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By Linda Emley
On Saturday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m. there is going to be a Demolition Derby at the Ray County Fair Grounds. I’ve always wanted to drive a car in a Demo Derby, but it looks like this is one of the items that is going to stay on my bucket list for another year. I keep asking myself, how cool would it be to ram a car and not get a ticket?
I’ve been on a mission for several months now trying to find out when the first Demolition Derby was held in Richmond. I asked many people and everyone had an opinion but no cold, hard facts. Last week, Scott and Leslyn Farmer brought their son Farrell and his two daughters to the museum for a visit. While they were here, Scott told me his story about the first derby in Richmond.
He got a 1956 two-door hardtop Cadillac for $20. He and Leslyn hand-painted it with green paint that was donated by his sponsor, Benny Tippins. After they got it all ready, Scott’s dad didn’t want him to drive it, so Jim Evert got the honors of driving the “Caddy.” The track wasn’t watered down and the cars were flying fast around the dry track. The spiked bumper wasn’t enough to save his car from a smashed radiator and the “Caddy” called it a day.
I went to the old Richmond News files to find the rest of this story. Per the 1970 newspaper, the 1970 Ray County Fair opening July 29 and was the 2nd-annual event. It lasted four days, but there was no derby on the schedule. They did have a tractor pull Saturday night at the fairgrounds on Royle Street.
I hit paydirt when I looked up the July 1971 Richmond News. There was a big ad that said, “WANTED 100 MEN AND WOMEN $500 Purse and Trophies for the World’s Newest Auto Thrill Event!!! The Spectacular Demolition Derby. 20th Century Gladiators Battling to the Death for Cash! Rodeo on Wheels! Crashes-Laughs-Thrills! RAY COUNTY FAIR. Richmond, Mo. Friday, July 23, 8 p.m. Entry Blanks Available and Trophies on Display at the Following Sponsors: Winner’s Trophy at Williams Mobil Service, 307 West Main, Runner-up Trophy at Holloway’s Body Shop; Heat Trophies at Hill Construction, Jay’s Auto Parts, Ross Tractor, D and R Liquors, Exchange Bank of Richmond, Van’s Furniture, Neal Rogers Chevy and the Pink Poodle Beauty Salon.”
On Friday, July 23, 1971, the first Demolition Derby was held in Ray County. Friday’s Richmond News had an article that told all about it. “Demolition Derby at Fair Tonight. An event which should generate plenty of excitement for both spectators and contestants, the auto Demolition Derby, will be held at the Ray County Fair this evening. Scheduled to commence at 8 o’clock, contestants may turn in their entrance applications as late as 7 o’clock. Co-chairmen for the event are Jim Williams and Gary Holloway. Other members of the committee are Sam Clemens, Joe Hiser, Harold Strobel, Wayne Vanbebber and Larry Proffitt.Fifty to 100 cars are expected to compete in this smashing event. Plenty of this is going on around the nation, on expressways, turnpikes, country roads, etc. but now the fair-going public can witness motor mayhem put on as an entertainment contest with the drivers winning cash prizes and trophies for their skill in ripping fenders and grills. The sponsors say this is probably a blessing in disguise, as the cars will undoubtedly be jalopies that deserve to be retired to the junkyard for highway safety. There are ground rules for the safety of the drivers, but none at all for the preservation of the cars. The whole idea is to keep your car from being disabled while putting all other cars out of business. Admission for this event is $2 for everyone.
“Saturday is the closing day of the fair and the program will open at 9 o’clock with the 4-H rabbit and poultry shows, a dog show at 10 a.m. And a rabbit display at 12 noon. There will be two tractor-pulling contests, all for local residents. The garden tractor pull will be held at 6:30 p.m. And the tractor pull at 8 p.m. Admission is $1.”
I couldn’t wait to turn the pages of the Richmond News and find out who had the last car standing after the dust settled on July 23, 1971. By the time I got the July 29 edition of the newspaper, I realized I was never going to find the answer to this question in a newspaper. There were results to all the 4-H shows, but no Derby details were found. If anyone out there has details, pictures or trophies, please let me know. We would love to have these details to file away for another day at the Ray County Museum.
Since I’ve spent many hours on the hill this week enjoying the Ray County Fair, I want to make sure everyone knows how much time and energy it takes for each event. Every evening there are crews that empty trash barrels and get everything ready for the next day. There are several campers parked out back behind the museum because some people never get to leave the fairgrounds. There are many people that spend their vacation days here to make sure there is a Ray County Fair each year.
We all need to appreciate the dedication of the Ray County Fair Board and all the groups that help support our fair. Please come out for the rest of the events this week and don’t forget to swing by on Saturday night and see some good old cars run their last race as they smash for cash and prizes. I will be there helping the Richmond Rotary sell tickets to the raffle we are sponsoring. Please stop by and say hello on your way to the 42nd annual Ray County Fair Demolition Derby.
After researching this story, I realized there is a good reason why I didn’t remember anything about the Derby in 1971. I wasn’t there because I was in Alaska for six weeks that summer. My family was on a Winnebago Caravan and we got to see many wonderful things in Alaska. I got to carry a chunk of ice from a glacier to our camper. I’m not sure what I was going to do with it, but we do have a super 8 video of this great adventure from my childhood. It was a trip of a lifetime, but I was 14 and whined all summer because I wanted to be back in Richmond with my friends. I did enjoy that summer because I did something I will never do again. How many people can say they rode a mini-bike down an Alaskan pipeline trail?
Why is it we always look back and miss the way things were in the good-old days? Some day, someone will be looking over an old Richmond News and say “Oh my, look at this story about the first Demolition Derby in Ray County.” And then someone else will say, “What was a Demolition Derby?”
I was wondering who came up with the idea about the first Demolition Derby. I did find a little history about it. Some claim that the first derby was held in New York’s Islip Speedway in 1958. They think it was created by Larry Mendelsohn, a stock car racer who noticed that people like to see cars wrecking during a race. By the 1960s, it was a regular event at many county fairs across America.
In 1972, a celebrity Demolition Derby was held in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Mint-condition new cars were used and nationality know drivers, Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt and Bobby Unser, were among the entries.
Another fun tid-bit is that Arthur Fonzarelli dated Pinky Tuscadero, who was a professional demolition Derby driver on the ABC show, Happy Days. Now I know why I’ve always wanted to be a Demo driver. Who wouldn’t want to date Fonzie?