By Kevin Eggleston
My friend Caitlin and I fell into a bit of a funk over the summer. She wished she was still lying on a beach in Australia, and I was yearning for a hot cup of London tea at three. But alas, the time came to mentally return to our homeland. We decided the best way to rejoin our brethren would be to celebrate America’s freedom, blow shit up, and attend our first demolition derby.
A few high-fives and “America, fuck yeahs” later, we hit the road. Our destination: Broome Tioga Sports Center, down I-81 South to Exit 8 and Route 79, just past the town of Lisle.
A wasteland of four-wheelers and bashed up cars welcomed us. On that bright, hot Sunday, we started sweating the moment we left the car. After we paid the Lisle local in the parking lot $10, he winked, pointed to the “NRA Patriot” hat Caitlin sported for the occasion, and gave us a thumbs up. We walked toward the rickety bleachers and saw three tents set up: “Food,” “T-Shirts,” and “Beer.” The beer, shockingly, turned out to be Canadian — goddamn NAFTA. Some low bumpers and a discomforting lack of spectator protections constituted the derby pit. Behind the pit rested a fire truck, a flag, and a gaggle of firefighters puttering about, playing with their hoses.
We found seats on the bleachers among young moms with Britney-blonde hair and dads in K-Fed wife beaters. Naturally, Mountain Dew proved to be the beverage of choice, aside from beer, and everyone stood when the national anthem blared across the speakers.
As the crowd applauded, the bravest of the bunch drove their ramshackle vehicles into the derby pit. They looked like middle-schoolers, and we thought they might be derby assistants — like ball boys at baseball games. But then a mother shouted, “Woooo! Bobby!” These were no helpers — they were drivers. They raced in the “Youth Derby,” where barely teenage boys smashed into each other in their Fords and Mustangs.
Our jaws dropped for 20 minutes of crunching metal. Interestingly, while “soccer moms” often get into sideline fights over playing time, the derby mothers displayed an adult sense of understanding as their children’s cars collided into each other.
The derby ended and the champion emerged from the driver’s seat, his face caked in mud, beer-belly protruding beneath a ripped tank top. He grabbed his trophy and did a few fist-pumps for the crowd. And although he’d just won the youth derby for 12- to 15-year-olds, the “kid” looked like a 30-year-old. But, valuing my life, I kept my mouth shut.
Caitlin suddenly felt the urge to race. We approached a genial, elderly fellow named Carl in the front row to test the motor oil on the issue of female derby drivers.
Carl, with a head of white West Virginia hair and a look of deep satisfaction, sat alone. He shared personal stories about crashing racecars in his youth. The budding Gloria Steinem next to me asked if they’d ever let her enter the Derby. Carl pondered this for a moment.
A bit flustered, he explained it’s a “boy’s sport,” but she insisted. He looked up and down her petite frame, settled on the “NRA Patriot” hat, and nodded. “I think so, don’t see why not.” Caitlin eventually chickened out.
We bid Carl goodbye as we got up to leave. We had walked past baby strollers and dirt-stained children when the old man called to us with pure happiness in his voice: “Don’t forget the Mud Bog in September!”
Photography by Caitlin Pray