NEW HAVEN — Huge crowds packed into the grandstand near the tractor pad at the Addison County Fair and Field Days Wednesday and Thursday evenings to watch the most chaotic part of the week’s festivities: the No. 1 Auto Parts Demolition Derby.
The crowds — which swelled to over 4,000 each night — got their fix of mayhem as cars collided and somehow kept rolling with only two or three wheels. In each contest one car — or minivan — emerged out of the disorder still running.
The competition was pretty much as chaotic from a driver’s perspective as it was from the crowd’s.
“My strategy: just hit the other cars,” said Trevor Sampson of Addison, who kept his ’95 Mitsubishi Mirage running long enough to be a co-winner of the second 4-cylinder heat Wednesday night.
Mike Ciufo of North Clarendon finished third in his 8-cylinder heat in the ’89 Chevy Caprice he had bought for $250, but when asked to explain his technique, he replied, “I don’t have much of a strategy.”
But Garrett Givens of Addison, who won the big-car final Thursday evening and came in second in the mini-car final on Wednesday said he does have a few strategies, but that he “doesn’t like to give them out.”
Givens won a statewide demolition derby in Rutland in 2007 and he’s won the big-car main event at Field Days numerous times in the past 10 years.
This year, he was driving a black ’77 Thunderbird. Like many of the contestants, Givens is a mechanic, and he thinks this helps him a lot.
“The main trick is how you build the car,” he said after the race Thursday. “My engine can go up to 500 (degrees). My block right now is red, and I can go start that right now.”
Givens won the final big-car event after EMTs attended to Brian Blake of Salisbury’s banged up shoulder, the only injury of the derby.
The winner of the big-car final Wednesday evening was Kilie Martell of Starksboro, who kept his car running longer than Skip Goodell of Danby.
Earlier that evening, Goodell had emerged from his 8-cylinder heat in which Gus Letourneau of Brandon became a fan favorite after both the front and back ends of his car got sandwiched upward, making it almost impossible for Letourneau to see from the driver’s seat.
Miraculously, though, he kept his clunker moving, prompting veteran announcer Rudy Delbert to voice what most people seemed to be thinking: “Oh my gosh, how does that thing go?”
Letourneau’s flattened ride eventually stopped, and Mark Jones of Danby took third place in the heat.
A few minutes later, Aaron Desabrais of Addison finished first in the 4-cylinder mini-car final Wednesday night after he repeatedly bashed the 2002 Honda Civic he bought for $10 into second-place finisher Givens’ clunker.
Desabrais, 17, will start his senior year at Vergennes Union High School this fall, and he plans on saving the $250 he won to pay to study automotive mechanics, most likely at Vermont Technical School.
THURSDAY NIGHT BASHING
Brian Blake of Rutland got Thursday night off to an aggressive start in the first 6-cylinder heat as he took full advantage of the size of the track, building up a lot of momentum while he reversed across half the tractor pad for three early bashes.
But his car soon picked up some significant damage, and he finished the heat in third place behind Schott Cram of West Rutland and Bill Howard of Leicester.
In the next heat, an 8-cylinder competition, Brent Warren of Salisbury got wedged early on one of the concrete barriers surrounding the pitch, but escaped to be one of the two remaining cars, along with Givens.
In the third big-car heat, audience members jumped in their seats as one of Mike Shoefoll of Clarendon’s tires exploded loudly. Brian Blake and Zack Daniels eventually emerged with the last two running cars, although Daniels needed a push from a forklift to get his ride running again and exit the track.
The 4-cylinder champion was decided in a “one and done” event with no playoff Thursday evening, and 14 cars entered the track to compete.
Troy Gibbs of Lake Dunmore and Devin Dubois of Addison were eventually the last two cars remaining, but both had front-wheel damage and couldn’t drive straight.
The drivers circled around trying to hit each other and eventually — after Delbert remarked that “my ex-wife drove better than that!” — Gibbs emerged the winner.
In the final showcase event, Givens, the star of the derby, won the large-car trophy after Zack Daniels’ smaller car stalled, started a few times and eventually died.
MINIVANS AND PICKUPS
There were always fewer than five contestants in the minivan and truck exhibitions both nights and this cleared out the pitch, allowing for more room to build up speed and long one-on-one duels.
On Wednesday night, three vans entered the arena and one got knocked out early after it got wedged on the concrete barrier.
Jason Ethier and Gary English kept slamming their two vans into one another for five minutes — even after one of Ethier’s front wheels came off — and English eventually won the expo, driving out of the pitch on his own power.
Thursday night’s van action was equally exciting, as Delbert remarked that Greg Felion’s van had become “only a two passenger van” after its back end got folded up.
The pickup truck competition that night only had two contestants since the third, Israel Clark of Bristol, couldn’t get his truck to start.
So Brian Blake of Salisbury battled hard in one-on-one action with Givens. The two kept dueling even after the two trucks couldn’t steer straight and circled around each other.
Eventually Givens came out on top, and after a brief celebration on the roof of his truck, he geared up for the big-car event, which he won a few minutes later.
Givens had a good two nights, even by his high standards, and he said he’ll be back at next year’s Field Days Derby, hoping to defend his trophy.
He’ll likely use the same Thunderbird next year, which he paid $1,000 for a few years ago.
“But I’ve won three derbies with it,” he said. “That’s $1,800 so it’s paying for itself.”
Reporter George Altshuler is at email@example.com.