Chelsea Fair's Demolition Derby
Bring on the noise.
by Shelley Daily
From the August, 2019 issue
As the crowd streams into the arena for the Chelsea Community Fair Demolition Derby, I'm still waiting in a long line to buy a bucket of French fries. When I finally find my kids in the bleachers, I relish the end-of-summer scene: colorful carnival rides are lit up in the distance, smiling families munch popcorn, and the setting sun casts a golden glow on the stands. Then I brace for the noise.
One by one, big old, beat-up cars barrel into the muddy arena to take their positions. The starting flags are thrown, and there's raucous revving as cars smash and bash one another, and--if they're able--come back for more. The spectators, encouraged by the announcer, cheer, and the last car standing from each heat advances to the finals.
I ask my kids--two teens and one in college--why they're always up for the derby. "It's raw," one son says, "and unpredictable." My daughter agrees and adds, "It's fun to see how they style the cars." As for me, I welcome any chance to burst out of the Ann Arbor bubble for something completely different--and this certainly is.
"If you like smoke and noise," it's the place to be, agrees longtime derby volunteer Jeff Layher. "It's safe [firefighters and paramedics stand by], clean, and a good bargain." Ten dollars buys entry into all fair exhibits and events, including the derby.
By the time we make our way to the parking lot after the derby, it's dark, but the kids are still laughing and comparing notes on their favorite cars. I know I've scored some serious mom points. Going to the Demolition Derby makes me feel a little less boring and a little bit more like a rebel. And sometimes that's a really good thing.
"I didn't realize how much of a rush it would be," derby driver Amy Butler told me later. Now thirty-four, she's been a Chelsea fairgoer since she was a five-year-old eating elephant ears. Her father and
older brothers surprised her with a derby car after she'd spent years watching them drive and helping them out in the pit.
"As soon as you get hit, it's game on ... You go in to destroy," she says. She drives a '75 Oldsmobile 98, and spends her weekends in late summer at her dad's getting it ready to rumble.
Last year, her car got stuck on the wall. This year, she's in it to win it.
The Chelsea Community Fair's Figure Eight Demolition Derby (for smaller cars) is set for August 20, and the Demolition Derby (with truck and compact heats) is August 21. Get there early to enjoy some fair exhibits--and don't forget your ear plugs.
[Originally published in August, 2019.]
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