By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

A smashing good time

“We’re all friends before and friends after, but once the flag drops, look out,” Marcher said.

The derby, sponsored by Mac/Yamhill Towing, starts at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, in the arena on the fairgrounds in McMinnville. Admission is included with regular fair admission, which costs $10 a day for adults and $5 for children 5 to 12; kids are admitted free if you arrive before 3 p.m.

In the demolition derby, all the cars start at once. Drivers try to disable the other cars while protecting their own — but they can’t hide out on the sidelines waiting for other cars to drop out. The last car running wins.

Demolition derby cars are the ultimate in recycling — pulled from a wrecking yard, they’re patched up just enough so they’ll run, then modified for safety.

All glass and plastic is removed. A wire screen fits in front of the steering wheel, where the windshield once was, to protect the driver from flying rocks and dirt clods. Gas tanks and batteries are moved to safer areas. Bumpers are held on with chains, and more chains and bolts keep trunks and hoods from flying open. Doors are welded shut and secured with a steel safety bar, so they don’t open either.

Saturday night will be Howlett’s first chance to crash and bash a car. As a nod to his rookie status, he welded a set of tires to the roof — “training wheels,” he explained.

Even with the training wheels sticking up, Howlett towers over his “derbyfied” Ford Escort. Most drivers climb in through a window, but Howlett won’t fit; he has to crawl onto the hood and squeeze through the windshield opening.

While he’s looking forward to hitting Marcher’s car, it’s not his primary target. “I’ll go after my dad,” he said.

His father, Rich Howlett Sr., is an experienced demolition derby contestant who placed second in an event at Canby last year. His No. 8 car, another Ford Escort, is painted gray, black and blue.

Junior planned an orange scheme, “Dukes of Hazzard style,” for his first demolition derby outing.

“I’ve wanted to do this,” he said. “It looks fun, and I’m always in competition with my dad.”

He’s been getting tips from Marcher and other experienced drivers. They’ve advised him to try to bust his dad’s tires, break the axles and take out the steering box — everything’s fair game, except for the drivers’ doors, for safety’s sake.

Marcher, who is in his 17th year of the sport, stressed that drivers need to protect the front end of their own cars. The front, where the radiator is located, is most vulnerable, he said.

He started driving derbies when he was 16. His father, grandfather and uncle all were derby drivers before him.

“It’s in my blood,” said Marcher, who won a derby at the Oregon State Fair last year.

Even with all his experience, he said, he gets butterflies as his adrenaline builds up while he waits for the event to start. “Once the green flag drops, through, I’m in a zone and I just go out and hit,” he said.

He doesn’t notice every hit his own car takes, he said, but some of them hurt. And he’s usually sore for a week afterward.

“But it’s fun!” he said.

At the Yamhill County Fair, Marcher will drive a 1980s Oldsmobile Delta 88 painted bruise purple and labeled “54.”

It had been used and abused in previous demolition derbies, so he had to do some work to get it running again. He put in a new starter, wiring and carburetor, and reattached pieces that were just hanging there.

“Now I’m ready to play,” he said.

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