We spent the better part of our weekend at the Jefferson County fair in Wisconsin. Along with the 4H animal show, the tractor show and the parking lot full of forty-thousand dollar Ford trucks, we attended the demolition derby.
Even though the folks in Jefferson County have a much smaller venue than Douglas County (where I grew up), size doesn’t really matter when it comes to completely destroying at least sixty cars, trucks and lawnmowers. I was even lucky enough to meet a couple of people before the first heat. One guy, the owner of Car 54, was particularly friendly.
He told me how they’d found a Chevy Caprice for $150 and put a whole lot of time and money into getting it ready for the event. He explained some of the politics behind the race. For obvious reasons, anyone who owns a Salvage Yard is automatically targeted due to the unfair advantage of having access to an endless supply of junk cars and parts. At one point his wife interrupted us to point out that she’d painted the car like a tiger. She was proud of it and rightfully so. You just can’t go wrong with orange and black.
I snapped a couple of pictures. I wished them luck and assured him we’d be rooting for Car 54. I walked away feeling all red, white and blue. A few minutes later, as the pre-recorded National Anthem shrilly played from a couple of loudspeakers over the muddy arena, I was overwhelmed by a genuine sense of Americana. All was well until a bank of nasty black clouds moved in and the rain started to fall. We tried to wait it out, but eventually water started to trickle down my legs and fill my shoes. We headed for shelter under the bleachers.
Squeezing our way into the crowd of wet bystanders, I ran into the driver of Car 54. I was certain I hadn’t seen him or his tiger-striped Caprice out in the mud, so I asked him if everything was all right.
“Nope,” he said, looking at the ground. “I got ready to race and the car wouldn’t start. I think it’s carburetor trouble.”
My heart sunk a little. It was one of the rare occasions where I couldn’t come up with anything to say—comforting or otherwise. Standing there in the rain, I wished I knew something about carburetors. I wished I had one of those forty-thousand dollar trucks in the parking lot with a box full of tools. I wished I could help, but city dwellers like me don’t know how to fix much of anything except for maybe a latte or a grilled cheese sandwich. I figured the least I could do was share this story and keep my fingers crossed for the next event. Something tells me car 54 will run again—and when it does it’s bound to be one hell of a contender. For at least five minutes or so.