Note: This story appears in the Sunday, Aug. 11 newspaper on Page A1.
Cameron Bayha’s car took nine months to assemble — and only a few minutes to destroy.
Despite the heavy rain and claps of thunder Thursday night, a patient crowd stuck around to enjoy Demolition Derby at the Athens County Fair.
Competitors waited anxiously in heaps of mud, while local firefighters stationed themselves off to the side of the ring in case of emergency.
The popular event, hosted by Smash It Demolition Derby of London, Ohio, has been held at the Athens County Fair for the past 20 years. The goal of the derby is to be the last car remaining and to ram into competitors in the meantime. This year’s derby was split into two classes: two street stock mini class rounds and a pro stock class.
Tim Clark, co-owner of Smash It Demolition Derby, said the main difference between the pro stock class and street stock mini class is engine size.
“We just have different style vehicles and split them up by engine size, and we provide guidelines for everyone,” he said.
Younger drivers get a chance to compete in a street stock mini class junior heat. Bayha, 16, of Pomeroy, has competed in demolition derbies since he was just 13 years old.
The event is a family tradition, with Bayha’s father spending nine months to assemble the car he used on Thursday.
Bayha gets nervous before each derby he competes in, but said this motivates him to do his best. That strategy paid off — he took second place on Thursday evening.
“You always get butterflies beforehand and the crowd really cheers you on,” he said.
Local driver Curtis Vandyke has competed in the fair’s demolition derby three times and said his favorite part is the first hit.
“It’s such a rush when you first ram into someone else, it really gets your blood pumping,” said Vandyke, who competed in the street stock mini class.
A pair of Glouster drivers swept the first two heats, with Tony Miller winning the first and Drew Miller following with a win in the second heat.
At 16 years old, David Rutter was among the younger competitors in the main heats. This was Rutter’s fourth demolition derby within the past two years.
“It’s really fun to work on a car then bring it here to smash against everyone,” he said. “I do get nervous before, but you don’t have a lot of time to worry about it. Everything happens really fast.”
Rutter said he hopes to continue competing in derbies going forward.
The pro stock class brought tough competition to cap off the evening. The field narrowed quickly, leaving Roger Rafferty, Brandon Gould and Levi Mace to battle for the gold.
It took some time for a winner to emerge, as the muddy pit made it difficult for cars to build up adequate speed. In the end, Rafferty was victorious as cars were caked in mud, competitors were soaked and the audience ended the evening with a roar of applause.
For some spectators, the event is a longstanding tradition.
“I’ve come for 19 years to watch my friends compete,” said Athens resident Emma Peck. “It’s always something unexpected and it’s so fun to watch everyone smash into each other.
“It’s something I see every year, no matter what the weather is,” Peck said.