In Troy, N.C., the West Montgomery High School Athletic Booster Club has been hosting a demolition derby for the past 26 years. And along with raising thousands of dollars through entry fees, concessions, raffles, and parking, they've established a tradition of keeping the event safe.
By Craig Jones
President, West Montgomery High School Athletic Boosters Club
When you're hosting a demolition derby, your number one concern has to be safety--for the drivers and the fans. Preparing a demolition derby car isn't just a matter of going out and buying an old junker. To make the cars safe, the gas tank needs to be removed, the driver's compartment has to be reinforced, and all extraneous metal and glass needs to be stripped away. To reach the engine in an emergency, there's got to be a hole cut into the hood, and there's generally an inspection hole cut into the trunk, too.
The biggest challenge is finding inspectors who truly understand automobiles, because when people start moving their fuel tanks, you need somebody who knows what they're doing. Is the trunk welded properly? Is the gas tank firmly mounted on the floorboards? Is the car safe? As the promoter, we need to have inspectors who can answer those questions.
There are a lot of other logistics, too. You need a water truck to keep the dust down and make sure cars don't pick up too much speed. You need concrete barriers to keep the crowd safe. You need release forms for the drivers, so you don't worry about liability, and an insurance policy for the crowd.
There are lots of ways to tweak the rules and plenty of Web sites that will give you examples. Here at the West Montgomery Athletic Boosters Club, our main focus is safety, which is why we've been so careful about our policies:
- Drivers: All drivers must be 18 years or older and may be asked to submit proof of their age. Absolutely no one is allowed in the pit area except the driver and up to three pit crew members. Absolutely no one is allowed to compete under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We have a zero tolerance policy, and all drivers are subject to a breathalyzer test before each heat. If they can't legally drive on the road, they can't drive in our derby.
- Cars: All cars must be checked in an hour and a half before the start of the derby, and all entries must be inspected before the first heat. If an inspection cannot be made through the rear seat, contestants need to cut an inspection hole in the trunk. All cars must be factory height, and no trucks, hearses, or convertibles are allowed to participate. Every car must be equipped with lap and shoulder harnesses, which need to be worn in all heats.
- Modifications: Participants are encouraged to reinforce the driver's compartment, but are not allowed to structurally reinforce the car in any other way. Deck, hood, trunk, or body bolts may not be longer than eight inches or wider than 1/4-inch. The radiator must be mounted in factory position, and may not be altered, shielded, or reinforced in any way. Water or coolant must be seen running through the radiator during inspection, and no extra water-cooling device may be added. Bumpers may be secured by two chains or cables. No reinforced bumpers or extra welding are permitted. Nothing may cover the windows except easily removable netting, and the hood, doors, and trunk must be secured with welding or banding. Other than the specified modifications, no deviation from stock equipment is allowed.
- Fire safety: A fire extinguisher must be secured inside the car and made accessible to the driver. A hole must be cut into the hood to allow for fire extinguishing. Any combustible materials except for those needed for the comfort and safety of the driver must be taken out of the car. The original gas tank must be removed, and a small gas tank securely fastened to the rear floor board. A solid metal or lidded wooden box must be installed to contain spills and protect the driver. Car batteries must be moved to the floor board, secured, and covered with shielding.
- Tires: Only DOT-approved tread designs tires may be used. Oversized or mud-designed tires may be used but cannot alter the car's height. No tire chains are allowed.
When it comes to the rules, there are no appeals--the decisions of the inspectors and judges are final. This year, we had about 20 cars, with each driver paying $25, and the crowd was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 people. We charge $10 a head to get in, and when all is said and done, with the concessions, entry fees, and money from the gun raffle, we made $11,500 profit in one night. People call it the Redneck Family Reunion, and might sound like a weird deal, but it's a good fundraiser.