The Tri-County Fair’s Destruction Derby looks like anger management gone very wrong, or the San Diego Freeway at rush hour. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
Buckled hoods, accordioned trunks, bumpers dangling by thin membranes, steam spewing from fractured radiators; it’s all great fun and the major fundraiser for the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department for the last 35 years.
But, is it motorsports? That same question has been raised over NASCAR’s superspeedway, restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega. Since the outcome between derbies and restrictor plate races are frighteningly similar, the question can be dismissed.
Of course, it’s motorsports. There’s a motor in there somewhere, as are most of the elements of more conventional auto-related competition, with the possible exception of aero-tuning.
Cap Aubrey broke into the sport with a bang, winning the top prize in his rookie year at the age of 18, driving a 1968 Caprice. That was 21 years ago and if history is any indication, Aubrey’s Chrysler Imperial will be a serious contender in the Main Event Sept. 4.
He took a few years off to work on the tech crew as a member of the fire department, but has qualified for the Main Event and placed in the top five every year he’s competed. His Derby cars have all carried the No. 2.
Imperials, outlawed for their sheer bulk in all but the Bishop Destruction Derby, are the vehicle of choice at the Tri-County Fair. Aubrey went to Oregon to find his and has put in roughly 300 hours getting it prepped for the Labor Day weekend event.
The battering ram with wheels sports a Ford engine, non-stock rear-end and transmission. Drivers can make abundant drive train modifications, but can do nothing to reinforce and stiffen the frame. Like NASCAR’s insistence on parity when it comes to horsepower, Bishop’s Destruction Derby insists on parity when it comes to vulnerability.
Radiators are one obvious Achilles heel for Derby cars. But, Aubrey has been amazed at how long a car can keep going with a dysfunctional radiator.
His secret for survival? “It’s more defensive driving,” he said. “A lot of guys in the arena can take you out with one hit. And, a lot of it is luck.”
For the panel of judges, survival or success is based on the point system. According to Aubrey, one-pointers generally do little damage to the hitter or hittee; two points are earned for substantial damage and the rare but coveted three-pointers can be fatal to all parties involved.
A solid, experienced pit crew is a necessity to make it into the Main Event. There’s not much time between the qualifying heats and the final, even less for those who aspire to the Hooligan (last car moving) prize. According to Aubrey, 90 percent, between 22 and 25 of the 36 entries, can make it back into the Mike Boothe Memorial Arena for that final heat, a testament to the quality of the pit crews.
“The pits are like mini-shops,” he said. “They’ve got cutting torches, extra parts, axles, wheels, tires.” Aubrey’s crew chief watches with the intensity of a Chad Knauss as Aubrey rams his way through his initial heat, assessing the damage before the car even comes back to the pits.
These aren’t your “track bar adjustment, wedge and air pressure” pit stops. These are “how fast can we cut off what’s dangling” pit stops.
During his tenure on the tech crew, Aubrey has witnessed amazing feats of restoration. The pit crews can swap out complete rear ends before the car gets back into the Main Event, or have a rear-end-ectomy, leaving just enough metal behind the driver for safety.
Like any other motorsport, the Bishop Derby has its rivalries, but Aubrey insists they’re friendly rivalries. “There are always the same three or so guys battling,” he said. “The fans like the rivalries.”
In truth, the camaraderie among competitors is a big draw for the drivers, that plus the adrenalin rush and the fact the Derby is a huge fundraiser for the fire department.
Besides, “it’s cheap therapy,” Aubrey said.