Crash-Up Derbies Are For Lovers

During the summer of 2008, I did time at demolition derbies throughout southern and central Ohio. A fixture of America’s county fairs, a demolition derby consists of several heats, each with five or more white-knuckle drivers furiously, deliberately and hellaciously ramming their vehicles into one another. Gravel and dirt is slung into the grandstands, fire occasionally spits out of after-market exhaust systems and souped-up engines as an amateur broadcaster announces the play-by-play through a tinny speaker system. The lone driver whose mangled vehicle is the last one running wins and is awarded a modest kitty—unless, of course, some other driver feels that he’s been wronged, at which point, fisticuffs ensue.

 

The result is a series of photographs featuring an array of derby action: still-lifes of vehicles marked by crudely hand-rendered, haphazardly spray-painted names of sponsors and loved ones on their metal shells; pre-competition portraits of drivers standing proud before their bashed-up machines; as well as scenes beyond the grandstand—vignettes of the men, women and children (It takes a village!) who together work to transform sedans and pick-ups into fierce and derby-ready beasts.

 

Having grown up in a family with two uncles who painted signs on mom-and-pop storefronts, I’m attracted to the hand-touched quality of the demolition derby car and the homespun spirit it reveals. I love objects that have been shaped by human hands; it’s a sensibility that consumes me as I set out to create visual documents of my daily experience. I wander around, admiring buildings and objects that have been abandoned to the elements. Fate sometimes has similar plans for automobiles. Fortunate is the Country Squire station wagon that comes screaming back to life with the help of some industrious man and his blowtorch and sledgehammer.