Last Car Standing

Demolition Derby held at Franklin County Fair

Demolition Derby held at Franklin County Fair

August 29, 2005|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL


You start with a good, working car.

Then, you remove all the glass, cut out the air conditioner, move the gas tank and the battery into the passenger compartment, and tear out all of the seats and inside door panels except the driver's.

Now, the car is ready to be smashed into other cars until only one is left running.

Jerry Seylar of Chambersburg modified his 1988 Buick station wagon, hoping it would be the last car alive at the Demolition Derby at the Franklin County Fair.

The groundskeeper of the Chambersburg Rod and Gun Club, where the fair is held, Seylar said he has won some heats, but never the big prize. The Demo Derby winner gets $800, runner-up receives $300, and heat winners each take home $75.


"We run heats, and the last three cars still running in each heat move to the main event," he said. Usually, nine or 10 cars compete in that event.

Drivers are not allowed to team up and help each other.

"You're on your own out there," Seylar said.

All entrants are passenger cars; no trucks, hearses or ambulances are permitted, according to the list of 38 rules entrants must follow. All cars are inspected by derby officials before the event.

Seylar, 43, has been competing in the Demolition Derby for five years, and had investors for the first time this year. He, his brother and two friends each chipped in $50 for the car.

"It's a fun thing for us. We get together and work on the car," he said. "It doesn't look like much, but there's behind-the-scenes work."

Seylar said he spent more money than usual preparing the car, as he installed an alcohol carburetor "to make it live longer. It eliminates the cooling system. The radiator always did me in. Once it overheats, you're done."

Wire mesh replaces the Buick's windshield and a large number 11 is painted on the roof and doors. On Friday morning, the white-painted hood was drying in preparation for the crew members' names to be painted on it.

Four spare tires and a bucket of parts stand ready.

"I never did one without getting a flat," Seylar said. "You try to save the front."

The back end of the station wagon, however, is a different story.

"I'm hoping it'll be pushed in to here," he said, indicating a point halfway between the tailgate and the back door.

As dangerous as all that sounds, safety is important to Seylar and his crew. When competing, he wears a helmet, seat belt and a long-sleeved shirt.

"And this year, I'm adding a fireproof top," he said.

Seylar added that he has never seen anyone get hurt in a demolition derby. He has seen a few cars catch fire in the arena, "and everyone stops," he said.

While he would like to compete in the demolition derby in Shippensburg, Pa., on Labor Day weekend, he said it depends on what's left of the car.

"I seriously doubt anything will be left," Seylar said. "We try to put on a good show."

It's getting hard to find big, heavy older cars to enter in the derbies, Seylar said.

"The new ones aren't built like the old ones," he said

Crew members called the Buick "Woody" all summer because of its wood-grained side panels. Recently, the crew renamed it "El Woodrow," painting the appellation above the driver's door, Seylar said, as his middle name is Elwood.

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