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Wray rams way to Derby title

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ever been in a hurry to pick up a gallon of milk at the local grocery store only to be cut off in traffic by a driver who obviously doesn't know the rules of the road? A driver who probably shouldn't even possess a driver's license?

Ever wish you could ram your car into said driver's car? Just as a lesson?

I know. What with insurance, police reports and the cost of automobile repairs, that's a fantasy most drivers will never get to live out.

However, there is a place where deliberately ramming your vehicle into a another one is not only encouraged, it's the name of the game.

And it's also a sport.

Welcome to the world of demolition derby driving, where tough cars and even tougher drivers regularly flaunt the basic lessons learned in driver's education. The more dents, dings and parts dangling off the car, the better.

The object of demolition derby driving is simple; drive around and smash into your opponents as many times as humanly possible, all in an attempt to put their vehicle out of commission. The last driver whose vehicle is still operational is the winner. Operational despite sometimes resembling a watermelon that has had a baseball bat taken to it.

While the rules may be simple and easy to understand, that doesn't mean the process comes without a certain amount of pain.

Maybe like riding a bicycle into a brick wall? Maybe like jumping off the top of a house?

According to Viola's Charley Wray, driving in a demolition derby is an experience unlike any other.

"I can't think of anything else that I know of that's like driving in one of these," he said. "There's really nothing to compare it to."

Comparisons aside, Wray still managed to come out on top at the Bishop Dozing/Hill's Auto Sales Demolition Derby June 3 at the Fulton County Fairgrounds in Salem.

Second place went to Richard Thompson and co-driver Heath Smothers, while Tim Trenki and co-driver John Biggerstaff finished third.

Mary Sanders and co-driver Jenah Barnett took top honors in the Powder Puff division.

As it turned out, while Wray topped 24 other contestants for his first derby win in five years of driving, he also left the fairground arena with a little more than the usual spate of bumps and bruises associated with driving through what amounts to a gauntlet of road-raged motorists.

"The other night when I got hit, I think it cracked my wrist," Wray said. "I had a nurse look at it, and she told me it was probably cracked, but it's starting to feel better now."

Wray's body may have actually suffered more abuse than did the body on his 1975 Chevy Monte Carlo, the car he drove to victory in Salem.

"Nothing got hurt on my car but the radiator," he said. "We came out in good shape on that one. We worked on that car every night for a month for that derby."

Chrysler Imperials from the mid 1960s, legendary for their ability to take massive hits and bounce back, are considered the Holy Grail of demolition derby rides, but Wray prefers his Chevys.

"I really like the 74-76 Chevys," he said. "They've got big 'ole bumpers on them and they're built on stout frames."

Big bumpers and stout frames. Sounds like a good idea when preparing for a crash-and-burn affair like a demolition derby. That, and long hours in the garage.

"Teddy Dillinger really had a lot to do with this win," Wray said. "He rode with me in the car during the derby, and he also helped me build the car. We actually built it out at his shop."

This is Dillinger's first year working with Wray, and the two are currently preparing for their next event, July 15 in West Plains.

"I usually drive in about five derbies a year," said Wray. "Salem, West Plains, Melbourne. I try to make it to those every year. I've been driving for five years now, and this one was my first win. I came in third before, but had never won one."

When the idea is to ram into the car next to yours, then back up and do it again as many times as possible, vehicle longevity could be an issue.

"I've just been through five cars so far," Wray said. "I've usually been able to make one car last me a year."

And that one car should be plenty to get to the grocery store and back without incident. Or without being cut off.

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