Demo derby: Heavy metal and twisted dreams

NEW HAVEN — Over the course of two evenings last week at the Addison County Fair and Field Days, twisted metal, shredded rubber and a few puddles of flaming gasoline covered the dirt track at the No. 1 Auto Parts Demolition Derby.
The longstanding attraction on the tractor pad at the fair brought its share of thrills, dust, noise and, in the end, confusion and outrage when two-time state champion Justin Bolster walked away with the grand prize at the end of Thursday night’s big feature.
Wednesday evening saw seven bouts, with many veteran drivers smashing their way to qualify for the next night’s contest.
In the first four-cylinder round, boyfriend and girlfriend Brian Blake and Jessica Morse of Cornwall, found themselves facing off for first and second place. Morse had to weave her way through the smoking wrecks of competitors around her to get in on the action. After making contact with Blake’s ride, both cars exhausted and the winners climbed out of their respective rigs to hug.    
“I just looked behind me and there she was,” Blake said afterwards as the two walked off the track, hands linked and trophies under their arms.
In the second V4 round, Gary Grant of Addison succeeded in reducing the overall length of his car by about a third while smashing his way to first place. Shoreham’s Gabe LaVerge did some impressive battle with RJ Germain to claim the second qualifying spot.
Grant had barely finished getting what was left of his vehicle off the track when he had to run back out to fight his way to second behind his brother Geoffrey Grant in the opening V6 battle, which saw three fires that were quickly extinguished by Vergennes firefighters, who were outfitted in heavy gear on a hot night.
First-round winner Brian Blake returned for the second 6-cylinder bout to again stand at the top of the pile ahead of Skip Foster. Ben Heustiss of Vergennes also advanced.
The motorized chaos continued with a bout of 15 vans. Gary English’s Nop Brothers Sons van brought a world of pain until his Dodge was knocked out by winners Tim Whitney and Garrett Given, both of Cornwall.
While the earlier heats saw crowded action, the one V8 bout of the night had just five cars squaring off in the arena, allowing dramatic spins and swerves at higher speeds. In a frantic effort to escape pressure, Boomer LaFountain, slightly overzealous with the accelerator, found himself stuck between two of the concrete blocks that enclosed the ring, rendering his front end vulnerable to Wade Steel, who quickly dispatched him. Carl Foster’s smaller and more maneuverable Volvo amazingly retained all four tires on the way to qualify alongside Gary English.
A fleet of seven trucks rounded out the first evening. Wallingford’s Tommy Woodbury lost a wheel in the opening seconds thanks to an accurate hit from Garrett Given, but still managed to fight his way to one of the qualifying spots. It was Chris Bapp of Bristol who delivered the final blows of the night with smoke pouring from the hood. And the crowd roared approval as the night concluded.
Action resumed Thursday evening with more qualifying heats and the final feature, which had a $1,000 grand prize.
In the two  four-cylinder heats, Garrett Givens, Dan O’Shaughnessy, Brent Warren (aka “Kid Dynomite”), and Issac Paquette smashed their way to top positions.
Greg Whitney of Brandon and Bridgette Sheppard of Starksboro came out on top of the pile in the V6 qualifier.
More van action featured four vans and a smaller pickup driven by RJ Toll. The two-door Toyota was too small for the truck division, but with some modifications, was able to run with the minivans. Ethan Farrell’s “special delivery” van reduced the Toyota to a wreck of scrap metal by sandwiching it against the concrete blocks. Farrell, who came from Narragansett, R.I., qualified for the feature along with pig farmer Ethan Gevry’s “Hog-wild” machine.
The V8 qualifier of the evening saw the debut of the Justin Bolster of New Haven, who brought one of the longest and most powerful vehicles of the contest. The red, late-model station wagon sported twin mufflers protruding from the hood like the horns of an angry bull as he rampaged through a field of competitors, smoking Boomer and parking Underhill’s AJ Sumner in the early moments.
Ryan Sweeney won his $500 entry fee back after battling to the top of the pickup truck qualifier. The Ford, which was painted hunter orange and included a wide Confederate flag across the hood on Thursday night, had been his vehicle for driving to work just two weeks earlier. Josh Kennett survived an illegal driver’s door hit to qualify as well, albeit with next to no steering, one surviving tire and a truck bed that dragged and flapped in the dirt.
Competitors in the final feature of the night were given 10 minutes to make any preparations. The feature included all the winners of the night’s qualifiers as well as those of Wednesday night. Twenty cars of varying sizes crowded into the dirt arena as the crowd counted them down for the final round of the 2016 fair.
The feature contest was chaos as four-, six- and eight-cylinder cars; minivans; and trucks went head-to-head. Clouds of dust and exhaust erupted from the track and the roar of straining engines was louder than any previous contest.
Justin Bolster’s red whale of a station wagon seemed to shrug off blows from competitors as Bolster swung the vehicle in wide, devastating arcs and used the extended steel frame as a battering ram. Shortly after the start, Bolster made contact with a driver’s side door, which earned him a warning from one of the referees.
Groans and shouts of protest issued from the crowd as Bolster committed the same penalty three more times against different cars. With each penalty, the crowd grew more outraged, waving to the announcer’s box to issue a warning or disqualify him. Announcer Steve Bucknam said following the feature that he had signaled to monitors ringing the pit to disqualify him 10 times via walkie-talkie, but due to the noise, they hadn’t heard him and hadn’t made the call. By the time they were able to stop the drivers, most of the cars had been smashed beyond recognition and Bolster, Brian Blake and Chris Murray were awarded the top three spots, in that order.
“At that point, we’re stuck in the bed we made,” Bucknam said.
A more senior member of the Woodbooger team, which organized the derby, made the final decision to award first place to Bolster. Four people stormed into the press box to angrily demand Bolster be disqualified and fair officials summoned Sheriff’s deputies.
With much grumbling, the crowd left while Bolster’s car was towed from the track, the trophy shining in the backseat. 

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