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August 8, 2012
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Big, loud, muddy crashes draw a big crowd

Cody Cervantes had four separate cars ram into his SAAB 900 this past Saturday night.

The 27-year old Glenwood Springs resident was dodging oncoming vehicles all night while sloshing through a sloppy mud pit. And by the time he was finally hit head on after driving for 10 minutes, all of the extra dents and dings in the car he was driving were capped by a big plume of smoke coming from the engine.

As much as such an experience would steer most people away from the road forever, that wasn't the case for Cervantes. He hopped out of his dilapidated car with a big smile on his face, acting like he'd just had the time of his life.

"Absolute insanity," Cervantes said. "If it wasn't for that big plume of smoke coming from my engine, I would have kept going until I saw sparks."

The insanity Cervantes was speaking of was the annual demolition derby, held at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle as part of the county fair. It's an event that features sparks, smoke, the smell of gas and burning oil, an occasional engine fire and dozens and dozens of crashes. The prospect of a $2,000 grand prize drew drivers from Delta to Glenwood Springs to the mud pit, and the prospective car wrecks drew a big enough crowd to fill the arena grandstands.

"Every year we clear a profit," said Roger Coombs, 41, who has volunteered to help run the county fair event for the past four years. "With this event, they can fill the grand stands with very minimal effort or expense.

"I grew up around here," continued Coombs, who participates in demolition derbies but won't compete in the one he helps run. "With this kind of crowd, I'd like nothing more than to see it continue."

That likely won't be an issue. Coombs didn't have exact attendance figures, but he estimated the derby's crowd was comparable to the rodeo, another popular annual fair event.

But instead of seeing cowboys flying off the backs of horses and cattle, spectators got a chance to see some vehicles flying through the air. Along with the demolition derby in the rodeo arena, the event included timed runs on the surrounding dirt race track by ATVs, snowmobiles and four-wheelers.

The primary draw, however, were the vehicles ramming into each other in the "last-man standing" derby event. The crowd of well over 1,000 spectators saw the engine of Grand Junction's Kody Wilson catch on fire after another Grand Junction resident, Jason Powell, hit him. Another driver, Duane Bloom of Delta, had engine coolant gushing from his radiator in the initial round that forced him to withdraw.

"I saw that coming and said to myself, 'Boy, I'd better hang on!'" Wilson said.

"This stuff is always fun," Wilson continued. "Every time there's a demolition derby it packs the grandstands. People love this sort of stuff."

Turns out that luck loved Grand Junction's Tommy Shannon, who came away the winner after the final round of six cars. He outlasted Stephen Gully of Whitewater, whose car nearly burst into flames about five minutes into the final event, but was still running well enough to continue another five to 10 minutes.

Jesse Merry of Parachute made a go of it in the final round. His team fixed his vehicle up enough for him to continue on, but his engine failed not long after the round began. Also making a final run was Fruita's Anthony Creamer, who didn't last much longer than Merry.

"Most people enjoy the demolition derby," Coombs said. "Traditionally, it's very easy to get people out for this, and you can see why."

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The Post Independent Updated Aug 8, 2012 06:17PM Published Aug 8, 2012 06:15PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.