Franklin County Fair demolition derby a smash hit

  • The number 99 car billows smoke and spews sparks after colliding with the number 71 car during Friday's demolition derby at the Franklin County Fair. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINEDrivers line up their demolition derby cars before Friday's competition at the Franklin County Fair. About 35 competitors participated in four rounds, or heats. Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/9/2016 11:14:13 PM

GREENFIELD — The intense smell of burnt rubber and billowing white smoke filled the air. Plastic fragments and entire bumpers lay strewn across the dirt, and the crowd whooped and hollered with each destructive collision.

Twenty-five-year-old Jimmy Zellmann of Greenfield looked behind him and hit the gas, sending his number 93 car into another vehicle with an exhilarating smash during the Franklin County Fair’s Friday night demolition derby.

“We’re not here to win,” Zellmann said before his heat. “We want to hear some loud cheering from the crowd.”

Locals filled the grandstand at the fairgrounds and spilled into the adjacent bleachers to watch the cars pile up. The event consisted of three rounds — called heats — for four-cylinder cars, a truck heat and a final round that pitted the winners of the four-cylinder heats against each other. There were around 35 competitors in all.

Zellmann said he and other competitors talk about the demolition derby year-round and spend a week beforehand preparing their vehicles.

For safety reasons, all cars have their glass, door handles and hubcaps removed and their gas tanks and batteries relocated. Good tires and a transmission cooler are also recommended. Each car undergoes an inspection before the competition.

“It’s a lot of work to strip a car and get it ready, but it’s a lot of fun,” Luke Hartnett, 36, of Millers Falls said. “It’s weeks of preparation for minutes of an awesome time.”

Once in the ring, drivers must avoid head-on collisions, hitting the driver’s side door of another car and catching their vehicle on fire more than once, or they will be disqualified.

“Go for the front end or the front tires,” Hartnett recommended.

Hartnett has competed in the fair’s demolition derby for 16 years. The strategy that he and many other competitors use is to ram the fronts of other vehicles to kill the engine, while protecting his engine by ramming in reverse.

“Put the pedal to the metal and have fun,” Zellmann said of his goals for the competition. “Our main goal is to not bring the car back. We make it into a lunch box.”

Just a few minutes of destruction leaves competitors physically sore, but content.

“If you’re not sore, you didn’t have a good time,” Scott Beck, 49, of Greenfield said.


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