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Danger part of the appeal at fair's demolition derby

By Elizabeth Wilkerson -- ;ewilkerson@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Some in the stands at Monday night's Nationwide Demolition Derby clutched blankets, but not in an effort to keep out the chill.

As spinning car tires kicked up a mixture of mud and gravel, spectators raised their blankets in an effort to deflect the debris. But, according to some attendees, such danger is part of the event's appeal.

"There's more excitement sitting down here," said Steve Helsley, who was near the bottom of the bleachers with his son, Josh.

Monday's demolition derby, which was open only to Shenandoah County entries, was the first of two at the Shenandoah County Fair. The second will take place tonight at 8 p.m., and will be open to all entries.

Josh Helsley, 25, said he generally competes in the derbies, but he decided to take a year or so off. The drivers "knows there's danger, but they don't care," he said.

Brian Fadeley, Josh Helsley's cousin, said he also decided to take a break this year. Drivers "don't even get time to think about" potential danger when they're in the car, he said.

"It's a rush once you're out there," said Fadeley, 27, of Woodstock.

Last year, Brad Kibler, of Edinburg, suffered second-degree burns to his arms, neck, shoulders and back when a fire started inside his car during the derby.

Lynn McClellan, of Woodstock, was in the stands last year, she said, and seeing the fire in Kibler's car was "very scary."

"You're just hoping and praying that they get out in time," she said before the derby started Monday. "And let's hope there's no repeat of that."

McClellan and her sister, Paula Orndorff, have come to the derby for years to watch their brother compete, Orndorff said. She said her brother, "Wild" Bill Orndorff, was injured in a demolition derby in Harrisonburg last week, and couldn't compete Monday night.

This is the first time Orndorff's brother, who's 42, has missed the event since he was 18, she said. One year, he won both of the fair's derbies, McClellan said.

But, her brother's injury isn't enough to keep McClellan's husband, Harry, from wanting to enter the fray.

"I'd just like to do it one time," he said.

Kelly Gochenour, of Maurertown, said "the dirt and the excitement" keep her coming back, but she's not interested in participating.

"It would hurt," she said, laughing. "I'd rather watch."

Mike Chavez, of Strasburg, was at Monday's derby with his son, Brandon, 9, and Jeremy Viar, 7. The boys come every year, Chavez said. "I like seeing them crash," Jeremy said.

Brandon said he liked coming "because it's fun," and he wanted to be in a derby someday. Jeremy, though, said he probably wouldn't drive in one.

"I don't want to catch on fire," he said.

Chavez said he'd stay in the grandstand, "where it's safe." Coming to the derby is "just awesome," he said.

"There's always somebody to talk to," he said. "There's always somebody to root for."

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For several years, I have been disturbed to find such coverage of the demolition derby and NO COVERAGE of what makes our county, the farmers. There are farmers that take several tractors to the county tractor pull each year. Each tractor costing a farmer at a minimum $7500 to some $30,000 not to mention the time away from their farms. We have all heard the saying “make hay when the sun shines”. It seems that they are not getting any of the sun shining on them just grease spots that stain the souls of our roots. These hard working gentleman (and ladies) put on the show at their expense. They must pay to get in the gate, to pull, and possibly to fix the broken parts (although we hope this doesn't happen - we must face reality, it does) - all with not a word of "thank you" or "job well done" from the local newspaper. Isn't this an agricultural fair? HM! Interesting considering a $200 piece of junk gets front line articles AND pictures. I ask you to think the next time you decide to eat the grilled hamburger, which derby car fed the cattle or which driver spent long nights hauling grain to the mill. Once again I will wait and ponder...will they cover our agriculture next year?

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