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Demo derby helps drive fun

  • Yankee Doodle Days is held each year in July at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont. Photo by Beth Reynolds.

    Yankee Doodle Days is held each year in July at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont. Photo by Beth Reynolds.

  • CHARLEMONT (July 28, 2013) Abigail Perron competes in the kids Pedal-Tractor Pull t Yankee Doodle Days in Charlemeont. She is pulling 25lbs. Yankee Doodle Days is held each year in July at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont. Photo by Beth Reynolds.

    CHARLEMONT (July 28, 2013) Abigail Perron competes in the kids Pedal-Tractor Pull t Yankee Doodle Days in Charlemeont. She is pulling 25lbs. Yankee Doodle Days is held each year in July at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont. Photo by Beth Reynolds.

  • At 2013's Yankee Doodle Days, Landon Richter and his sister Olivia tied for first in the sack race. They were visiting relatives in Northfield. Yankee Doodle Days is held each year in July at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont. <br/>(Recorder file photo)<br/><br/>

    At 2013's Yankee Doodle Days, Landon Richter and his sister Olivia tied for first in the sack race. They were visiting relatives in Northfield. Yankee Doodle Days is held each year in July at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont.
    (Recorder file photo)

  • Yankee Doodle Days is held each year in July at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont. Photo by Beth Reynolds.
  • CHARLEMONT (July 28, 2013) Abigail Perron competes in the kids Pedal-Tractor Pull t Yankee Doodle Days in Charlemeont. She is pulling 25lbs. Yankee Doodle Days is held each year in July at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont. Photo by Beth Reynolds.
  • At 2013's Yankee Doodle Days, Landon Richter and his sister Olivia tied for first in the sack race. They were visiting relatives in Northfield. Yankee Doodle Days is held each year in July at the Charlemont Fairgrounds in Charlemont. <br/>(Recorder file photo)<br/><br/>

CHARLEMONT — Battered onions in hot oil, cotton candy, loud music and the reassuring screech and crunch of rending metal: the fair season is under way.

Yankee Doodle Days returned to the Charlemont Fairgrounds this weekend for a Friday evening and two full days of festivities — a varied schedule of attractions ending Sunday with the demolition derby.

Sunday afternoon a brief rain shower sent some fair-goers for the exits, but most stayed and some arrived, sheltering under the dance pavilion or ignoring the weather to save seats on the open-air bleachers, for what is for many the main attraction.

Pam Lefaver and Chad McLaughlin visited the fair from North Adams specifically for the demolition derby.

“Because it looks like they’re having a lot of fun,” said Lefaver, explaining the draw to watching a half dozen drivers smash used cars into one another in the cement-lined mud rink.

Robert Smith, 32, of Colrain, drove in the first round.

“It’s controlled road rage,” Smith said. “It’s great.”

Smith said he has been driving for 17 or 18 years, following in his father’s footsteps. Smith’s gutted Mercury Tracer, year unknown, was one of the two cars prepared for the event by himself and friends as Rambutt Racing.

For anyone interested in the experience without the time and expense, the team will be raffling off a derby car at the Three County Fair in Northampton to benefit the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office’s Regional Dog Control and Adoption Center in Montague. Team members said raffle tickets are also available through the Sandy Lane shelter, reachable at 413-676-9182.

If the drivers were having fun, the audience was at least as enthused, with cheers and applause when a car took a particularly hard hit. Applause strengthened when an unfortunate driver managed to free their car from on top of the jersey barriers or the hood of another car and resume the competition.

Each round continues until the officials surrounding the pit call a stop, when they see only two of the cars in each heat of six still running under their own power. The demolished cars are towed off the field by tractor and the winners limp their semi-demolished vehicles away to wait for the final round, in which any car still moving fights it out until only the winner remains.

By this time the cars are not necessarily functioning at peak levels, with trunks crumpled up to the rear wheels, axles bent and miscellaneous other, less-obvious damage.

“It’s kind of cool, the striving,” Lefaver said of the final round. “It’s kind of like the Little Engine that Could.”

The start of the derby more or less drains the rest of the fairgrounds dry of visitors, but not entirely.

Over by the main pavilion, Dawn Weis of Heath bounced son Mason, 2, on her knee and talked his brother Aiden, 7, into staying in his seat. Athol-Royalston Middle School math teacher and part-time caricature artist Bill LaRose put the finishing touches on a portrait of the children in marker, while Aiden kept an ear on the sounds of the demolition derby.

Aiden wanted to see the cars, Weis said, but the children’s rides and the horses are the main attractions. For Weis, keeping the kids happy is the main attraction.

Back at the derby enclosure, Cayden, 3, watched his father smash his car while his mother, Caitlin Connors of Shelburne, watched him.

Cayden sat through the round with apparent interest, but demanded to see the animals as soon as the cars stopped.

His father, Josh Beckwith of Plainfield, survived the round with only minor scrapes, inflicted by the armholes of the back brace he has used since a surgery to correct scoliosis. With his car still running, Beckwith hoped to compete in the last round if he could fix a gas leak in time.

Like Smith, Beckwith said he competes because it’s in his blood; family and friends have done it all his life.

Yankee Doodle Days raises funds for the Friends of the Charlemont Fairgrounds, a volunteer group dedicated to preserving the fairgrounds and the fair.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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