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Demo derby returns in smash 'em up style

Loud engines, chained up hunks of battered metal and burning rubber created the sights and sounds of a classic demo derby Sunday in the grandstand arena at the Hubbard County Fair.

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Wally Meier, right, squares off with #50 Joel Pritchett as they send dirt flying toward the bleachers during the demo derby held Sunday at the Hubbard County Fair. Meier outlasted the field to win the big cars class. (Photos by Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)

Loud engines, chained up hunks of battered metal and burning rubber created the sights and sounds of a classic demo derby Sunday in the grandstand arena at the Hubbard County Fair.

Brought back after a four-year absence, the event was a welcome addition to the fair lineup for local motor heads who put on quite a show.

An estimated 1,500 derby fans watched as some of the local boys smashed opponents on their way to the winner's circle.

Bob Meier of Park Rapids has been demo derbying for about 15 years, since he was in high school. He and buddy Andrew Carmichael entertained the crowd as they finished first and second respectively in the truck class. The veteran drivers are part of a small group of Park Rapids drivers who compete around the Midwest and demonstrated their demo expertise in the local arena Sunday.

Success at a demo derby is more than just driving crazy and smashing anything that comes close.

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"There's always some strategy involved," Meier said after his winning effort. "You want to make smart hits and not just wreck it. It looks like we're just out there piling them up, but really at some point in time, you're trying to at least be the last guy running."

Meier in his 1990 Ford Bronco knows what to do and where to hit as he and good buddy Carmichael unofficially teamed up to defeat the father/son pair of Bob Butler and Josh Wurst.

"We're running against these three-quarter-ton trucks. That's all I was trying to do is hit the front wheels the whole time. Just hit wheels; flat tires lose derbies," Meier said. "Trying to knock the steering out of them. At some point in time, I clipped the steering out of the guy that took fourth and that pretty much ended his day."

With two of the four trucks knocked out of the two-on-two grudge match, Meier won when Carmichael popped the driveshaft and his motor was coming out of the front of his 1974 F250.

Meier may have won the big trophy, but Carmichael won a coveted title for his driving style Sunday.

"That's why I got the Mad Dog trophy because I was tearing it up," Carmichael said of being awarded as the most aggressive driver in the truck class.

Wally Meier joined his brother by winning the big car class and had fun in front of the home crowd. He came in fresh off a second place finish in at a big derby in Mandan, N.D. where there were 48 cars in his class.

Wally figured experience was key to his win Sunday.

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"You just have to drive smart. You don't lose your water, don't wreck your radiator."

"Track awareness. Don't get stuck on a bad spot. Situational awareness. Knowing where you're at on the track, knowing where he's at on the track, where the next guy's going to be. Where you can hide and tuck behind," Bob Meier explained.

The local drivers agreed getting the demo derby back in the fair is a good start and they hope it's back for good.

"It's cool that it was successful," Bob said.

"It's the hometown derby, man!" added Joel Pritchett, who also won a Mad Dog trophy.

"The real test is how it is next year. I've never seen this many mini (compact) cars here ever," Carmichael added. "We'll see how many come back next year. We'll come back next year just because it's our hometown. Obviously, everybody liked that we actually put on a show. Not only our class but the full size class, too."

Demo derby is in their blood as the Park Rapids drivers compete at bigger shows in places like Kansas.

"In the peak of derbying, when it was huge," Meier said, "me and Lance Pritchett and these guys would run 14 shows a year."

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Bob offered up a little more insight into what good demo derby driving is all about.

"Me and him (Wally) and Andrew, every direction we go there's a reason for it. I don't just go that way to go that way. I see where these guys are and I go that way to make sure I'm in the right spot so I don't end up on the end of one of those mad dog hits, you know? The last thing I want to do is put myself at the end of the track by myself so somebody can come all the way down there and hit me.

For this derby to grow, the crew agrees it will take more to get the out-of-towners here. Bigger and better is key.

With the sun shining, motors roaring and cold beer flowing the spectators appeared to have a good time Sunday. And as one guy told a friend in front of the beer stand, "This is America. This is what it's all about!"

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