By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – As the rain pouring from the night sky soaked the area surrounding the Bell County Expo Center, drivers and crews who participated Sunday in the Central Texas State Fair demolition derby rushed to repair their cars.
"I got to put a radiator in it, and a battery in it," said Jim Roten, of Joshua, as he wedged a crowbar underneath the hood of his smashed Chevrolet in the light rain.
Several bolts and washers holding down the hood sprang off, dinging against other parts of the car as Roten worked the crowbar up and down.
"Whoever is torn up the most and needs the most work done, you help get done first," said Terry Botkin, of Denton, another driver, as he pulled a wheel from Roten's car.
More than 4,000 people watched the demolition derby, the main event for the evening.
The competition had 13 Texas drivers from as far as Denton and Joshua and as near as Killeen and Temple.
"We want the grassroots racers every year," said Michael Harper, vehicle inspector and driver of the monster truck Carolina Crusher. "The guys that can go out and buy a car out of the junkyard in the morning and race it tonight."
Harper checked over the cars to make sure they were safe for the drivers, that they had fire extinguishers and that there were no unfair advantages due to illegal modifications of the cars.
One car was sent home because "it looked like a welding class project,"
and had reinforcement everywhere, said Ed Beckley, the derby organizer.
Many of the drivers spend several weeks or months getting their cars ready to compete.
"It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience, all for 20 minutes of tearing it up," said Darian Eutsler, a driver from Killeen.
With five derbies behind him, Eutsler said he finds and buys his cars for almost every competition.
"You build the car to the rules," he said.
Not all the drivers follow Eutsler's model. Roten, for example, has raced his vehicle eight times and will continue to do so until it is no longer usable, he said.
"I hope they take it easy on me this time. It don't have a dent," Roten laughed from inside the smashed-up car before the race.
Drivers such as James Hagar, of Burnet, compete in the derby for the excitement and fun.
Hagar, last year's Central Texas State Fair winner, dressed as a clown and painted "Crash Clown," on the back of his vehicle.
"Where else can you just crash your car into someone else's car and get away with it?" Hagar asked.
As the first two heats got underway, members of the audience such as Tracy Morris, of Austin, peered at the tangled mess of vehicles ramming into each other.
"It is fun to watch them all crash and beat each other up," Morris said. The last time Morris saw a demolition derby was 11 years ago, when she was 15.
After the first two heats, there was a consolation round and a final round, after which the derby winner was announced.
The winners were: Botkin, first place; Keith Foantaine, second place; and Roten, third place.
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7554