NEW HAVEN — A huge Thursday evening crowd swelled by good weather and a high-flying warm-up act watched the annual Addison County Fair and Field Days collision of the clunkers for cash prizes, also known as the Number One Auto Parts Demolition Derby.
After local natives Shawn Connors and Adam Cousino flew high off ramps on their motorcycles to perform mid-air daredevil tricks while deftly avoiding mishaps, dozens of drivers then deliberately created crashes in five demo derby heats.
Maybe 4,000 fans showed up as the forecasted 30-percent chance of showers gave way to a 100-percent chance of mechanical mayhem. They watched colorful cars — many already missing most of their rear ends after Wednesday night’s action — that were sponsored by salvage yards and garages and covered with written shout-outs to girlfriends and buddies. None operated with the benefit of sound dampening, and many offered advice like, “Play hard, and hit harder.”
At the end of the night, derby veterans Tom Woodbury and Kyle Bianchi ran one-two in the big-car feature after earning berths by placing in two earlier heats. Those two were also the top drivers in Wednesday’s feature, with Otter Valley Union High School alum Bianchi winning.
Engine fires interrupted both Thursday’s four-cylinder and minivan heats, which came between the big-car preliminaries and the evening-ending feature. But quick action from Vergennes Fire Department volunteers and the burly R&R Productions track boss in helping Addison’s Tyler Birchmore get out of his flaming Dodge Neon, prevented injury.
A driver known only by the logo on the side of his beater, “Rockpile,” won the first heat, and Cornwall’s Garrett Givens, New York’s Jason Demers, Danby’s Mark Jones and Salisbury’s Brian Blake also survived the 11-car heat and qualified for the feature.
Bolsta, driving a Ford Crown Victoria, and longtime veteran Boomer Lafountain got some of the best licks in. Early on, Lafountain crammed Bolsta into one of the concrete blocks lining the dirt arena, moving the block about six feet with the force of the blow. Bolsta escaped, but a series of smacks from Demers, Blake, and two from Givens ended his efforts.
The ever-active Givens later knocked Rockpile into Demers. At the end, only Rockpile and Givens were left, and finally smoke erupted from Givens’ Grand Marquis. The fumes prompted the first of many wisecracks from Rudy the announcer: “Give him a bath,” and hostilities ceased.
Two drivers dominated early on in the second heat, Leicester’s Scott Pidgeon and New York’s Amanda Demers. Pidgeon especially looked to make the most of his few minutes behind the wheel, creaming Givens (who was back in a different rig), Demers, and Givens again in the opening seconds.
Woodbury and Daniels, driving a hulking 1969 Chrysler 300, also got into the act, and Givens found himself repeatedly on the receiving end. Daniels also banged East Middlebury veteran Troy Lapell, whose rear bumper got hung up on a block. Givens then thumped Daniels into Brandon’s Chuck Havens, and all three of their bumpers locked. Meanwhile, Demers and Pidgeon collided and neither of their vehicles survived.
Finally, Havens shook loose and won the heat along with Bianchi and Woodbury, who found mostly clear sailing. Also advancing were Givens and Daniels.
Many drivers pleased the crowd with their take-no-prisoners approaches in the always-active four-cylinder heat, where cars are quicker, but their blows do less damage: Steve Lackard, Bryan Ashley-Selleck, Sam Robtoy and especially Josh Jerger in a Subaru Wagon were merciless.
Ashley-Selleck wiped out one car’s front end, and the action was stopped for track officials to check for a fuel leak, prompting Announcer Rudy to weigh in: “If you were a nice guy, you could change that guy’s tire.”
Soon afterward, flames shot two feet out of the engine of Tyler Birchmore’s Dodge Neon, and the track boss raced over to pull him free. Rudy chimed in again. “Don’t get excited. It’s a small car. It’s a small fire.”
A few minutes later, Brian Blake Jr.’s Ford Escort was rocked repeatedly by Jerger and Cornwall’s Gary English, also in a Subaru. Rudy showed safety comes first, requesting another stop in the action when Blake became understandably a bit wobbly behind the wheel. “I don’t care what he says. Get him out of there,” Rudy called out. “His mother will thank me later.”
Finally, Jeff “Psycho Man” Selleck of Sudbury’s car was the only one running. Bridport’s Jerry Rule took second, Montreal’s Mike Hance was third, English was fourth, and Maureen Redmond of Vergennes took fifth.
It didn’t look like Jerger and Ashley-Selleck cared if they won or not. When the heat was whistled over, Jerger climbed out and stood on his wagon’s hood in triumph, and Ashley-Selleck patted the top of his Neon.
Wednesday’s minivan heat was action-packed. Thursday’s, not so much. Early on, Gary Grant, Travis Van De Weert and Trapper Lafountain came out loaded for bear, but Van De Weert drilled Grant and Devin Bradford took out Van De Weert in consecutive collisions, and Lafountain stalled out soon afterward. Flames soon erupted from Lafountain’s engine, and he leapt free as firefighters sprang back into action.
That left four vans, all with barely working steering and missing tires. That translated to slow-motion hits and little action, with Announcer Rudy threatening to let an audience vote to decide the winner if the drivers didn’t start doing damage.
“If you guys have dance cards, I’m going to be upset,” he said at one point.
Finally, Justin Bolsta’s Dodge bumped Greg Felion’s tricolor rig into a corner, where it died a quiet death, leaving Bolsta, a Fair Haven resident, the winner. Meanwhile the event gave qualifiers more time to bash their rides back into some semblance of shape for the feature.
There, Daniels’s Death Star Chrysler quickly wiped out Blake’s green-and-yellow sedan. Wood-bury, with his twin flaming exhaust funneled through the hood of his red sedan, pounded Givens, and Givens drilled the Chrysler.
Havens knocked Jones twice and Bianchi once, while Rockpile nailed Havens and took a blow from Daniels. Somewhere in the chaos, Demers stopped running, and then Daniels finished off Givens.
Jones kept hitting, and Daniels nailed Rockpile three times, once driving him into Havens. Finally, Daniels turned Rockpile into scrap heap.
Bianchi then took out Havens, and just three were left: Bianchi, Daniels and Woodbury. Daniels stalled, Bianchi’s engine suddenly blew a cloud of fumes, and the action ended with the Woodbury’s twin front exhausts making the last noise.
The winners of the Number One Auto Parts Demolition Derby on Wednesday and Thursday at Addison County Fair and Field Days were as follows:
HEAT 1 QUALIFIERS: 1. Andy Husk; 2. Matt Gevry; 3. Kenneth Winning; 4. Chad Patch.
HEAT 2 QUALIFIERS: 1. Gus Letourneau; 2. Robert Whipple; 3. Troy Lapell; 4. Chuck Havens.
HEAT 3 QUALIFIERS: 1. Tommy Woodbury; 2. Brent Warren; 3. Kyle Bianchi; 4. Darrell Anderson.
4-CYLINDER: 1. Kyle Wrisley; 2. Gary English; 3. Hank Tierney.
MINIVANS: 1. Jason Ethier; 2. Ed White Jr.
FEATURE: 1. Bianchi; 2. Woodbury.
HEAT 1 QUALIFIERS: 1. “Rockpile;” 2. Garrett Givens; 3. Jason Demers; 4. Mark Jones; 5. Brian Blake.
HEAT 2 QUALIFIERS: 1. Bianchi, Havens and Woodbury; 4. Zach Daniels; 5. Givens.
4-CYLINDER: 1. Jeff “Psycho Man” Selleck 2. Jerry Rule and Mike Hance; 4. Gary English; 5. Maureen Redmond.
MINIVAN: 1. Justin Bolsta; 2. Greg Filion; 3. Devin Bradford.
FEATURE: 1. Woodbury; 2. Daniels.