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Demo derbies headed for scrap heap

VERMONT — Demolition derby organizers say fresh enforcement of a state regulation could halt the popular fairground events from proceeding next summer.
Under Vermont Racing Commission rules, which apply to demolition derby events, spectators cannot be within 30 feet of the arena in which the events take place.
This rule has never before been enforced for his arena, said Toby Lussier, superintendent of the Caledonia County Fair demolition derby event. But this past summer, he was told by regulators that he couldn’t hold next year’s derby in the arena he’s used for 17 years because it violates this rule. Lussier said he knows other demolition derby organizers across the state were also faulted for violating this provision.
Lussier said there’s no way for him to move his grandstand, or arena, in order to meet the 30-foot distance. It was rebuilt in 1995, he said, after an arsonist burned it down. Since then, Lussier said he’s always been told by regulators his arena was grandfathered into the rule. He said these regulations are “foolish” and that the demolition derby event is the most popular among Caledonia fairgoers.
“If it’s not resolved and we can’t have a demolition derby we have to eliminate the whole day at the fair,” Lussier said. “The fair cannot afford to put on another form of entertainment for another day.”
Lussier also questioned why demolition derby events, during which cars don’t gain much speed and travel in mud, would need a 30-foot distance between its spectators and the arena. He said this rule would make sense for high-speed racing events, but not demolition derbies.
Chris Winters, deputy secretary of state, said the Office of Professional Regulation (OPR), previously inspected racetracks with outsourced regulators. But the office found those regulators weren’t as consistent in their enforcement.
He said tracks had been grandfathered in without any documented rationale under the old regulators. During summer 2018, OPR brought these inspection responsibilities in house, to ensure that tracks are in better compliance with all racing regulations.
Requests for direct comment from OPR late last week and Monday went unanswered.
Winters said his office is willing to listen to proposed changes to the regulation as long as public protection is still a priority.
“Our intent is to educate and not to punish,” Winters said in an email. “We are not out to close down tracks or play ‘gotcha’ with the regulated community.”
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, shared these concerns at a Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules meeting Thursday. He said he wanted to discuss whether the committee could amend the rule, which he said is causing stress among fair officials who are already planning their summer shows. 
“The statute is calling for reasonableness, and I’m interpreting this rule as not being reasonable,” Benning said.
In order to determine if there is a safety issue that demolition derby events may be violating, Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, recommended setting up a discussion with fair organizers and officials from OPR to work out a solution before the committee recommended any changes.
A motion was then passed unanimously to set up the committee discussion, which will take place Dec. 4.

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