Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Trucks, clunkersare big hits forarena audience

There's something about the constant collision of mangled motor vehicles that makes you want to shout: "America!"

The Fourth has passed, but on Sunday the motor-powered American spirit lived on, manifested through the fuel- and fun-loving gear-heads who punished their beloved rigs for the sake of entertainment during a destruction derby and Tuff Trucks competition at the Del Norte County Fair.

"They wanted a show, so that's what we gave them," said Nathan Campbell, winner of the Tuff Trucks event. Campbell's 1988 green Ford Bronco quickly whipped through the turns of this year's exceptionally rugged track, consistently teetering on the edge of tipping over.

"It was the most sadistic track I've ever been on - it hurt me," said Campbell, who's raced in more than 20 Tuff Trucks events in the past five years representing Ken's Auto.

Campbell's first heat time of 21 seconds and change was the best of the night, beating the closest competitors by nearly three seconds, but on his second run he didn't finish. Campbell's truck slowed to a crawl after splashing through the water hazard area, stopping just yards before the finish line.

"Those distributor caps don't fare well with water," said Ron Righetti, after his daughter, Brittany Righetti, experienced the same debilitating effect through the deep puddle.The puddle was the last straw for many Tuff Trucks racers, but Brittany restarted her vehicle and creeped across the finish line, greeted by uproarious crowd approval.

Ron and Chrissy Righetti, who operate 1010 Auto Express Tow and Recycle in Brookings, sponsored another truck that wasn't as lucky. A black and green 1010 truck driven by Paul Dalor was stopped by the puddle when a small explosion came from the truck bed accompanied by a flying panel.

"Airbags filled with glitter," Righetti said with a smile. He rigged the bed with several airbags and wired ignition switches to the cab. "I told him to pull it if he got stuck for one last hoorah."

As a lifelong mechanic, Righetti diagnosed the truck from afar with a motor and tranny leak before it was even towed off the track.

The crews obviously know their automobiles. When truck #009 andfrac12; (affixed with small American flags flying from the back) lost momentum after a dip in the pool, a small pop was heard and many crewmembers ventured a verdict as to what happened:

"Transfer case popped probably."

"Yeah, that sounded like a transfer case."

Wet distributor caps, transfer case cracks and oil leaks are small cookies compared to the real damage that draws the crowds, however.

"This is what demolition derby is all about folks," the announcer bellowed before the final event. "All-out automotive mayhem!"

The first heat of the Smash-a-Rama destruction derby was dominated by car number 69, an orange Chevy Nova driven by 19-year-old C.J. Schnacker. A nasty hit to the driver side knocked Schnacker on top of his battery fastened to where the passenger seat would normally be, but for many of the first-round hits, Schnacker did the delivering.

"Every time I looked around, he was right there," said Keith Ownsbey, driver of car number 009andfrac12; that was a close second for the firstheat of demolition. Ownsbey's work as a physical education and afterschool program teacher at Bess Maxwell Elementary School brings him back to the track year after year.

"The kids love it," he said. "I almost do it just for them; they talk about it all year."

Ownsbey said his strategy was to aim for the wheels, because then "you're breaking important stuff like axles, so they can't move," he said.

As the owner of A-1 Auto Wreckers in Crescent City, Bruce Gates, is a familiar face among derby participants, sponsoring manyof the cars and trucks by kicking them spare parts from the yard. With the current high rate for scrap metal, there are not as many demolition cars around, so he's happy to get anyone involved who shows interest. He loaned the cars used by Ownsbey and Schnacker.

"I'll get them back but it won't be the same condition," Gates said.

What advice would a seasoned demolition guy offer?

"Protect the front end; protect the radiator," Gates said. "Once you get a hole in that radiator, it's not too long before you're out."

Unless you understand this key concept, it might be confusing to watch cars constantly driving in reverse, using their tail ends as battering rams.

Protect the front end.

Overheated, smoking vehicles dotted the track, marking the drivers who couldn't protect theirs.

Gates' personal derby car, number 86 was an unstoppable tank of a ride with thick, shining exhaust pipes rising from the hood and Daffy Duck sitting on top.

Toward the end of the big Smash-a-Rama, car number 86, driven by Richard "Mike" Brooks was the only machine still moving, and the judges ultimately gave it first place and the $3,000 grand prize.

Brad Snodgrass in #07 took second; C.J. Schnacker in #69 too third and Keith Ownsbey in 009andfrac12;took fourth.

Brooks in #86 tooka pounding in the game of "car football" played to start off the festivities.Four cars (two teams of two cars each) went head-to-head pushing the "ball" (a Geo Metro painted brown) around the course until it was pushed to one side or the other.

"The football's starting to look a little flattened; somebody might need to pump it up," the announcer quipped.

At the end, car 86 flipped the Geo and became propped on top of it, but still came back to win the main derby event.

Gates and A-1 Auto Wreckers donated the Geo "ball."

Lucky 7 Casino donated $5,000 to sweeten the winnings for this year's event.

But many drivers insisted that they do it for kicks:

"It's just for fun; not the money," Righetti said. "It's a bonus if you win."

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