GOSHEN — Twelve hours is a long time to wait for a seat.
But if you want one at the Nation-wide Demolition Derby, said Brent Carrick, Fair Board treasurer, half a day is necessary.
The derby on Saturday, July 26 brought an estimated crowd of 8,000 to the Grandstand at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, with no space left empty and no shirt left clean.
“I saw people in the Grandstand at 6 a.m. this morning,” Carrick said. “They knew how early they had to come for a seat.”
A cheering audience was sprayed by clods of dirt as groups of drivers crashed into each other in a round of heats. Diesel fuel was thick in the air as vehicles pumped pedals to remain in log-bordered ring. The goal of each driver, said show runner Mike Rutter, was to knock the other cars out.
“Most people are just out here to have fun but for some, this is as close as it gets to the Indy 500,” Rutter said.
More than 50 cars and trucks, such as compacts, six-cylinders and pick-ups competed in Elkhart County’s 28th derby. The event is family-oriented — Rutter said it isn’t uncommon to have four generations of a family compete.
“When we started the derby in 1961, we figured it would be a short fad,” said Rutter, who coordinates an average of 88 derbies per year. “As time has gone by, it’s become the biggest crowd draw at almost every fair.”
Behind the Grandstand, Melinda Manges of New Paris waited for her heat atop a pink and purple ’78 Buick decorated by small painted hands.
“They’re my 4-Hers’ hands,” said Manges, who is a 4-H leader. “They represent my love for teaching.”
As practice for her first year of competition, Manges drove around her in backyard and followed the lead of her dad, who has competed in derbies for 25 years. The training helped -- she was later one of the last three cars standing in the all-women powder puff heat.
“I’m a little nervous, but ready,” Manges said. “I’ve grown up around this; it’s all I know.”
The winners of the first three heats went on to compete in the final feature. Jay White III of Dowagiac, Mich. won the finals; Melvin Freeman of Rome City took second; and Justin Strambaugh of Walkerton came in third.
Here is a list of the other champions in their categories:
Firemen’s Heat: David Miller of Middlebury Fire Department
Six Cylinder Heat: Karl Karn of Auburn and Ken Jesse of Mishawaka
Compact Heat: Anthony Coccord of Niles, Mich., William Johnson of Elkhart and Mike Hinegardner of Niles, Mich.
Powder Puff Heat: Jennifer King of White Pigeon, Mich., Regina Diamond of Wakarusa and Melinda Manges of New Paris
Pickup Trucks Heat: Norm Spron Jr. of Elkhart, Dustyn Knisley of Edwardsburg, Mich. and Tony Franschetti of Edwardsburg, Mich.
Anthony Wentlend of South Bend wears ear mufflers to watch brother Dustin compete in the 2014 Demolition Derby. #ecfair