Demolition Derby


Demolition Derby

Part Sport, Part Skill, Part Daredevil, Part Crazy


Demolition Derby.

Sport: Check. Although not a conventional sport, that’s probably the best place to file it.

Skill: Check. No doubt, there is some skill involved.

Daredevil: Check. Common sense tells us that this clearly is a situation that spells danger.

Crazy: Check. Most folks do their best to avoid auto collisions and the associated pain and injury.

There are no two ways about it. Demolition Derby is what it is – “organized chaos.”

At stadiums and arenas around the world, drivers come to the field, rev their engines and ram full force into other cars. It’s a sport that supposedly got its start in rural America decades ago. It’s not an event for drivers or audiences that are weak of heart.

But is also a real crowd pleaser for the folks here in Northwest Arkansas, according to Rick Culver, President of The Rodeo of the Ozarks that sponsors the car crashing expo that will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Parsons Arena in Springdale.

“Folks here sure like the Demolition Derby,” Culver said. “In fact this is our 11th summer derby and we are now into our fourth annual derby event held in the spring.”

Culver says, weather permitting; he expects between 5,000 to 7,000 fans from Northwest Arkansas and surrounding states to show up for the event. And not only does he expect a full stadium of spectators, but a full field of entrants.

Organizers have limited the number of cars in the field to 48 and that’s plenty for the one-night stand, Culver said.

“We limit it at 48 and that’s a good field,” he said.

At last summer’s derby a 49th auto some how snuck into the field, but that’s all good, Culver said.

In the past, drivers have come with their cars from Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa and Nebraska. Entrants were still signing up just days before the race.

Local folks will be glad to know that Steve Smith of Steve Smith Automotive in Springdale has given Bubba Fountaine the night off, so Fontaine will again be the announcer for the event.

“Lots of folks have commented on Bubba’s work on the PA,” Culver said.


How It Works

Demolition derby is basically a car crash free-for-all. The vehicles of all makes and models go after one another until the last car is running. The history of when and where the event started is vague, but ABC TV’s “Wild World of Sports” broadcast the Demolition Derby World Championships from the mid 1960s until 1972.

At the Springdale derby, there will be four heats or elimination rounds. Competitors will drive in only one heat. Drivers will crash their cars into the other vehicles in their heat to try and disable the competition. The crashing and smashing goes on all over the field until only three cars are able to move under their own power. Three cars from each of the four heats will then advance to the final round.

But, some of those that don’t make it will have a second chance. After the four heats, there will be a consolation round for cars that were among the last running in their heat, but that didn’t make it into the top three. The top heat and consolation round winners will make up the final field with the last man running taking the grand prize.

At stake are trophies and a $3,000 check to the winner, $1,000 to the second place winner, and $750 to the third place winner. All heat winners and place winners in each heat get trophies. Each heat winner also gets $50 for surviving their heat.

The Cars

Demolition Derby does have rules about the cars. Some of the cars may look like beaters when they arrive on the field and many have been spray painted by the drivers. Important is the durability of the vehicle to withstand impact.

All of the glass including windows, headlights and brake lights must be removed. The driver’s side door must be welded shut to help protect the driver. Some modifications to the frame and motor can be made, but all cars are inspected for compliance before they are allowed to participate, Culver said.

Each driver must wear a helmet and other safety equipment. Holes are cut into the hoods of the vehicles to allow quick access to possible fires that need to be extinguished. Cars often catch on fire. The local fire department and EMS squads are at the ready at the perimeter of the field throughout the event.

At the end of the event, when the cars leave the arena, most of them are not running.

A family affair

The car-crashing daredevils who will be spinning and smashing at Parsons Arena, not surprisingly, are local dirt track enthusiasts and “down-staters” from all over Central Arkansas, Culver said.

One father and son team coming to the Springdale smash fest is Jason Schmidt and his son Josh from Judsonia, a town of about 2,000 in north central Arkansas. In the case of the Schmidt’s though, it was not the son who followed his father, but the other way around.

“It is sort of me coming back for round two,” said Josh Schmidt in a telephone interview from his Judsonia home last week.

“I got the “bug” for driving in these demo derby’s from some cousins and friends down here in central Arkansas, and now I’ve got my dad hooked. He is going to be driving in his maiden or first derby up there in Springdale.”

The younger Schmidt has been driving for only a couple of years, but has raced and driven in other crash events. He’ll be returning to Springdale for a chance at the prize and he has also competed in derbies in Paragould, Melbourne and Des Arc.

Josh will be in the No. 13 car, a royal blue Club 1976 Lincoln Continental.

“I get my cars, well, from all over the area,” he said. “I just look in the paper and drive around and find them and fix ’em up. Some needs a lot of fixin’, some don’t need so much. But I can tell you a big, old car – a good made car – she’s hard to stop.”

Josh’s dad will be piloting the No. 31 car, a big old 1973 Cadillac.

“Unless my dad paints it another color between now and then, it will also be a dark or royal blue.”

Is that the Schmidt family racing color?

“Naw. We get cars of all colors and paint up sometimes, too,” Josh said.

Josh’s only trophy to date is for placing in one of the heats in Springdale at last year’s derby when he piloted his 1989 Crown Victoria.

“That was a good car, but never made it to the money round,” he said.

The trophy is the lure that is bringing Josh back to Parsons Arena for this year’s derby.

There may be a thread of evidence that crashing cars for sport runs in families. Perhaps the most famous Northwest Arkansas clan being the Hart family of Rogers led by the patriarch, Gary Hart.

According to Culver, the audience is a family affair, too. With the sons, fathers, cousins and uncles driving in these wreck-em-up events, it is safe to assumed that wives, daughters, aunts and even grandma will come out for the show. And that’s what Culver and the other promoters are looking for, family fun.

Tickets for the Demolition Derby are a hot item these sultry days of August. Advanced tickets for the Saturday derby are $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Day of show tickets are $12 for adults and $7 for kids. Advance tickets are available at the Parsons Arena Rodeo Office.

The Demolition Derby proceeds go to the community, Culver said.

“Just like the Rodeo of the Ozarks, everything we do out here will benefit the community and all events we sponsor are family friendly events.”

Categories: Features