Wreckn’ Sh*t

The air is drenched with the smells of burning rubber, stale beer and sweat. Men, sitting on the sidelines, stare intently as cars plow into each other. A stream of soot emerges from a burning engine. A cacophony of revving engines and crunching metal assaults the ears. Mud flies. Engines roar. Fans heckle. Cars are decimated. The cycle repeats until one car remains.  The demolition derby is a spectacle of the sensory extreme and the object of play – the car – is mutilated and maimed.

To ask a driver why he (or she) runs in a demolition derby is to get a myriad of answers. Their reasons are generally indefinable and in some cases rest only on the emotions surrounding the event. As, Lonnie “Hotdog” Hick, says, “you can’t shoot someone, so when someone pisses you off out in the track you can take your anger out on them. It’s the next best thing to hurting someone.” [1] Not all drivers love wrecking cars simply because of its carnal nature. Although most say they do it simply for fun; their true reasons are more illustrative of their passion for the sport and how it is indelibly tied to their relationships in their community. For many drivers the demolition derby is a family tradition that was formed in the new site of family engagement – the family garage. The hours of building and welding a former hunk of junked metal into a deafening demolition machine is a process that morphs both the dispensable car and worker into something that is revered and celebrated.

Building off of the lived experiences of the individual drivers and the demolition derby community, this essay reveals demolition derby as a sensually extreme site that fosters notoriety in a stratum of men who have been marginalized and largely forgotten by globalization. This activity is a performance, and if, as Tomie Hahn says, “performance provides a special metaphoric space, often revealing how people make sense of their lives and communities,”[2] what then, does demolition derby reveal about the drivers? Demolition derby is a moment for these sentimentalists, motor heads, and thrill seekers to transcend, “…the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations….”[3] Notoriety graces the forgotten, for the seemingly daft farm hand is known for his masterful building skills, and the prosaic, pudgy accountant from suburban Dayton is the most revered driver in the state of Ohio.

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[1] Lonnie Hicks. Interview by author. Raymond, Ohio, July 10, 2010

[2] Tomie Hahn. “”It’s the Rush” Sites of the Sensually Extreme,” The Drama Review 50 no. 2 (2006): 88

[3] Roland Barthes, Mythologies. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), 23