Annual Demolition Derby closes Carlton County Fair with a bang, and a crash, and lots of excitementJames Trettel is a car guy. For years now, the small-town native of Holyoke has made a hobby tinkering and fiddling around with cars and their parts. He even makes a living working at Highway 210 Auto Parts. But most of all, he’s a demolition derby competitor.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
BARNUM – James Trettel is a car guy.
For years now, the small-town native of Holyoke has made a hobby tinkering and fiddling around with cars and their parts. He even makes a living working at Highway 210 Auto Parts.
But most of all, he’s a demolition derby competitor.
Why is that?
“I just like to smash cars,” said Trettel, laughing. “I work on cars all day long. So it’s just nice to take a car and go pound it and beat that thing. It takes a lot of aggression out.”
Although foreign to most, the demolition derby is no stranger to Trettel, who’s participated for a dozen years now. And even though he’s winless, he still loves it.
“I’m a cars guy, that’s all I do,” Trettel said. “I love going to the derbies. If I don’t race, I’ll at least watch them – or work in the pits. It’s a blast.”
Trettel was a part of Sunday’s highly-anticipated demolition derby that closed out the 2011 Carlton County Fair in Barnum. Dozens of muffler-piercing, engine-ripping, banged-up cars and trucks took to a track enclosed with tractor tires and cement banks.
“Oh, and they got me good,” said Trettel, who competes yearly.
Trettel competed in the compact car division Sunday, one of four divisions which also included mid-sized cars, trucks and full-sized cars. The stands were packed as nearly 1,000 spectators applauded the biggest hits throughout the evening.
According to Steve Loucks, fair board president and car show director, the annual hard-hitting affair has been going on since the 1950s.
“It’s been around for a while,” Loucks said. “I know I remember watching in the early ’70s when I was a kid.”
For Loucks, a former pitman turned director now for 20-plus years, the demolition derby is something he has a passion for.
“This is my sport,” he said. “It might get a little loud and you might get a little dirty, but this is fun right here. When those cars come out of there, they are wrecked.”
According to Loucks, a native of Atkinson, most demolition derbies include a variety of different vehicle divisions, while some heats include qualifying and others not.
One thing remains constant.
“The last car running, wins,” Loucks said.
As for the drivers?
“Well, maybe they’re a little bit nuts,” Loucks chuckled. “They hit the railings, drive over the tires, get hung up on the banks and even tip over occasionally. Not often, but sometimes they do.”
Gary Wilson has been attending the demolition derby since around 1990. An avid fan in the grandstand, he paused when asked “Why the demolition derby?”
“That’s a good question,” the Sturgeon Lake native said with a laugh. “I like the figure eight races myself. They are my favorite.”
Wilson, however, enjoys the demolition, too. It’s fast, loud and simply crazy.
“It’s like being out on the freeway north of Minneapolis or something like that,” said Wilson, who drives to Barnum all weekend to watch. “The faster and harder, the better.”
But would he even put on a helmet and try it out?
“No,” Wilson laughed. “My body aches too much already.”
Trettel explained that along with vehicles needing to classify in specific divisions, demolition drivers are also expected to have their car meet certain qualifications before competition. Depending on the venue, that could mean different rules.
“There are different rules with different classes,” Trettel said, noting there are races in Pine City, Rush City and Cambridge, as well. “Usually you put chains on your doors, and put your tank inside, with your battery. Then you just rig it up and go.”
Like Trettel, Mahtowa’s Tanya Peterson competes in Barnum yearly. She’s been bashing cars up for seven years and was the only woman in competition Sunday. She placed second in a back-and-forth car fight, but said she has won years before.
“I wish more girls would get out here and do it, it’s not as hard as people think,” said Peterson, adding that she couldn’t do it without her sponsors. “People do go gunning for me, but I don’t mind it.”
With the front end of her mid-sized car smashed in and bumper barely hanging on, Peterson was pleased afterward.
“I don’t have a strategy, I just go,” said Peterson, who camps yearly in Barnum with her fiancé, who also races cars. “You go in calm, but once you get that first hit, you just unleash and you get that adrenaline.”
Like Peterson, Trettel’s strategy is simple.
“I like to use the rear end, as it keeps the front end open, but after a while, the strategy goes right out the window and it is go hit the first car you see,” he said, laughing.
Trettel said he puts absolutely no money into his car.
“Literally, nothing,” he said. “Some guys put up to $5,000 into their car, especially for the big-time shows. The guys from the Cities.”
Sunday, the winners included: Compact Division, Asaac Nelson; Mid-Sized Division, Mike Thompson; Trucks Division, Jake Fetters; and Full-Sized Division, Stan Kwapick. The John Hanson “Mad Dog” Award was also given to Jeremy Halverson for the hardest hit.
With the help of local sponsors, more than $2,500 in prize money was awarded.
But for Loucks, it’s not about the money. It’s about the memories.
“It can get very exciting,” he said. “The crowd wants to see a wreck.
“I think the best thing I’ve seen here was when two guys from Pine City hit head on and one guy got knocked out and was lying on the steering wheel,” recalled Loucks. “And then his buddy said ‘Don’t worry about him, he’ll wake up in a couple of minutes.’”
Only at the demolition derby.