There is a class of people who come together once a year in the backwoods of Wisconsin to celebrate the three core tenets of their way of life. First, that the best gas mileage can only be attained when ninety-five percent of one’s vehicle is made up of iron oxide. Second, the greatest, nay the only malted beverage fit for human consumption looks approximately the same at the moment of consumption as it will at the…erm…moment of discharge. And third, the path to universal enlightenment begins with the ceremonial adoption of the holy hairstyle – most often referred to as “the mullet.”
As for the celebration itself, it begins at the county fair amidst the jubilant bantering and cooking of anything within arm’s reach that will fit in an industrial fryer. As for where it ends, the restroom or the arrival of the county health inspector might seem like the obvious answer. However, the event’s climax actually occurs in yon outdoor arena where the crash and roar of automobiles locked in mortal combat nearly equals the gastrointestinal battle between deep fried cheese curds and one’s intestinal track.
Having set the scene, let it be known that one mosquito ridden summer night I, with my pasty skin and English degree, found myself at ye olde demo derby where I watched vehicles in better repair than the ones in the parking lot gently nudge each other at speeds approaching three miles per hour.
Much to my surprise, there was some hard to define cathartic pleasure to be had in the proceedings. My theory is that most of the models, makes, and years competing had, at one point or another, cut me off in traffic; thus, it was good to see them finally get their comeuppance.
However, there was an unnecessary cap to the enjoyment gleaned from the proceedings as a result of the event announcer, who talked far too much and sounded suspiciously similar to Jed Clampett. Jed, it seems, had never seen one of ‘dem ‘dere horseless carriages before the night of the destruction derby. As a result, he managed the nigh impossible feat of making John Madden appear insightful. To give you an idea, some of our announcer’s more brilliant quips included the following:
“Look at all the bumpers!” (Well, they all started with two, and it does seem they are making heavy use of them.)
“That one car sure is smoking!” (I haven’t been able to see the arena for fifteen minutes, and now you opt to point out one of the vehicles is in the process of boring a hole the size of Kentucky into the upper atmosphere. You, sir, are a visionary.)
And then there’s my personal favorite:
“Fire! Fire!” (Let’s review. We’re seated in a semi-circle around an arena about half the size of a football field. Within said arena, there are nearly two dozen locomotive devices made out of steel, powered by flammable liquids, and hell bent on each other’s destruction. That in mind, it seems the eight foot pillar of orange combined with the aggressive intervention of the in-house fire department is a fairly good indicator that number thirty-six is indeed on fire. But thank you for your spastic verbal warning nonetheless.)
Speaking of number thirty-six, something needs to be said about one’s choice of a chariot in this modern Circus Maximus. As number thirty-six discovered, it is generally best to ask oneself a few questions before selecting a rolling coffin. For simplicity, I think we can reduce those questions to:
“Is this car easily damaged?”
“Is this car able to damage other cars?”
“Is this car prone to fiery eruption?”
Obviously, it is hard to find any one brand of automobile that fulfills all of the above criteria. For example, there is little difference between an Oldsmobile and an M1 Abrams tank; thus, it gets a resounding two thumbs up in regards to questions one and two. Unfortunately, if one has ever experienced the plush cockpit of an Olds, one should be painfully aware that it is akin to being transported in a mobile pile of kindling. In short, the Olds fails the smoke test. Simultaneously, Buicks are not generally renowned for their heartiness in situations involving head-on collision. However, in my experience, there is absolutely no way to light a Buick on fire. Trust me. I’ve tried, and I was never able to collect the insurance money.
Of course, there are vehicles that in no way satisfy the requirements for a derby car, but people will enter them anyway.
I’m not entirely certain if the person who entered the Ford Festiva was considerably dumber than the average fifth grader or if they had, if I might be frank and a touch crude, a seriously impressive pair. Sadly, I’m inclined to believe the latter, as midway through the round it became apparent there was a real chance the Festiva was going to win. In regards to how this was possible, I think it had something to do with the fact that the Ford Festiva is the only American-made car that can, when traffic situations merit, be portaged through busy intersections. Obviously, given its lack of heft, it couldn’t damage anyone, and plainly it would burn in a pinch. Yet whenever anything would hit the Festiva, some bizarre alchemy of Newton’s laws resulted in it being pushed around but not otherwise harmed.
Perhaps the most interesting result of the Festiva battle came in the form of the Jed’s singular insightful comment of the evening: “That Festiva gets forty miles to the gallon and has a five gallon tank. You know how long we’re gonna be here?”
I hate it when you’re right, Jed.