By Preston Knight - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENSON -- Minutes before embarking on an assignment that could have painful, fiery consequences, a little guidance from a higher power might not be such a bad idea.
In a bit of demolition derby irony, a group of people held hands in a circle -- many with bright green T-shirts and matching colored hair -- to pray before one of their own, Chris Boyce, entered the smashfest on two occasions during the Frederick County Fair on Saturday night. The gathering, from Round Hill United Methodist Church's youth group, had their prayers answered when the driver not only made it out of the event unscathed, but placed second, winning a trophy and $175.
"Second's better than losing," said Matthew Black, 12.
The derby, moved from two separate nights to just Saturday in an attempt to get more people to participate this year, featured 28 drivers in two heats, with the last five in each advancing to the final round. However, one car could not be repaired to make it to the final after surviving its initial test, and the alternate was unavailable as well, leaving nine cars to compete for a $250 grand prize and an enormous 105-inch trophy.
Twelve of the entrants also participated in the derby's first car show, which saw the crowd cheer for its favorite before the demolition began.
In a sign of good fortune to come, Boyce, 41, and Round Hill were the winners with their 1990 Chevrolet Caprice known as "The Green Machine." They refer to the color as Reptar green after a dinosaur from the animated series "Rugrats," and the walls of the Winchester church's youth room also display the color.
It was the second year the church entered the derby. Boyce, also the group's driver last year, said he did not fair well in his rookie campaign, so a new motor, more aggressive treading and the placement of tubes on the tires were among the changes made for 2010. But being in the event has never been about winning, he said.
"It gives the kids an opportunity to participate in something bigger than just themselves," Boyce said.
For Brittney DeHaven, 24, however, it is about the competition. In her fifth year of driving in the derby, she was out to best her younger brother, Rusty Poston, who she said inspired her to get involved in the first place by doubting her ability to survive in the male-dominated contest. DeHaven advanced to the finals Saturday while her brother did not, a measure of redemption for the warning shot he gave her during the car show when he tapped her car with his as she sat still.
DeHaven's strategy was to detract from her gender -- her daughter wanted the derby car to be pink and purple, and DeHaven settled for orange and purple.
"I refused to look like a girl as much as possible," she said of her car. "I didn't want to have a pink paint job and they gang up on me."
For many in the crowd, they could care less as long as hard-hitting action was taking place. The pulse of an audience can be taken simply by asking any random child what his or her favorite part of a demolition derby is.
"The cars get smashed," said Clay Saffell, 8.
He said he looks forward to participating when he is old enough.
"I don't think they're that crazy," Saffell said of the drivers.
Of course, there was one with green hair and a bunch of people in the crowd looking just like him, so "crazy" carries a loose definition during derby time.
As Saturday showed, though, prayers will still be answered regardless.