The Demise Of Old-Style Demolition Derby

July 28, 2015 5:03 AM ET

Heard on Morning Edition

Travis Moyer (center) drives the car that he built for the demolition derby in Kansas. Frank Morris/KCUR

Travis Moyer (center) drives the car that he built for the demolition derby in Kansas.

Frank Morris/KCUR

Americans have been intentionally ramming cars into each other for sport for decades. And at this time of year, fans crowd into county fairs to see battered, souped-up cars bash each other to pieces.

This steel equivalent of blood sport draws a passionate following, and the drivers say it is deeply addicting.

"There's nothing better," says John Green, a demolition derby driver at a recent fair in Franklin County, Kan. "A lot of people say they would do it, but until you get in there and do it you never know the real feeling."

Exhilarating as it all is, only a handful of cars face Green in the arena — about one tenth as many as decades ago. Demolition derby has changed — and some fear it may be running out of gas.

"Another year, then it's over — at least for around here. There's not enough people to keep it going," he says.

They're not making cars like they used to either. There's a lot of plastic on cars, aluminum on cars, and they'll just shrivel up like a pop can.

Shelby Miller

The problem is widespread. In Rock Springs, Wyo., George Pryich, had been running demolition derby for 36 years. This summer, he had to call it quits.

"The last three or four years, it was basically on life support. We just couldn't get any drivers interested in running a derby," Pryich says.

To understand what's destroying smaller demo derbies and why people care, you have to go back to a hot evening, two days before the fair in Franklin County.

Sparks are flying, curses too, in this backyard in Wellsville, Kan., where a group of friends toil over the hulk of a steel-laden monster.

"This car doesn't have a drive shaft, brakes, motor, tranny, radiator, needs bumper shocks, leaf spring clamps. It'll run Saturday," says Brent Parmer.

Parmer, an old hand at demo derby, says there's an arms race of sorts underway. Drivers are fortifying their cars with mounds of steel, even up to $20,000 worth of high-end parts. So, money is becoming a barrier. Time is another one. Building a state-of-the-art derby car can take months and often requires help from skilled, resourceful friends like Shelby Miller.

"It's having fun with family and friends," Miller says. "It's a hobby. This is what we do, this is our lives."

Like most people in demo derby, Miller's got a family history. Her mom and dad derbied. So did her brother — in fact, his name is Derby.

But this lifestyle's raw material is getting scarce. A huge jump in scrap metal prices has sent thousands of heavy '70s cars to the crusher.

"They're not making cars like they used to either. There's a lot of plastic on cars, aluminum on cars, and they'll just shrivel up like a pop can," Miller says.

Pained at watching their sport crumple, some demo derby promoters are trying a major reboot. It's called hobo class.

"The little guy can do it. It don't cost $20,000 to build a car," says Hugh Griggs, another veteran driver.

Griggs says lightly modified hobo cars are ready almost as soon as you kick out the glass. These heaps chug around the arena spraying steam and dragging broken parts. Griggs says it's old school, to a point.

"Like the car I'm driving. It's made in the '90s. It's not half as tough as an older car made in the '70s, so I have to drive it, and I can't hit real hard with it," Griggs says.

It may look like the sport is headed for a wall, but these builders and drivers are resourceful. Some will drive in high-end national derbies. Others will just compete with whatever they can find in the junkyard even after all the '70s land yachts have long since been demolished.



Heading Back to Hickory


HICKORY, NC – The Hickory Motor Speedways office phone is about to start working over time with The Knights of Destruction set to return. This time around they are teaming up with the bandits big rig series to bring semi truck racing back to Hickory Motor Speedway.

The Knights of Destruction have made an appearance at HMS for the past 5 years with strong attendee records. In 2015 the show started to experience overwhelming demand and had a big issue turning thousands of fans away. In 2016 they decided to run two events during the year and ever since the shows has seen a much more spectator friendly result.

“We made the decision to add a second date last year and this year,” HMS general manager Kevin Piercy said. “The reasons we decided to add two dates is it has become so popular that by adding a second event makes it convenient for fans to see the show.”

The schedule for this years event includes school bus racing, Semi truck racing, Jester's monster truck, a trailer race, the demolition derby, and so much more destruction.

“This is a whole different animal to what our normal racing is,” Piercy said. “Everybody likes to see something torn up and they run multiple races. This has grown each year to where we have a lot more competitors come in to run the flag-pole race, skid-car race and other things.”

The reason this event seems to do well is because it does its best to give the fans something new and different but in the end what they want to see. This event tip toes between the lines of the stunt show / monster truck rally / stock car race / and at the same time its none of those. This event prides its self on not being a mix of those things, its happy to say its the best part about them. The stock car race without the cost to enter, the monster truck rally without the ticket price to attend, and the stunt show without the one and done factor. It's an event anyone can enter and everyone can enjoy.

The event will start at 7 p.m.

Early online tickets are $17 for adults and 12-and-under are $10.

Week of show tickets are $20 for adults and 12-and-under are $10.

Pre-sale gates open at 4 p.m. and public gates open at 5 p.m.

For more information about admission, call 828-464-3655.


Destruction in Desoto

Desoto Speedway has seen its fair share of racing over the last few years but nothing has compared to what’s in store on April 22nd. For the first time ever the high octane, car crashing racing series “The Knights of Destruction” comes to Desoto Speedway. Selling out shows all along the east coast, this event is expecting a standing room only crowd. This Night of Destruction is a family friendly event jammed packed with action & entertainment full of destruction and absurd races you have never seen before, you won’t want to miss out on what everyone is raving about. 


On tap for the Cox Chevrolet Night of Destruction presented by James Carter Attorney at Law is the Desoto debut of the School Bus Figure 8 Race presented by Take Aim Gun, now with the fastest buses Desoto has ever seen. The Figure 8 School Bus race is a fan favorite and that alone is worth the ticket price. Come hear the roar of the Gunslinger monster truck up close and personal when Scott Hardsock brings his big bad truck to Desoto. Gunslinger is gearing up for his first ever Freestyle of destruction run at the track and he’s not holding back. Lighting up the night will be the green mamba jet car as he kicks off his last year running his jet engine turbo dragster. The Green mamba will be burning hot laps and melting a car down to the ground with his final flame fire-filled finale. That’s not all, also planned is a crazy game of car soccer, the gauntlet race, a hard hitting demolition derby and so much more excitement! 


Be sure to get your tickets now, not only because this event has a potential of selling out but because you can still save money! For a limited time, the first 500 adult tickets will be discounted to $15. Hurry because they are selling fast! Adult tickets will be $20 after that.


Also for sale for the first time ever are $30 VIP PIT PARTY TICKETS.  That ticket gets you closer to the action than ever before with a Pit Party just for VIP tickets holders, a meet and greet with Gunslinger, School bus rides around the track, VIP parking spot with tailgating permission and reserved back stretch seating. 


We have also partnered up with local businesses to help make this event a success. We would like to give a special thanks to Stepp's Towing for supplying us with vehicles needed for destruction and the Red Market Flea Market for donating the camper for the boat and camper trailer race. 


You do not want to miss your chance to witness one of the biggest night of destruction Florida has ever seen. If you are still reading this, what are your waiting for? Get your tickets now at and you can thank me later.




APRIL 22nd 7:00pm

21050 State Road 64 E, Bradenton, FL 34212




TICKETS: Adults (13+) - $20 / Kids (6-12) - $10ages 5 and under are FREE! 

VIP Tailgate Party Pass (all ages) - $30



World of Derby - Gameplay HD

World of Derby - Gameplay HD

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Enjoy the world of chaos and destruction with World of Derby!
Breathtaking battles, unique arenas, lots of modes and different cars won't leave anyone indifferent!
Some of the awesome features of this game:
- Unique battle system
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School Bus Demolition Derby - Gameplay HD

Gameplay of School Bus Demolition Derby. Full Review soon

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Will you become the ultimate Demolition Derby champion?
It's time to take your school bus off the road and start competing in some good old demolition derby events across the country. Pick your own paint job and choose your upgrades wisely as you aim to become the next big champ! Mastering this big machine of steel in the arena against other eager racing fanatics is no easy task, but with your skills and a bit of luck you will surely smash your opponents to rubble.

3, 2, 1 start your engines, skip the next bus stop and let your demolition derby days begin!

Features include:
★ Many buses
Buses with different styles and characteristics for you to choose.
★ Various events
Events offer track variation including round arenas, dirt ovals and speedway tracks.
★ Upgrade your bus
Add armor, engine upgrades... you name it!
★ Realistic and fun bus paint jobs (style your bus)
Check out the various styles you can apply to your bus.
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★ True to life destruction simulation (including damage deformation)
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