Annual demolition derby ends Lassen County Fair with dirt and destruction
Miss Lassen County and her court present Nevin Kennemore, of Susanville, with trophies for winning first place in the main event and for being the most aggressive driver during the demolition derby Sunday, July 21. Photos by Maddie Musante
Rick Cramer, in car No. 16, and Johnny Hay, in car No. 213, go head-to-head outside of the boundaries of the demolition derby. Cramer won the second heat.
July 30 — The annual demolition derby ended fair week with a crash, smash and a lot of bangs. Despite only having seven cars participate, the derby had no trouble entertaining the crowd, as the entire event was filled with excitement, suspense, and lots of drama. By the time the main event rolled around, hardly a single person in the grandstands was still sitting.
The derby took place Sunday, July 21 at Diamond Mountain Speedway and marked the end of this year’s Lassen County Fair.
Before the derby began, the drivers lined up to show off their cars to the crowd. Johnny Hay’s car, No. 213, which was dedicated to Luke Sheehy, a Lassen County firefighter and smokejumper who died June 10 from injuries he suffered while fighting a wildfire in Modoc National Forest, won the award for prettiest car. Before the derby continued, a moment of silence was held in honor of Sheehy.
Shortly after, the action began. Jonathan Stephenson came out as the winner of the first heat, however, due to car troubles, he was unable to make it back into the arena for the main event.
Rick Cramer, in car No. 16, was the winner of the second heat.
By the time the main event rolled around, emotions were high amongst the drivers, their pit crews and the crowd. The tension between local and out-of-town drivers became apparent as cars began teaming up to target certain local drivers.
“It was starting to get kind of ugly, so I kind of warned one of them and then, the next thing you know, there were a couple driver door hits,” said event organizer Jesse Williams, who was standing alongside the arena during the derby.
Teaming up and hitting driver doors are both against the rules at the Lassen County Fair derby.
However, the aggression didn’t stop there. The boundaries of the arena, lined with large tires, were completely disregarded when one car pushed local driver, Nevin Kennemore, completely outside of the boundaries. The move caused the crowd and several members of pit crew to go wild with outrage.
“Once they started doing that and they hit a couple driver doors, I automatically, in my mind, disqualified them,” Williams said.
However, while in the middle of keeping an eye of the drivers, operating the flags and trying to keep things under control, Williams had no way of communicating his decision to disqualify the rule breakers to the crowd or the pit crews who went crazy booing and screaming.
As the main event continued, Kennemore got his revenge by pushing several cars that had been tag teaming him outside of the boundaries and onto the track.
In the end, Kennemore’s perseverance and determination got him the big win, which delighted the local crowd.
This year was Kennemore’s sixth year competing in the demolition derby and his second time winning the main event.
“It was a lot of fun,” Kennmore said afterward. “A few cars were enemies … if you noticed, at the end, they wouldn’t hit any car but mine, so that’s what they got (disqualified) for.”
Kennemore took home a $1,200 prize for winning and says he plans to be back next year.
There is no doubt this year’s demolition derby was a crowd pleaser. “There were some hard hits … it was a good show,” Williams said.
The hostility between some of the drivers only upped the entertainment factor for the crowd. However, the dramatic nature of this year’s derby is causing Williams to rethink future demolition derbies. “You always have certain guys that don’t like other guys — and that’s in any sport — but you’ve got to think, you’re basically taking, say, a 3,000 pound car and trying to destroy the next guy, so it gets pretty hectic,” he said, “(some of the drivers) said some choice words, so I told them, ‘Don’t even bother coming back.’ … somebody could have gotten hurt.”
In addition to banning drivers who have previously broken the derby rules, Williams is planning to change the specifications required for cars. He attributes the dwindling number of participants in demolition derbies to the fact that it is getting harder to find derby cars, more expensive to buy them and more expensive to make them compliant to derby specifications. He points out that the demolition derby at the California State Fair in Sacramento, which usually has 20 to 30 cars, only had five this year. “The attendance for derbies is down everywhere … it’s getting a lot more expensive,” Williams said. So, he plans to make some changes next year, which will allow more people to participate. He says he’s thinking about “going back stock to where you basically chain doors shut and, you know, run it, which will help out because kids and people who don’t have a lot of money can go find a car and build it competitively.”
Regardless of the number of cars or the specifics of the rules, it is safe to say the demolition derby remains a favorite at the Lassen County Fair and will continue to see a large and rowdy crowd of spectators eager to watch dirt fly and metal twist.