A blazing orange sun illuminated Fairgrounds Speedway Saturday night as several hundred fans eagerly awaited the start of this year’s demolition derby.
An annual staple of the Montezuma County Fair, the derby took place on the 144th anniversary of Colorado’s statehood and featured all the underpinnings that have made it a fan favorite, including greasy fair food, patriotic shirts and hats and colorful characters who keep small-town culture alive.
This year’s derby moved political issues and current events to the forefront as several vehicles sported Trump 2020 flags and Confederate insignias.
At the end of the day, this year’s derby was all about carnage as drivers doled out punishment and smashed one another’s rigs, eliciting cheers from excited fans.
“This year was the best run ever,” one fan exclaimed while surveying several smashed cars after the event. “These (drivers) put on a great show.”
Following are highlights that will ensure this year’s derby will be remembered for years to come.
Big messages: drivers and carsWhile many of the memorable moments of the derby were the collisions in the arena, political statements made by competitors and fans also were unforgettable.
Chief among them was one delivered by Mancos resident Ted Neergaard, a longtime derby veteran who drove into the arena in a 1973 Plymouth Fury that was painted to resemble a Confederate flag. It also bore “Trump 2020” and “This ain’t NASCAR” on its back.
“Last year, I didn’t even paint my car, I just put numbers on it and called it good,” said Neergaard. “This year, I was like, ‘We need to (paint) a Confederate flag with all the things going on. People need to know that history is out there. We don’t need to tear it all down and burn it, we need to learn from it.”
Also delivering a clear political message was Cortez driver Jason Baskett, who spoke briefly about his support for President Donald Trump and his distrust of the mainstream media before explaining the “Stop BLM” message painted on his 1979 Ford Granada.
“The message on my car stands for ‘Stop Black Lives Matter,’” said Baskett, who brought fans to their feet by throwing a back flip off his car after a preliminary heat. Honestly, I don’t like Black Lives Matter. As far as I’m concerned, all lives matter. At the end of the day, we all bleed red.”
More subtle political messages, including numerous “Make America Great Again” hats and “Trump 2020” T-shirts were visible throughout the event.
Drivers thankful for the eventIn addition to sharing their thoughts on some of the day’s hot-button political issues, several drivers thanked Montezuma County and fair organizers for hosting this year’s derby event in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down many sporting events across the nation.
“It’s definitely a good stress reliever with all the things going on,” Neergaard said. “Everybody that’s here is excited to be here. This is the only derby event in the whole area. The nearest derby that I’m aware of is 800 miles away in Kansas.”
Durango driver Darrell Cordary expressed dissatisfaction with La Plata County’s decision to cancel its derby.
“We didn’t think we were going to have a derby after Durango got canceled,” Cordary said. “It’s actually real good that we had one here. It’s time to play.”
Event organizer Brian Thornbrugh emphasized his belief that this year’s event was safe and vital to the community.
“Where we live, there aren’t a lot of cases, and most of the deaths in Colorado are along the I-25 corridor,” Thornbrugh said. “It’s good for people to get outside if they want to, and there is room to distance at this year’s event. Believe me, I don’t want people to die, but also, we’re dying since the moment that we are born.”
Main event caps off nightSome of the most memorable moments of this year’s event were delivered during a scintillating main event that featured some of the hardest hits in the event’s history.
Among the drivers competing in the five-car main event were Neergaard, Cordary, Baskett and Durango driver Paul Krueger, who entered the arena hoping to claim a portion of prize money that included $2,000 from the Montezuma County Fair Board and half the pit passes and entry fees.
With the sun casting an orange sheen over misty clouds and a full moon rising overhead, each of the five cars doled out crushing blows while racing across a dry track that allowed the cars to maintain outstanding traction.
As the familiar voice of local radio DJ and longtime derby announcer Ray McDonnell permeated the arena, radiator smoke, engine exhaust, flames out of the engine of Krueger’s car, and the smell of burned rubber rose into the air.
After crushing blows, only Neergaard’s 1973 Plymouth Fury and Cordary’s 1970 Buick Electra remained functional. Neergaard’s hood was smashed in to the point that it appeared the engine would be on his lap, and Cordary’s steering was nonfunctional.
In the end though, it was Cordary’s Electra that refused to die as he repeatedly stopped in front of the crowd and revved his engine while excited fans stood and cheered.
“I got the crowd going wild. Everybody was standing up, gotta love it,” the Durango driver said. “I lost steering about the third hit, and I just had forward and backward until someone would turn me into another car. Neergaard kept coming, but my car never died the entire time. It was a blast.”
Joining Cordary in the winner’s circle at this year’s derby event was Jamie Patton, who won a “tough truck competition,” which required vehicles to race around a track and clear several jumps. Durango’s Ken Fusco emerged victorious in the truck derby.