There was a lot of smoke but no fires at this year's Demolition Derby.
The annual event at the La Plata County Fair pits driver against driver in a bone-crunching, metal-twisting fight to the death – the death of the car, that is.
The air reeked of exhaust and radiator fluid as drivers relentlessly smashed into each other. The crowd roared as, one by one, cars were dealt a fatal blow.
Bayfield resident James Heizlman's bright orange 1976 Chrysler Newport, painted to look like the famous General Lee from the “Dukes of Hazzard,” was knocked out of the second preliminary round when its right rear tire fell off. The tire was replaced in time to compete in the consolation round only to fall off again.
After the second preliminary round, Durango resident Bobby Harmon exhibited a unique driving technique to get his car out of the arena. Standing on the hood of the car, he was stretched out, pushing the throttle control with one hand while reaching through the windshield to steer with the other. A volunteer finally ran out to help steer, freeing up one of Harmon's hands.
While 24 cars began this year's derby, only one, a bright pink 1987 Mercury Grand Marquee station wagon driven by Hesperus resident Bryan Hill, emerged victorious. Adorning the car were pink ribbons promoting breast cancer awareness. To make his victory even sweeter, Hill netted an extra $100 by winning the Prettiest Car Award.
“Pink's my trademark color,” Hill said after his victory.
Beyond just liking the color, Hill said the car's paint job also was in honor of his mother-in-law, who died from breast cancer.
While most cars were beyond repair by the end of the copmpetition, Hill's station wagon sustained only minor damage.
“That pink car is one tough station wagon,” the announcer said during the second preliminary round. “He's probably going to drive it to work on Monday.”
In fact, while many of the cars were headed to the dump after the competition, Hill is taking his car home to enter it in next year's derby.
Another Mercury Marquee wagon, a 1979 model driven by Keith Martin, was not so lucky. With the roof bulging and the rear resembling an accordion, Martin's car ended the competition about 3 feet shorter than it started.
“I think I won for the most compact car,” he said. “I kind of want to drag it home and put it on my front lawn for a while.”
For Martin, an experienced derby driver, intentionally crashing his car is both fun and a great way to release aggression. And even though he didn't win, Martin's post-derby smile stretched ear to ear.
“Man, it's such a great rush to get out and be able to do that to the back of a car,” he said. “You don't get to do that with just one hit on the freeway. ... It takes a few to get that far.”