Six drivers attended the first demolition derby that’s been in Lincoln County for a number of years

Caliente’s Rhett Butler, driving for True Value, gets caught between No Mercy Racing’s Adam McDermatt, left, and the No. 57 car driven by Tanner Smith, right, while volunteer Michael Knipes helps keep track of the cars on the sideline. (Rachel Williford photo)

In an unexpected, but expedited, turn of events, Freedom Fourwheelers put together a demolition derby held last Saturday at the Panaca fairgrounds.

Six drivers attended the first demolition derby that’s been in Lincoln County for a number of years. Once a fad in the 80s for Pioche and Caliente, John Haven of Haven’s Garage in Caliente, remembers doing demolition derbies in Caliente until 2003 or 2004. Haven’s Garage entered the last car into the derby, sponsored by Haven’s and Dante’s Divine, and driven by T.J. Willis.

Willis said it was his first time in the demolition derby, and drove a 1978 Mercury Marquis. Unfortunately, the crew didn’t have time to silicone the distributor cap, and water from the radiator got in it, causing him to stop running only a minute after the flags were waved.

Rhett Butler of Caliente drove the True Value Car, sponsored by CarQuest, Great Basin Foods, Lynn’s Auto Service and Mountain Mercantile. Butler, having driven in the demolition derbies of the county in the past, held his own for the majority of the race, sometimes even being tag-teamed by a couple of Beaver, Utah drivers. “It hurt,” he said. He was the fourth car to be taken out, giving him the third place. “I got to hit T.J. once,” Butler said.

First place went to Tanner Smith, from Fredonia, Ariz., driving a 1974 Cadillac. Smith has been doing the derbies since he was 18. At the end of the derby, he said his car only suffered a popped tire, and that the harmonic balance fell off the front end of the motor. The car was eventually repaired and re-entered in the powder puff division that followed the men’s race.

Other racers included Dustin Godfrey and Ben Stephensen of Beaver, Utah, and Adam McDermatt of Cedar City, who took second.

$2,000 was the cash prize, and all the men who participated received some amount of a cash prize. First place winner Smith received a handsome trophy, with gears and chains and sprayed silver.

Once the first race was done, attendants were invited to participate in a hula hoop race, for those who can hula the longest. Then Dave Carlson and his team of lawnmower racers drove around the track.

Team competitor Matt Elmer, Pioche, is currently ranked third in the Western Outlaws Racing Association. Carlson is lacking a motor in order to get back to racing, but the team is getting ready to head to Ely Aug. 10 and 11 for their next race.

The pit crews were given time to try and repair and service their vehicles and to get them drivable for the powder puff division. Three women entered. Jacy Fields, from Beaver, drove Dustin Godfrey’s No. 64 car, after they repaired the rear axle. Julijanna Walsh drove Ben Stephensen’s No. 402 car. Caliente’s Diane Martinez drove for Haven’s Garage, after they fixed the distributor cap with duct tape. It was all the womens’ first times in a derby. The ladies started by circling each other a few times, and then were allowed to start hitting each other. Martinez did a fine job of out running and out maneuvering her fellow competitors, but eventually was caught and the vehicle punished by Walsh, who came out victorious for the ladies.

Modifications have to be made for the cars that are entered into a demolition derby. Only five to seven-gallon gas tanks are used, all electrical wires for lights or radios are stripped, a roll cage installed and depending on what class you’re in, depends on whether or not you are allowed to have welding work done to the vehicle’s body. Five-point harnesses are not required. In fact, Smith said, most of today’s younger racers run with just a lap belt, “and hit their heads on the steering wheel.”

It might seem like demolition derbies are on the decline. However, Smith reports that his biggest demo derby is in Ogden, where they have a $10,000 prize.

He said the “old irons are hard to find,” and that newer cars are being seen on the track, including a 2003 Crown Victoria.

Freedom Fourwheelers is hoping to provide the residents with a demolition derby every year. “It probably would have been able to be bigger if we got the word out there sooner. We hope to get the word out sooner next year,” said Hope Johnson, secretary of the Freedom Fourwheelers. “For our first time, we thought it went pretty well,” she said.