Turtle Fest Demo Derby draws nearly 3,000
Those daring men and women in their jalopies took to the mud pit for the biggest demolition derby of the season on June 24. The 2006 Turtle Fest demo derby set a record in attendance--with crowds estimated as high as 3,000. To accomodate the spec...
Those daring men and women in their jalopies took to the mud pit for the biggest demolition derby of the season on June 24.
The 2006 Turtle Fest demo derby set a record in attendance--with crowds estimated as high as 3,000. To accomodate the spectators, additional bleacher sections were rented--with an additional capacity of 1,500. Last year's attendance was about 2,000
"Everything went really well, and thank goodness the rain held because it was everywhere around us," said Gene Jahnke, one of the organizers for the Perham Lions, noting that only ten miles away, the rain took a toll on the New York Mills rodeo. In Perham, however, it rained lightly and soon cleared off.
"This the best and most organized derby and fireworks display we've had," said Bud Stevens, who has been involved with the derby for the past nine years.
There were several father-son combinations in the event, including dad Curt Zacharias, who took second in the "full-size car" category, followed by his son Josh in third place. To top it off, mom Jessica Zacharias also drove.
At least four women drivers were on hand this year, including Miss Perham Nikki Haverland, a demo derby veteran and Zacharias, as well as Stephanie Wegscheid and Bonnie Masloski.
The rain hardly affected the derby. In fact, many spectators pulled out umbrellas--and found a second use for them.
"We learned a new use for umbrellas--as mudflaps," laughed Stevens. Some of the vehicles kick up "rooster tails" of mud and dirt that fling as high as the bleechers--and the umbrellas provided cover from the hurtling mud. "We may start a tradition, with fans bringing umbrellas on a nice day."
The Lions-sponsored Turtle Fest derby has evoloved from "the bush leagues to the major leagues" over the last few years, said Stevens, with cash prizes of up to $1,000.
"Nine years ago when we started this, first prize was $145," recalled Stevens. "The drivers are even more serious now, and they put some real money into it. I understand some have put as much as $6,000 in their engines...So its really a losing venture for these guys."
The demo derby circuit continues during the East Otter Tail fair, in Ottertail, and a final "Last Chance Crash" in the fall.
The derbies benefit the entire community, contends Stevens, by drawing people to town. But equally important is the money that is raised by groups like the Lions and the Jaycees, which stays local and enables them to donate to various civic projects. The fair derbies, scheduled July 20 and 23 are also provide a financial boost for the fair board. Local Boy Scouts assist with traffic control and parking. Concession sales boost the Jaycees, Lions, and Kinship--which sells milk shakes near the track.
"The key is having good crews. We had the EMS and fire department on standby, the Perham Lions, the Jaycees...It was a team effort," said Stevens. "If I counted it up, I would say it probably takes 100 volunteers to put on this derby."
The fireworks display, by Mike Schmidt's "Fire in Motion" commenced at 10:30 p.m.--which fans appreciated, after a long delay until nearly midnight at last year's derby.