There was creative thinking! At one hellacious point, all the drivers were making like undermedicated Mike Tysons trying to park Hummers at the Tokyo Nordstrom. Through the smoke we could see that two metal beasts—one blue, one white—had locked rear bumpers. Though the blue car was more powerful, the driver could not break free. So what did he do? He began smashing other vehicles with the white car. Why can't that man run WorldCom?
We witnessed tests of faith! Ford Torinos rolling on nothing more than rims. Chrysler New Yorkers, with hoods so crumpled the drivers couldn't see over them, steaming ahead blindly, hoping to crunch something—perhaps the funnel cake stand. Buick Regals whose radiators were spewing like Old Faithful, battling courageously on their last gasp of coolant.
And all for, what, $12? Who needs baseball?
We studied economics! Demolition derby is the last of the poor man's sports. It costs $50 to enter. The cars start at $25. "I paid $500 for this," said one driver. "Plus, I've got about a grand in my rear end." Weren't those exact words once spoken by Joan Rivers?
We saw problem-solving! Though derby cars have all their glass, plastic, lights and knobs stripped off, the batteries and gas tanks moved inside the car for safety and the doors welded shut, whatever's left can still break. So half the fun is strolling the pits, where crews madly sledgehammer and weld, hoping to get cars rolling again for the next heat.
One guy had 45 minutes to put in a new transmission before his next race. "I can do it," the guy yelled from under the hood. "I'm a mechanic." Yet if you took your car to this man for the same job, it would cost you $2,000 and be ready in three weeks.
Lastly, we learned the importance of family! In the championship heat the final two cars alive happened to be driven by a father and son—Bernie Smith and Bernie Jr., of Stratton, Colo. The mom and two daughters are also derby drivers. "Sometimes," says Bernie Sr., "we go out in the pasture behind our house and go at it. You know, at Thanksgiving and stuff."
Can you think of a more heartwarming Oprah?
And who could keep a dry eye at the end, as the 24-year-old Bernie smashed the 60-year-old Bernie's heap until it resembled modern art? When the son was declared the winner, the dad popped out through the front window, ripped off his helmet and beamed, "I taught him that!" The boys and I embraced.
Still, for some reason, when we got back home, my wife refused to hear of derby glory until the three of us had showered and burned our clothes.