Demolition Derby

The setting of our first Demolition Derby was ideal. Loudoun County Fair began yesterday and the site looked pristine. Set in the rolling piedmont, the dusk shadowed the hills which surrounded the fairgrounds.

Even though we’ve attended plenty of State Fairs (having lived in both Minnesota and Illinois in the middle of robust agribusiness), we had never been to such a quintessential piece of Americana as this event.

The temperature had dropped after a good rainstorm a few days ago, and it was a pleasure to be able to spend time outdoors without sweltering.

We loaded up on kettle corn, french fries and a corn dog, then found a front row spot on the grass.

The announcer told the crowd about the patriotic history of the “Stoney Roberts Demolition Derby” which he proclaimed with great fanfare. He described with relish the changes our country experienced in 1963, the year that birthed this great event. Any ordinary person can enter the derby, with their own car, from which all glass has been removed.

There were two firetrucks on hand, and an ambulance, as well as wreck-clearing trucks. The firefighters and ambulance personnel were all thanked with much (deserved) applause.

We stood and listened to a scratchy recording of the Star-Spangled Banner. Three orange-jump-suited individuals were introduced as the “officials.” One was a fella with a long ponytail and a constant cigarette between his fingers, another was a boy of about 16 who seemed to be quite serious about his responsibilities.

The track was lined with cement barriers, with an opening for the cars to enter, one at a time. This year’s theme was “Nemo” and some of the entrants had taken pains to paint their cars to look like the famous clownfish. We gave them much applause.

Beside us were some small boys who couldn’t wait for the fun to begin. Just in front of us were some hair-clipped girls who kept clapping their hands over their mouths. The patter of the announcer was fun. My favorite line: “Just tell your mother in law you need to run to the store. Then take her car down here to the Stoney Roberts Demolition Derby!”

“We are ready. Ready on the left

Ready on the back

Ready on the right

Ready on the front

and we’ll go in Five Four Three Two One .  .  .  .     AIR HORN!”

The crowd joined in enthusiastically without needing any instruction and I thought to myself: Liturgy.

There were between 4 and 7 cars on the track at a time. They tended to get bunched up. But one would rev up mightily, extricate itself, back up and run into another. Drivers were instructed to avoided the driver’s-side doors, but hit everywhere else. The track had been wet down by those firetrucks, and now mud spun from under the cars’ tires. Bumpers flew off of vehicles. Hoods crumpled. One car was flipped over by another, in a truly exciting display of power.

If the action lagged, the announcer egged them on, saying, “Don’t just sit there, Hit Something!” One of the drivers was a woman, which gave lots of fodder to the announcer. (I found myself idly wondering if I should enter a derby sometime. Lots of great free publicity for the church.)

When a car didn’t move for a certain length of time, it was out of the competition. The officials jumped in with their air horns to proclaim when things were done, although I was a bit mystified as to the finer points.

There were three or four rounds of demolition, with long stretches of wreck-clearing between. Like many spectator sports, demolition derbies are best for patient persons. Preferably with corn dogs.

Walking back to the car, we passed through the animal barns, which are the heart of a county fair. I watched a determined young woman show her dairy goat, a beautiful animal who was the only entry in her class. I petted some goats. I spied a few girls gathered around a girl wearing a crown and a sash. Miss Loudoun County was wearing cowboy boots that reached her mosquito-bitten knees. In the show barn, a couple young people practiced with their cows.

We decided to end the evening with some ice cream. As I waited for mine to be scooped, I noticed a woman leave the swine barn, walking with purpose. She was wearing a denim skirt and had a long braid down her back. Her face was aggressively plain, as if every bit of color had been scrubbed away with a rough washcloth. Following her were three smaller versions of herself, each in their denim skirt and long braid. I wondered idly who decided that God had such a preference for denim?

Then we ate ice cream while admiring the lights of the Midway. Ferris wheel anyone?


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I'm an essayist, memoirist, and Presbyterian pastor. My books are both spiritual memoirs -- "Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land" and "Ruined."