MOUNT VERNON — The demolition derby is not for the weak at heart.
From the opening whistle until just one car is left standing, cars of all makes and models are crashed into each other by drivers out to prove their vehicle is the best and toughest there is.
Monday at the Knox County Fair, a large crowd witnessed drives of 21 larger model cars and 12 compact cars smash into each other until there were pieces, parts and smoke everywhere. In the end, Rod Shepler of Killbuck had the toughest feature car while Tim Jensen of Howard had the toughest compact vehicle.
“It was pretty rough out there,” said Shepler, who has won 29 demolition derbies in the 15 years he’s been entering them. “It’s a lot of fun, though. I’m in it for the fun. If you’re in it for the money, you’re in the wrong field.”
Shepler, as the winner of the feature model class, won $500 for his night’s work. Hazel Michowka of Shiloh came in second to win $200. Joel Nicholls of Mount Vernon finished third.
Shepler and Michowka had quite a battle for the top spot in the feature final. Both had placed in the top three in their heat to make it to the 10-vehicle final. In the end, Shepler’s ’71 Chevy station wagon was able to beat Michowka’s ’86 Ford into submission to grab the top trophy.
“[Michowka] and her husband really know how to build a good car,” Shepler said. “She made it pretty rough out there.”
Also making it to the finals were Jason Williams of Mount Vernon, Jason Joyner of Mount Vernon, David Osborne of Centerburg, Don McDaniel of Howard, Steve Hanna of Killbuck, Brian Zerman of Mount Gilead and Keith Evans of Millersburg.
Joyner, who’s been running in derbies since getting his parents to sign a permission slip 12 years ago, fought through his opening heat well, but didn’t fare as well in the finals.
“Everything held together tight. The car folded together right and did not break,” said Joyner, who spent much of the time following his first heat prying the back left fender away from the tire. “This is just an adrenaline rush — purely adrenaline. It’s a shear bragging man’s sport. There’s not much money, mainly bragging rights.”
Demolition derbies have been in Joyner’s blood for many years, as his grandfather, Johney Payne, participated for 25 years. It took him about 2 1/2 months to get this vehicle into derby shape. Joyner bought it in Norwalk and added his own motor, transmission and cage. All-in-all, it cost about $1,000 to get the vehicle ready to be destroyed at derbies.
“I’ve probably destroyed 20 vehicles. It’s a lot of money for a junk car, but that’s all right. I didn’t have to buy a motor for it. The motor I’ve got has been used for 16 derbies,” Joyner said.
Jensen and his ’96 Chevy won the compact car division, holding off tough competition from Lindsey Beale of Mount Vernon and Larry Fath of Howard.