The fair hits Loudoun. Hard.
It's under a slightly overcast otherwise docile sky that the crowd erupts as cars smash into each other at The Stoney Roberts Demolition Derby, which on Monday kicked off the Loudoun County Fair.
The radiator of Brian Jenning's No. 423 car lets out a huge puff of steam. The essence of this event is simple. Wreck cars until only one is left running.
The simplicity of the event belies the complexity of the preparations.
Adjustments and modifications are what win a mechanic and rider the whole thing.
Drivers hang out with their cars before the event starts in the pit.
Here cars are prepped before the races. It's also the place where cars retire after a race to a cacophony of hammering and ratcheting.
Each car has certain modifications required for safety purposes likely seen only at a demolition derby. Holes are cut in each of the hoods to allow for fire to be reached by a fire extinguisher.
The cars' gas cans are limited to 5 gallons to hamper the likelihood of explosion or a large combustion.
All glass and trim is stripped from the cars so as not to splinter into another car or into the spectator space. The battery is encased and relocated, often to the inside of the car to contain any leaking acid.
Radiators must be flushed of antifreeze and replaced with water, or most often water and fabric softener, which gives the aftermath of the wreckage a fresh cottony smell.
Jenning's car had one other modification. His daughters helped him decorate the car in the theme of the night: Power Rangers.
He even tied a balloon to the car, which made it the entire night without popping.
Another driver, Bob Gunter was ready to go. His mechanic, George E. Thompson works tirelessly on the car and can explain to you each planned modification. Thompson, a mechanic for decades, runs Gene's Garage in Herndon, where he builds hot rods. He won best mechanic at least year's event. He's also blind.
And what of last year's winner, Matt Davidson?
He's quiet and straight forward when asked about his plans for a repeat.
"I'm going to try to do the same thing I did last year," said Davidson, who says he runs about eight to 10 derbies a year.
Keith Roberts, whose father has been organizing these car smashing events since the early 1960s looked up from his registration booth and said, "Yeah, they pay $30 to crash their own cars."
The dichotomy is not lost on Jennings, who said thousands of people are cheering you on to destroy stuff – it's usually the opposite.
As the stands began to fill with fans, the arena began to crowd with cars as well.
And so after a brief meeting with Keith Roberts the racers hopped into their cars and the national anthem played.
Keith Roberts' brother David is in the press booth. His job is to get the crowd riled up, and he relishes every opportunity.
As the drivers settle and the cars go through final inspections, he yells into the mic: "Make sure those brain buckets are nice and tight. We want safety first."
After a few minutes he sees the crowd and drivers are ready so he counts down from five and as the judges' hands drop he booms, "Don't just sit there, hit somebody!"
David Roberts works from his perched position in the air- conditioned press box.
The Roberts' father, who went by the nickname “Stoney” started organizing demolition derbies 51 years ago, after a stint as a stuntman for Roy Rogers.
Now The Stoney Roberts Demolition Derby tours up and down the East Coast.
David Roberts explains that he and his brother carry out “Stoney” Roberts' vision because they believe in fairs.
"This is the last stronghold for families. We want people to come to the fairs," said David Roberts. "Hopefully it will go on far after we're gone."
The demolition derby is broken into three heats, each consisting of eight to 10 cars.
Each heat is run with a 10- to 15-minute intermission to clear cars and give mechanics time to get their machines ready for the feature.
"These are some of the best shade-tree mechanics I've ever seen," said David Roberts, explaining some of the feats of engineering know-how these mechanics employ to keep their cars running after they've seemingly been totaled.
Mechanics work to ratchet down their hoods and pound the rear ends of their cars into a battering shape fit to disable an opponent's engine.
The feature event of the night, the winners from each of the heats, ultimately ended with 11 cars at 10 p.m.
Yawns and a slight fatigue set in as the start of the feature match was nearing. Being a family event about half of the spectators had left.
Thompson, last year's winner, managed a runner-up position after he couldn't get his car started up in the waning seconds of the competition.
Andy Anderson, a Norfolk native and the winner of the event, slightly out of breathe after he climbed out of his car said, "The four-hour drive was worth it."
If you go:
The Loudoun County Fair will run through July 26. For more information visit http://www.LoudounCountyFair.com.
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