NEW HAVEN — Some of the greatest suspense at Thursday night’s muddy running of the No. 1 Auto Parts Demolition Derby at Addison County Fair and Field Days was whether the thunderstorms slamming the area would cancel the event.
Ultimately, to the relief of about 1,000 rain-soaked fans — including the Middlebury Union High School Class of 1987 enjoying their 25th reunion at the fair — and dozens of drivers who had spent hours knocking their beaters into running condition, organizers gave the green light to the motorized mayhem.
Mud-splattered longtime derby veteran Boomer Lafountain, a co-winner of the evening’s first large-car heat, spoke for all the drivers when he came to the announcing booth to pick up his trophy and cash prize.
“I don’t care if I run again,” Lafountain said. “I’m just happy I ran once.”
Although the worst of the storms slid by the fair site, steady rain did drive away fans through the course of the competition and kept the derby pit bogged down, although the rain did little to muffle noise from engines for which mufflers were a distant memory.
The lack of traction meant drivers struggled to get speed going to deliver big hits, and battles were usually decided not by knockout blows, but by which cars outlasted the others after being dinged multiple times, which radiators finally gave out in a cloud of steam, or which wobbly tires could no longer move a car in a deeper patch of muck.
In Thursday night’s closing feature, Brandon’s Chuck Haven — who barely earned his berth with a fourth-place finish in the night’s second heat — outlasted second-place finisher Terry Hopper of Exeter, N.H.
Hopper’s engine was still running, but he couldn’t move his car in a far corner of the battle pit (which is surrounded by hefty concrete blocks). After Hopper’s battered, grime-covered ride got a few love taps from Haven’s royal blue sedan, Haven was named the winner.
Full results were not available from Wednesday night (the Independent hopes to include results in the Field Days results in Thursday’s edition). Fair Haven’s Justin Bolsta, another Field Days derby veteran, won the feature.
Local drivers competing on Wednesday included Joshua Kelley, Brian Blake and Brian Blake Jr., Gary English, Robert Whipple, Kyle Lafountain, Aaron Baker, Aaron Desabrais, Jordan and Nathan Fleming, Brent Warren, Ed Shackett, Cody Steele, Eric Huestis, Jonas Hastings, Tim Whitney Sr., Zachary Stone, Ethan Gevry, Geoffrey Grant and Jordan Felion.
Many came back for more on Thursday, often in the same car after some fender-bending and other touching-up.
The fact that many cars were recycled from not only Wednesday but also 2011 was made clear early on, when drivers had trouble from the start getting their rides rolling in the mud in Thursday’s first heat.
Still, some managed to do some damage. Whiting’s Kyle Lafountain dominated the early stages in a big blue sedan, but bogged down and had to settle for fourth. He also later started fast in the feature and offered as much entertainment as any driver on Thursday.
Boomer (some athletes don’t need last names) also mixed it up in a tan sedan, as did Salisbury’s Brian Blake Sr. in a patriotic red, white and blue car.
Blake’s radiator offered the night’s best visual, exploding and sending steam 25 or 30 feet into the air. “I call that Old Faithful,” crowed organizer and announcer Rudy from the booth. Blake got his car rolling again, but it finally died amid another steam bath, and Blake did not get to hear the national anthem at the end of his night.
English, also aggressive, took third after his car also stalled out in a cloud of what was either steam or smoke or both, and Boomer and Rhode Island’s Jeff Farrell, whose car miraculously rose from the dead midway through the heat, were the co-winners.
Middlebury’s Troy Lapell, another derby mainstay, and Josh Kennett, driving a car that described him as “Kid Dynamite,” were the co-winners of the second of two eight-cylinder heats.
Lapell drove the best-looking car, a black sedan with “Class of ’87” on the side and the MUHS Tiger emblem on the hood, and his victory drew cheers and high fives from the reunion crowd on the far bank.
He and Kennett were aggressive from the start, as were Haven, Bridport third-place finisher Jason Ethier, and Middlebury’s Ed Shackett. Shackett got knocked out fairly early, however. His car’s front end started smoking, and then got nailed by Ethier.
At another point, it looked like both Kennett and Ethier might be out of luck after Kennett’s black sedan hung up on Ethier’s yellow-cab decorated ride, but the drivers managed to get free and back to business. Finally, the cab closed up shop for the night in a mud pit, and Lapell and Kennett got the nod.
The evening downsized to six-cylinder rigs for the third heat, but even with better traction the smaller cars did less damage. After the nine cars milled around the best they could for 10 or 12 minutes, the last two running were operated by co-winners Hopper and Lincoln’s Maddy Martel, and Brian Blake Jr. of Middlebury took third.
Addison’s Cody Steele upstaged them all, however, delivering a half-dozen solid blows before his nicely air-painted hatchback gave up the ghost midway through the fight. A competitor identified only as Ethan driving the orange No. 13 also showed spunk and finished fourth, as did Jordan Felion, who did not place.
Ethan later won the night’s fifth heat, which featured minivans. Four had been scheduled to compete, but apparently because soccer practice ran late only two showed up.
The small-car trend continued in the fourth heat, devoted to four-cylinder cars that had even more trouble finishing each other off on the slippery track. “It’s tough out there. They’re doing their best,” announced Rudy.
But the heat still provided some drama at the end. Addison’s Geoffrey Grant’s white ride and a green wagon driven by Cornwall’s Tim Whitney Sr. were the last two cars (barely) running after the eight lightweights had tapped each other around to the extent they could.
After Whitney and Grant exchanged a few slow-motion, mostly ineffective blows, Rudy told the pit officials to halt the action and make the drivers an offer — they could accept the tie and split the first- and second-place money evenly.
Predictably, the proposal was a non-starter. Grant, a championship wrestler at Vergennes Union High School, could be seen gesturing, pounding his hands together as if to say, “Let’s go.”
Unfortunately for Grant, soon afterward his car wouldn’t go, and Whitney won.
Also driving to make as much of an impact as possible were Grant’s former wrestling teammate, Aaron Desabrais; Ira’s Brian Bishop, who took third; and Addison’s Felion, who might have been the most active driver before he had to quit and jump out of his car when his engine burst into flames.
A half-dozen Vergennes Fire Department firefighters gathered around his engine and quickly took care of the issue, and the scene prompted another wisecrack from announcer Rudy.
“What a great night to have a hot dog,” he said. “We had marshmallows last night.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.