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April 29, 2012

News & Features

The full-contact Destruction Derby league encourages aggression

Special to NWautos

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Cars race — and smash — each other at a Kitsap Destruction Derby event last year. (Courtesy of KDDA)

As the 40th anniversary of the Kitsap Destruction Derby approaches, Patrick Duncan, Robert Kirkland and Dan Harthorn are busy turning 1970s Chryslers into ramming machines.

They are members of a five-driver coalition in Poulsbo that participates in the full-contact racing league. The events — which include derby races, rollover competitions and a last-car-standing grand finale — are loud, gaudy smash-fests where crunching metal, sideswipes and full-speed ramming are not only possible, they're encouraged.

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From left to right, Patrick Duncan, Dan Harthorn and Robert Kirkland work on a car they'll use at the Destruction Derby. (Jeff Layton/Special to NWautos)

Since winter, Duncan, Kirkland and Harthorn have pooled their weekends, equipment and prize money to prepare their cars to smash and be smashed during the league's eight events. Derby cars require an average of 250 working hours, but it's worth it for the sheer joy of plowing into one another, they say.

The group members — who work together on their cars but compete on the track — look for abused frames along country roads or on Craigslist.

"I tell people, 'It's got lots of rust; why not take it on one last glory run?' " Harthorn says.
Steve Harris, president of the Kitsap Destruction Derby Association (KDDA), says that derby cars are strictly low-budget, do-it-yourself varieties. It's rare to see competitors spend more than $1,000 on a car.

If you go
  • Races take place every two to three weeks from May through September at Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Silverdale.
  • The KDDA has about 100 competitors split evenly between minis and big cars. New drivers are welcome.
  • Admission: $11
  • Website: kitsapdestructionderby.com

"I like the cheap, free and 'remove this from my yard' type of cars," he says.
The ideal derby car is a 1974-76 full-size General Motors model, says Harris, of Port Orchard. Pre-1973 Chrysler Imperials were once so dominant that the KDDA had to ban them from the finales. "They outweigh most modern pickup trucks," he says.

Harris says he participates in Destruction Derby to let out repressed driving frustration.
"When you get cut off on the highway, other than honk your horn, there's nothing you can do," Harris says. "I keep all that road rage and release it on the track. I'm the calmest driver now, because it just doesn't matter."

Along with finding the right vehicle, Destruction Derby requires unique racing skills. Drivers learn to make the car in front of them spin out by nudging it from behind, or they push off a neighboring car to help move through a turn. A good way to eliminate a car is to damage the radiator, Harris says.

"Some drivers run their engines loose so that when the radiator blows they'll continue running," he says. "I run a 460 [engine in my] Lincoln, so I have to protect my radiator. If it blows, I only have around three laps left."

Once cars are smashed beyond recognition, competitors sell the frames for scrap metal, but not before parts are scavenged and reused.

Duncan, Kirkland and Harthorn each plan to use a single car for the entire season, but that's possible only by limiting action to the racing events. Competitors who participate in the finales — big smashing free-for-alls — can destroy eight cars in a year.

Even with an emphasis on collision, Harris has seen only one injury in 13 years. For protection, drivers must remove all glass, and reinforce the cab with steel beams and wire mesh. Batteries and fuel tanks are protected to prevent spills.

Driver-door hits are strictly taboo. But other than that, almost anything goes.
"I was surprised to learn how much abuse a car will take," Harris says. "It's grown-up bumper cars."

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