I expect with the grudge match, the engine blow-up event, the other heats and the finals the Fall Brawl probably went on until at least 9:00.
Big thanks to everyone from Ed’s Auto Parts – Ed, who organized the whole event and helped me a great deal – Richard, who helped build the car and worked on it so hard he ended up not being able to get his own ready in time for the event – Keith, who seemed pretty laid-back and good-natured about the whole thing, and was maybe the only person there who wasn’t constantly harping on how nervous I should be – and George, who was at his very first derby also, and reminded me of the coach from Bull Durham, when he was just observing the carnage and shaking his head at the silliness of it all. Great bunch of guys, and great people in Arnprior – when I left, they presented me with a cheque for the Doc and Woody Fund for $1,818.05, a huge donation from a great crowd. Thanks, Arnprior!