Motor Mayhem

The Demo Derby and Tractor Pull


As has been tradition for the past decade, this year’s Fair will go out to roaring engines and the crunch of metal as Demolition Derby drivers meet their competitors in the dirt of the Bill Peak Rodeo Arena.

With an average draw of 3,500-4,000 spectators and 30 drivers a year, the Derby is certainly one of the Fair’s biggest events. Not much has changed over the years, which just goes to show that there’s no substitute for when the wheels start to spin and the dirt starts to fly.

Granted, with the growing popularity of derbies in the area there have been a few tweaks to keep the Fair’s Derby competitive. This year, for instance, there are five other derbies happening in the area on the same night.

“We’ve never made any major changes to the Derby,” Fair Board Association member Kim Viets said. “But there have been a few things changed in order to keep up with the derby culture throughout the years and to continue to draw local drivers and the local crowd. Things such as changes in the rules and the amount of prize money given away.”

The increased popularity has also meant a change in slated time. When the Fair ran from Monday to Thursday, the Derby would kick things off the first night. After switching to a Wednesday to Saturday run, the Derby’s engines would roar on Friday night. Eventually, the event would find its home in the Fair’s final night.

The Derby hasn’t always been a staple event of the Fair, however. Before the mid-1980s, a different sort of vehicle competition dominated the scene: the tractor sled pull.

Put on by a handful of locals in the Young Farmers Group (YFG), the tractor sled pull began as a way for the organization to make money. Known as the “Draggin’ Wagon,” the original sled was designed and built in a member’s shop. They hoped their machine would lead to a safer way of conducting area tractor pulls.

Their idea caught on, and soon their sled was being used for tractor pulls everywhere from Nevada, Mo., to Eldorado, Kan.

Similar to the different classes available in the Derby, the tractor sled pull featured different classes a puller could enter. These classes (called “brackets”) were divided based on weight.

“As the tractors got heavier and faster, the weight was adjusted on the sled to make it harder to pull,” said John Michael, one of the original members of the YFG. “The puller that pulled the sled the farthest in his weight bracket won first place.”

By the time the mid-80s rolled around, tractors had become so powerful and fast that the decision was made to retire the sled due to safety.

“A world of experience was gained from constructing the sled to transporting it from pull to pull,” Michael said. “A lot of memories and new friendships were made from this endeavor.”

Aside from a tractor sled pull that was run for a few years in the early 2000s, this year will be the second time that the event makes its reappearance at the Fair. It will be run by Bernie Zook, out of Columbus.