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Large audience thrilled at demolition derby

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Fenders bent and axels ruined, demolition derby cars go at it inside the Roberts Park amphitheater Friday night at the Fayette County Free Fair. A standing-room only crowd watched more than 70 cars tear into each other, one of the most successful derby events in Free Fair history.
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Carter Pitcher, right, and Paige Merriman, left,wave beforeleading the Power Wheels division into the pit, kicking off the 2018 Fayette County Free Fair demolition derby, Friday at the Roberts Park amphitheater.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

Destruction was the main course on the menu Friday night at the Roberts Park amphitheater, and a standing-room only crowd showed up, looking to feast on that at the Fayette County Free Fair demolition derby.

On hand to fill that order was a group of drivers ... a very large group.

“This was the largest number of cars and drivers we’ve had since we started doing the derby here in Connersville,” derby coordinator J.R. Rouse said afterward.

A total of 79 cars were registered for Friday night’s derby, sponsored by Siler Body Shop. More than 70 of found their way to the amphitheater pit.

Rouse promotions has been running the Free Fair derby for five years, and some rules adjustments applied during that time are starting to pay off, Rouse said.

“It took a few years for us to change the rules a little bit,” he said. “There was nothing wrong with the rules when we came on board, it was just that they were a little out of date.”

One of the biggest changes implemented involved the cars themselves, he said.

“Money has become a huge factor for the drivers, so we made cheaper builds for them,” Rouse said. “The progression of switching the rules over the past few years allows drivers to build a car in a week now, rather than being forced to spend a couple months on it.

“That’s a big deal. Family time is important and the economy is doing better, which means that people are working, so folks don’t have as much time to be out in the garage anymore.”

It’s also a good thing for those in the audience, he added.

“The fans love the cheaper cars because they crush easier,” he said. “That’s really what people want to see at a derby.”

Having local drivers in the cars was another plus for the fans, Rouse said.

“The thing that was amazing for me was when I realized how many local drivers were at this year’s event, something we don’t see in a lot of other counties,” he said. “Of the 70 cars that showed up, I would guess that 75 percent of them were from right here in Fayette County. That’s just very rare.”

Several of those drivers showcased a little personality on their cars. One had a doll on the back, while another had a stuffed Pink Panther hanging out of the passenger window. Other unique features included a giant ballcap on one roof, a Tasmanian Devil on another, and a strobe light in the front window of one car.

Opening the night was a class for the youngest derby enthusiasts, as boys and girls as young as two years old climbed into Power Wheel vehicles and experienced ‘bumping’ with their peers.

Another class that brought smiles was a lawnmower battle with seven competitors, that division fighting it out prior to the two main features.

Robert Withers beat the field in that event, and Paul Brickles finished second.

In the first of the two main classes, Small Cars (Gut-n-Go) competed in five heats resulting in 19 cars reaching the feature.

Jason Wood earned the win in that feature, outlasting runner-up Zach Elliott and third-place finisher Steven Hodapp.

The Big Car class wound up with 20 cars in its feature. The final moments of that finale brought huge cheers from the crowd, as cars driven by Connersville cousins Billy and Josh Woodard were the final two still running.

The two traded slam after slam in the closing minutes, with Billy coming out on top to claim the title and a check for $1,200.

“Billy Woodward is still very young, but he won our statewide points championship last year, and tonight’s win puts him in the lead and sets him up to win that title back-to-back,” Rouse said. “If he does, he’ll be the first-ever driver to win it back-to-back, and he’s not even out of high school yet.

“He’s a great driver, and you heard the reaction from the crowd once the duel between those two was over. They loved it.”

The crowd wasn’t the only one leaving the amphitheater satisfied from their fill of the destruction.

Rouse was pretty content as well.

“It was an excellent show, and I really could not ask for anything better,” he said, adding with a smile, “It was a very hard-hitting show, and the crowd loved it. The local chiropractor ought to have plenty of business next week.”