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Supplement to “Mud, Motors, and Mayhem”

If you look at the outside of a typical demolition derby car, it’s easy to miss the fact that hours and hours—we’re talking around 30 to 40 of them—went into making it ready for the sport. “People just don’t realize what goes into building a car,” laments Randall Gamble of Hopkinsville. He is no doubt correct because from the outside what you mostly see are dents and contorted metal from repeated hits. But let Gamble give you a closer look.

“First you have to find a car,” says Gamble, noting that this is an increasingly difficult task because scrap metal now commands such a good price that many could-be derby cars are sold for scrap. Then there’s the cost. “Nowadays, it’s hard to find a suitable car for less than $500.”

Once you accomplish step one, you need to install a demolition derby-approved rear end, radiator, and weld bar. You have to knock the windows out. Slivers of glass could cause serious injury if they dislodge during an event, so be careful to get it all. Now you need to weld the doors shut. Oh, you also need to do any maintenance and repair to make the car run. Remember, the car you purchased didn’t come off a car lot. Don’t forget the heavy-duty tires.

Speaking of demo derbies of days gone by, given his 23 years of racing: “You used to take a car, knock the windows out, and chain the doors,” says Gamble, “but like everything else, the sport is more technical now. Drivers are using better parts, better tires. All the components are different and that makes the cars more competitive.”

Let’s say you have done everything needed to compete today. Congratulations. You are now ready to take your car on its maiden run. By the way, this will likely be its final run as well.

“Every time you compete, the body is usually going to be shot,” notes Gamble. “You are lucky if you get an hour out of a car in competition. Sometimes you get really lucky and can use a car in a second event, but that doesn’t happen very often.”

The good news in all of this is that most of the components—the motor, transmission, rear end, etc.—can be used again. It just takes time to get them off the old car and onto another car.

The effort is worth it, according to Gamble, particularly when there are a lot of fans cheering you on. Gamble says the other competitors also make it fun. “There is such camaraderie with the guys out there,” says Gamble. “You will compete against someone, come back to the pits, and that guy will come and ask you what you need to get going again. They will lend you the part to get back out there.”

Gamble’s biggest concern is the future of demolition derbies. “I’m afraid that in 10 years, our sport may die out,” he says. “Cars are now being crushed for the scrap metal. There may come a time when you just can’t find enough cars.”

For now though, Gamble delights in every competition. “This is my chance to be a kid. I have a job and everything that goes with being an adult, but demolition derbies give me a chance to be a kid again.”

To read the Kentucky Living June 2011 feature that goes along with this supplement, go to Mud, Motors, Mayhem.

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