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Autocross, demolition derby end county fair

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Matt Craft in the No. 72 car lines up next to Billy Hornaday in the No. 357 car as they drive the rolling start lap in the second heat of mini-car racing. Craft would go on to win the heat, and the mini-car feature race.
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By HANNAH GUNNELL - hgunnell@shelbynews.com

Junkyard cars with no windows, bars over the windshield, dented rims and falling bumpers plowed, drifted and slipped through the muddy Shelby County Fairgrounds’ makeshift racecourse Saturday evening, each driver trying to outlast the others at the Autocross Racing and Demolition Derby.

The final event of the Shelby County Fair was put on by Rouse Promotions, a racing company that specializes in putting on demolition derbies at county fairs, according to its website.

Around 50 drivers registered for either the autocross or the demo derby.

The autocross racing came first. Even though the sun was shining during the 7 p.m. start time, the rain poured down for over an hour beforehand, making the track conditions muddy and, in some places, flooded.

The drivers spent about a half hour just driving laps around the L-shaped course, trying to remove the slick film from the top of the track and practice driving through the mud.

Nathan Stickford, one of three people in charge of creating and taking care of the course, said the mud would make the course more exciting.

“I realize our track conditions are not ideal, but it’s gonna be fun,” he said.

There were six heats of mini-car racing and one heat of big-car racing. The heats averaged about eight racers. The mini-car drivers raced eight laps, and the big-car drivers raced ten. Each race utilized a rolling start (meaning the cars took a lap before they waved the green flag).

Following the heats was a mini-car feature race, and a big car feature-race, which ran 12 and 15 laps, respectively.

Drivers found themselves sliding through the mud at top speeds of 60 mph, drifting on turn three to the backstretch, off the course, into the barriers, and sometimes into each other.

After every race, Stickford and the other maintenance men pushed cars that died or got stuck in the mud off the course with their forklifts and bulldozers.

The cars slung mud more than 20 feet in the air, turning the infield bleachers into a splash zone of sorts for anyone with a pink pit pass band on their wrist.

But the mud posed no problem to Matt Craft, who won the mini-car feature race.

“With this course being the way it is, with the hairpin turn going into turn four and being muddy – its a driver’s course and not a speed course,” he said.

Craft “drove pretty good” Saturday night, drifting through turns with more control and more traction than most of the other drivers to win his first race of the year. Craft said he was running out of gas toward the end of the race, which caused him to slow a little as he went around turn four. He almost got passed, but he held on to first place as the checkered flag waved.

“Once you get your first win, it makes things a lot easier and less pressure on yourself to get out there and race,” he said. “You don’t have the stress of trying to prove yourself to people. You know you’ve already won a race, and you know you can win, so it’s less stress on yourself because you’ve won already.”

By the end of the race, Craft’s car was so covered in mud that the orange No. 72 and racing stripe down the hood were no longer visible. Craft was also covered in mud.

Then came the three demolition derbys – the power wheels derby for kids, one for mini-cars and one for big-cars.

Small children in bicycle helmets started their electric cars out in front of the grandstand for the mini power wheels derby. One boy’s helmet had spikes on it and a skull with crossbones. The kids bumped each others’ cars for about ten minutes, and no victor was declared.

Then came the real destruction. Stickford used the forklift to place four destroyed cars on either side of the demo site, barricading in 13 mini-cars who competed in this game of extreme bumper cars.

Sparks flew high as cars smashed into one another, rendering each other useless until only one car could ignite its engine.

At one point, a red flag came up so members of the Shelbyville Fire Department could put out a car fire.

Engines smouldered white smoke, blocking visibility, but when the air cleared, Jordan DeBoard won his first demolition derby.

“It feels good,” DeBoard said. “I put a lot of work into it. It’s always been in our family. Me, my dad and my brother, we all derby. We’re all here tonight, and it just feels good.”

Derby must run in the family, because this was only his second derby, and he was not prepared for the mud.

“We had tires, luckily, but it showed clear skies all day, so (the mud) was kind of a surprise,” he said. “It prob helped me a little bit. Cars slide against each other more, so more big impact hits.”

DeBoard said getting hit didn’t hurt because his adrenaline was running.

“You don’t even feel it,” he said. “I’ll feel it tomorrow, but not right now.”

The big-car derby had more “big impact hits,” to put it the way DeBoard said. Some cars got hit so hard into the concrete barriers that the barriers moved.

It came down to two drivers, Randy Perry and Shawn Long, battling it out until neither car moved anymore. Shawn Long and his No. 305 car was declared the winner.