Drivers find derby is a smashing time

July 31, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

SHARPSBURG - Call it 21st century jousting.

Helmeted men speeding down the list, aiming for each other, each hoping to be the last man standing.

The tension was enough to send Sandy Mason sprinting from her sideline seat.

"I can't stand it," she declared, flying down the steps from the stands.

Maybe it was the crunching metal. Or the flying bumpers.

The annual Washington County Ag Expo was off to a roaring start Friday with a demolition derby at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center. Each heat wedged 10 nasty looking cars into a confined space, the object of each driver to disable every car except the one in which he sat.

Among the local drivers were Mike Jackson and Jeff Shumaker, both demolition derby veterans. Jackson said he's been competing for 16 years.


Jackson, 37, spends a summer evening playing dodge 'em with real cars because "you get out your frustration and it's fun."

"Where else can you go and wreck a car and your insurance doesn't go up?" he said.

Some childhood ambitions run the gamut from being a fireman to being an astronaut. Shumaker, 33, dreamed of driving in demolition derbies.

"I just always wanted to since I was about 15," he said, standing next to a mere shadow of a 1985 Chrysler Fifth Avenue. "I just had this car sitting," he said, so he decided to turn it into a bumper car. He bought it nine years ago for $200 and drove it for a while. But when he later purchased a truck, "the car was parked," he said.

Painted prominently on the side was the number 911. His wife, Doris, told the story behind the number.

Seems they were driving at the beach when they were rear-ended.

"He told me to call 911 because he didn't know what the number for 911 was," she said.

Allen Gift was driving in his second demolition derby. Judging by the appearance of his perfectly mangled ride, the first one must have been a doozy.

"It had tags two weeks ago," he claimed. "It didn't have a dent anywhere in it."

In his first derby, Gift, 32, placed 10th out of 22 drivers. This time his mother, Linda, came to watch. She was a little nervous, she confessed.

"I get to tend to all the broken bones,." she said.

Driving in the first heat was Matthew Rhoderick, the 16-year-old grandson of Nancy Rhoderick, who came with her husband, Art, and her little dog, Spirit, to watch. Another grandson, Art, 23, was driving in the second heat along with Gift and Shumaker.

"I tell you, I've been praying all day," Nancy Rhoderick said.

Both grandsons work on the family farm near Beaver Creek, she said. Hahn's Amoco of Smithsburg gave Matthew his car - a big blue monster and the favorite of Colton Mason of Sharpsburg, son of the aforementioned Sandy. He had no problem watching.

Wheels soon spun and mud flew, courtesy of the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co., which hosed down the tiny field before the derby to make it nice and soggy. A few bumpers flew, too. And at the end of the first heat, Matthew's car was out, but Jackson was one of four survivors.

Sandy Mason returned for the second heat, a tad calmer than before.

"I hope I can get through it," she said.

Nancy Rhoderick shuddered a little as young Art lost a front fender. He soon was dragging the back bumper. The heat was halted briefly as a black station wagon started belching smoke. Mason gasped as the smoke erupted into flames, but a Fairplay firefighter with a fire extinguisher quickly doused it. Soon, the drivers who were left were revving their motors again - and when the dust settled, the second heat winners were Rhoderick and Shumaker, who jumped up and down on 911's hood for good measure.

By that time, Paula Rhoderick, mother of Matthew, had joined Nancy in the stands. This had been Matthew's first derby, and she'd had just the tiniest concern about him and his car.

"I was glad when it died so soon," she said.

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