“Everybody loves the derby around here,” said Darren Gahm of the Scioto County Fair Board. “It has always been the biggest attraction. Everybody loves the idea of beating and banging.”
In fact, the event always draws such a big crowd they have to arrive early to get the best seats. Kimberly Adams of Lucasville showed up more than two hours early and claimed her spot in the front row.
“I come to the derby every year. I like to watch all of the cars hit each other. I like all the loud noise,” she said. “I know a couple of the drivers. My friend’s husband is in it so I’m going to cheer them on.”
She said she would like to drive in the derby one year, but she doesn’t have the money for a derby car.
Money had always kept Jonathan Hall of West Portsmouth out of the derby also. But this year he has a job working in a scrap yard, which gives him instant access to all the best derby cars he could need. He entered this year for the first time with a 1986 Chevy Caprice, which he painted “The Spirit of 76.”
“I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I was able to walk and talk,” Hall said.
The car features the names of his friends and family members, and Hall said No. 76 belonged to his late-grandfather, Norman Lee Hall Sr., when he was a race car driver. His picture was on top the derby car so his grandson could take him out for one more time in the track.
He said he was a little nervous about his first derby, but was even more excited.
Last year, there were some changes made to the format. Before 2010, derby officials allowed only a fresh car, one that has never run in a previous derby. Beginning last year, participants can bring previously used derby cars.
28-year old Justin Cook of West Portsmouth has been in lots of derbies since he was just 18 years old. He was driving the mangled remains of a 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88, which was painted with the company logo of his family business, EMC Squared Molding in West Portsmouth.
“We’ve been all over. We’ve been to Lancaster and to Boyd County. We’ve been here in Scioto County several times. We try to hit them every once in a while, but we’ve been out of it for a little while doing circle track racing,” Cook said.
The car has seat belts and a 4-inch safety bar inside the vehicle to protect the driver. It’s also a derby rule that drivers can’t ram the driver-side door.
In the final moments before the derby, the track was hosed down to create more mud. Some might think that makes it more dangerous, because the driver can’t control the vehicles. Cook said it actually makes the track much safer because cars can’t get traction to build up enough speed to cause serious damage.
And the mud just looks so much cooler as cars slide through and splash some into the crowd — Kimberly’s muddy reward for arriving two hours early.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.