PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When a mechanic works on a car, the usual intent is to get the vehicle back in working order so it will be roadworthy and run as long as possible before repairs are needed again. But for Bob Anderson of Limestone and other demolition derby participants, the goal isn’t so much being ready for the road as being tough enough to make it to the final heat of the night and outlasting competitors to take the top prize.
Participants already registered in the demolition derby — slated for Saturday, Aug. 6, at the Northern Maine Fair — are from Houlton to Limestone and beyond.
“It’s not about looks,” said Bob Anderson, as he and his brother, Deane Anderson, and a neighbor, 13-year-old Adam Williams, worked on this year’s entry for the derby. For the Andersons of Limestone it’s about what’s under the hood that matters.
“We’re putting a Chevy motor into an ‘85 Buick Estate wagon,” said Deane.
“It’s the same station wagon we used last year. Just knock out a few dents, do a few repairs and adjustments and we’re good to go for another year,” said Bob, noting crooked wheels might not be good on your daily driver, but on a demo car they can actually be useful. “When you get hung up in a rut, they cover more ground, side-to-side, than a straight wheel would, so sometimes it helps get you unstuck quicker.”
He said it’s getting tougher to find the right machine for demolition derbies, since so many cars are now made using fiberglass rather than steel.
“I’ve been doing this for several years. Wagons are the best because they can be hit anywhere — front, back. Little cars are limited to hitting with the back and don’t last long. But it’s getting hard to find larger cars nowadays,” said Bob. “It would be great if they opened it up to use minivans.”
Cars undergo very few modifications before competition.
“We have to do a bit of spot welding — hoods, doors. We strip out a bunch of stuff,” said Deane.
“Smaller cars sometimes have some type of cage construction but organizers generally don’t allow much modification. We put a rail on the [driver’s] door in case someone hits you,” said Bob, explaining that intentionally hitting the driver’s door is not allowed but accidents do happen, so safety is a priority.
As for the glass, all of it is stripped from the vehicle except the front window.
“The windshield’s the only glass allowed,” said Deane.
“I’ve seen some drivers use a type of netting up front to catch rocks, but the glass is generally safer. The only problem is if it’s muddy, you have no wipers to clean your window,” said Bob.
Each car is limited to a 5-6 gallon gas tank.
“A boat gas can is strapped in the back. Exterior gas tanks are discouraged, due to potential fire hazards,” said Deane.
Other safety measures include using a safety belt and wearing a helmet and gloves. Tubes are also used in the tires to extend their life.
“We also carry a fire extinguisher and the car battery is padded with a rubber mat,” said Bob.
An average car set up for the derby can cost between $500 and $1,000 and takes about a week to put together.
“It’s a good two days just to strip the car,” said Deane.
“Most of us replace the motor, [transmission],” said Bob, noting he prefers an automatic transmission. “I don’t usually have that much invested, since I have access to parts and things where I work.”
Some entrants choose to add mascots, as is the case with the Andersons.
“My son watched ‘Spongebob’ and the name fit, so he’s been riding with me for a few years now,” said Bob.
Organizers of this year’s event are looking to give drivers and spectators more opportunities to enjoy the destructive sport, holding not one but two derbies in the next few weeks.
“The Northern Maine Fair Association and Spud Speedway are joining together to offer a two-part demolition derby series which will crown one overall champion at the end of both of their respective events,” said Steve Smith, event organizer.
Smith said the rules are the same for both derbies, so racers do not need to modify their equipment in any way.
“The points system will work as follows: At each event a scorekeeper will keep track of the cars involved and establish a finishing order. This will be based on when a car is finished moving and no longer able to compete in the event,” said Smith.
“At the end of both events we will add the competitor’s finishes together and the driver with the lowest score (best average finish) will be crowned the overall champion and be awarded an extra $300 above and beyond the payouts of each event,” said Smith.
For example, a driver finishing in first place at the fair would get one point and then if they finished in fourth place at Spud Speedway would get four points, giving them five points for the two combined events. Another driver who finishes in second place for both events would have four points, therefore being awarded the championship because they would have the best overall average finish.
“In the event of a tie, the car with the best finish at Spud Speedway would be awarded the championship — this would be the tie-breaker,” said Smith.
The first derby event will begin at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in front of the grandstand at the Northern Maine Fair. Festivities continue at Spud Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 17, at what is being billed as the “Day of Destruction.”
The Andersons are looking forward to the weekend — complete with crashes, bangs and booms — as drivers compete for hundreds of dollars in prizes.
“Where else can you get paid for demolishing cars, while having a great time doing it? It’s a barrel of fun,” said Bob.
The Northern Maine Fair continues through Saturday, Aug. 6. For a complete schedule of events, visit http://www.northernmainefairgrounds.com/.