By Rob “Right Foot” Krider
I spent most of my formative years with my head under the hood of some sort of Chevrolet. To take a break from busting my knuckles on GM water pumps, my dad would take me and my brother to the fairgrounds to catch the demolition derby. Some call it destruction derby or crash-up derby. Call it what you want, but when I was a kid I absolutely loved it. The smells, the noise, the huge hits, I just couldn’t get enough of the destruction derby. I used to sit in the stands and dream that someday I could be one of those gladiators inside the stadium, battling and smashing, until there was only one man left standing.
I eventually moved up from being under the hood of Chevys to being in the driver’s seat, racing at tracks all across the West Coast. I was having the time of my life at the race track, but in the back of my mind I knew I hadn’t fulfilled my childhood dream of being in the demo derby. Finally, I decided to stop working on the racecar and start building my own destruction derby car. Somehow, my brother sourced a 1976 Chrysler Cordoba for $500. We were in business. Yes, the Cordoba had Corinthian leather in it, as advertised in the 70s by Ricardo Montalban from Fantasy Island.
Being part of a racing team, and knowing almost nothing about the destruction derby, we built our demo derby car like a racecar. We painted it nice and added stickers. We even put high dollar synthetic fluids in the engine, tranny and differential. Obviously, with the time and money we spent on the car we were ignoring the simple fact that the car would probably only have a life span of about twenty minutes. Oh, well, we would look good during that twenty minutes.
To be successful in the derby you need dudes who are good at welding. My friends spent day after day welding on the ‘Doba, ensuring the car was as solid as possible as we headed into battle. We welded the differential together for good traction in the muddy arena. And yes, we welded the doors shut just like the Duke Boys’ General Lee. That meant I got to climb through the window to drive the car like a total badass.
Again, a racing team built this car, so we added things most demo teams ignored, like padding and a 3-inch wide lap belt. Thinking about my own mortality, I wanted to wear my fireproof racing suit to protect myself. But at the event, we saw most drivers wore jeans covered in grease and a t-shirt with holes in it. I would have looked like a big time rookie if I climbed into the car wearing my NASCAR style driving suit. Without telling anybody, I wore my Nomex underwear under my jeans and t-shirt just to be safe.
When we showed up at the event, we realized that teams take this sport very seriously. The cars were expertly constructed to last as long as possible in the arena. The crowd in the grandstands was drunk, rowdy, and they wanted to see some action. They wanted to see big hits, crashes, and at least one ambulance ride out of the stadium. This was a very different crowd than I was used to racing in front of at a road racing event. I flipped the visor down on my helmet and figured, “Let’s give the crowd what they want!”
Once the siren went off signaling the beginning of the heat, I drove the ‘Doba as if it was somebody else’s body inside the car. I didn’t care about my wellbeing, I just wanted to smash fools! I didn’t care if I got hurt, or the car got hurt, or if I looked like a rookie idiot in the stadium for the first time. All I wanted to do was win. I kept my foot planted in the throttle and hit as many people as hard as I could. I gave up using my trunk to hit people and just started bashing everyone in the stadium with the front of my car (this turned out to be short sighted on my part).
Like a good racecar driver, I did read the rule book before we went to the event so I was familiar with how to earn points during the heat. I needed to hit people in their tires, put people permanently out, and avoid hitting a competitor’s driver door. I also needed to keep running, no matter what. The stadium was insanely hectic: dust, noise, impacts. Getting hit was jarring. I didn’t particularly like it. I was more of a fan of hitting somebody else. Finally, toward the end of the heat, there were just a few cars left. I needed to get rid of this one pesky black Lincoln that just wouldn’t die. I came across the entire arena with my foot buried in the gas pedal, as fast as the “Doba would go, head-on, into the Lincoln. I hit him as hard as I possibly could, folding up my front frame, trapping my steering box, and throwing my body into the steering wheel. My neck has never been the same since. The video below shows the heavy impact from the “arena shot.”
Even though the 82 car was still moving at the end of the heat, and I was stuck with my steering box locked up, the promoters gave me the heat win based on points from hits during the heat. Plus, during that heat, most cars became shorter, where the 82 car somehow got longer, indicating that the car had some reinforcements that weren’t allowed in the rule book. Rumor has it the trick is to fill the frame with rebar. Shame, shame, I should send that guy the bills from my chiropractor.
Winning my heat had qualified me for the main event, but no matter how hard we worked on the car, we couldn’t separate the frame away from the steering box allowing the car to turn. My brother cut on the car with a torch like a madman, but we couldn’t make the car steer. We even tried taking two trucks with chains on the tow hitches and drove in opposite directions to attempt to pull the frame apart, but it wouldn’t budge. We were done.
There would be no main event for us. While I was standing in the paddock, watching my brother continue to try to use a torch to fix the ‘Doba, a guy came up to me and said, “Hey, Rookie. You don’t total your car in the preliminary heats, you save it for the main.” Good to know. That was information I probably needed a half an hour prior to when he told me.
The ‘Doba was a total loss. There wasn’t a piece left on it that wasn’t completely screwed up (including my neck). Luckily, we earned a trophy for our heat win and also picked up some cash. The cash went to beer for the crew. I was certainly glad to have had the opportunity to check off that bucket list item and fulfill my childhood dream. Will I do it again? “Hell no!”