Almost as popular as the Alpine Cup is the Motherlode Volleyball Tournament, which usually draws about 100 two-member teams. But the most popular and best-known event in Aspen is a rugby tournament, held the last weekend in September, called the Ruggerfest. In 1976 the Aspen City Council discussed restricting the use of Wagner Park, the field in the center of town, to protect the grass, and at the special meeting called to deal with the problem it was suggested that rugby didn't do an awful lot of good for the grass, and maybe the Ruggerfest should be canceled for a year. "We can't cancel the Ruggerfest," cried Councilman Pete DeGregorio, who is the high school football coach and a rugby player. "Canceling the Ruggerfest would be like canceling fall in Aspen." He didn't get any arguments.
"The final game of the Ruggerfest is as good a game of rugby as you'll see played in the United States," says John McDermott, an Englishman who taught rock climbing and kayaking before he moved to the U.S. McDermott, who is 5'8", 160 pounds, and one of the Aspen Gentlemen's best kickers, is also their coach and captain. He first saw Aspen when he played in the 1975 Ruggerfest for the champions, the Flying Pumpkins, a team composed largely of UCLA and Santa Monica players. The following spring he returned to Aspen, found himself a job and went home to Santa Monica just long enough to gather up his wife and baby.
"I had lived in Southern California for three years, just waiting for someplace like Aspen," says McDermott. "The crowd at that Ruggerfest, 4,000 people standing on the sidelines cheering, cemented it for me. I hadn't played rugby for a crowd like that since I was back in England. I moved to Aspen just to play this game."
One of the best-known rugby players is Rick Deane. Deane has lived in Aspen for all of his 33 years; his great-grandfather hiked over Independence Pass in the 1880s, and was one of the town's early settlers. Rick, his brother Buck and his mother Louise own and manage the T-Lazy-7, a guest ranch in the Maroon Creek Valley. (A third Deane son was killed by an avalanche in Utah's Wasatch Mountains.) Louise, known to the townsfolk as Lou, bought the T-Lazy-7 with her late husband in 1938, after a brief acting career in New York City.
The Deane family is something out of The Virginian. But don't call Rick a cowboy. "I am a mountain man," he says succinctly.
Deane heads for the mountains at any excuse; he had to sit out last year's Ruggerfest because he had missed several practices while he was in the mountains for nearly a week, hunting elk with a musket. He got his elk, which he hauled home by pack mule, stayed down long enough to butcher the meat, then went back to the mountains with a flatbed truck, chain saws and axes to cut the winter's supply of firewood for the ranch. "I wish I could stay up in the mountains all the time and only come down to play rugby and go racing," he says.
In his orange Firebird convertible, Deane is the fastest local stock car racer. They don't race stock cars in Aspen quite the way they do anywhere else in the world. In contrast to most of Aspen's sports events, the stock car races are virtually slapstick.
"Just like racing up to the mountains and back with a bunch of buddies," Deane describes it. All it takes to race is a roll bar in the car, any car, a seatbelt, fire extinguisher, crash helmet and $10 entry fee. There are three classes: Slow, in which a $500 claiming rule applies. Fast and Superfast. The cars have things like draft-beer tap handles for gearshift knobs, and the steering wheels have spinner knobs with naked ladies leering through the magnifying plastic. The engines are caked with grime, and there is more oil over the valve covers than inside them. Amidst the smoke, a car may leave behind a trail of blowing leaves, collected on the floor from sitting out in the backyard.
The most infamous entrant is the Dirt Bags of Aspen. Their slogan is, "Show me a bag and I'll show you some dirt." C. B. Ringo is the driver and Fulton Begley III is the crew chief, only he calls himself the pointer. Begley's chief areas of responsibility are radiator caps, lug nuts and air. When Ringo wheels in for one of his frequent pit stops, those are the things Begley mostly points at.
The Dirt Bags were the Cabbage Racing Team until Dr. Slats Cabbage resigned as driver. In its first race, Slats' Dodge Dart featured a cabbage as a hood ornament. But he had to attach it himself. First he went to the hardware store and bought the bolt. "How long do you want it?" asked the clerk. "Oh," said Slats, "just long enough to fit through a cabbage." Then he went to the market. "How big a cabbage do you want?" asked the grocer. Slats whipped the bolt out of his pocket and said, "Oh, big enough to fit over this bolt."