How to Build a Demolition Derby Car

December 2, 2023

For decades, Americans have been intentionally ramming cars into each other for sport at county fairs and similar events. The derbies, known as "demolitions" in the racing world, have a devoted following and can be deeply addictive. The thrill comes from crashing into other vehicles for entertainment -- but also to win cash prizes and the admiration of spectators.

In the past, drivers could pick up a beater that would do the trick at the local salvage yard and spend the weekend knocking out windows and strapping on a steel, five-gallon metal boat gas can for a back seat. Now, though, the sport has gotten more sophisticated. Many derby participants buy cars that have been built specifically for the event, and they'll often put in a 400-horsepower engine and reinforce them with custom-made cradles and solid steel "pointy" bumpers.

The car's driver door, too, must be reinforced to make sure it can withstand an intentional hit from another competitor, which is a common strategy for winning the derby. And some events require the driver's doors be painted in a contrasting color, to help prevent the driver from getting struck by an object that could seriously injure them.

The boys at Manos House, which provides substance abuse treatment for young people, spent hours each week over the winter working on their car. The hard work paid off, but they only lasted 16 seconds in the ring. Long says that's because the team was double-teamed, and they didn't have enough speed to break through a line of advancing opponents.


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