For decades, demolition derbies have been the last hurrah for countless cars.
A quick look at the math — 88 counties in Ohio, 88 county fairs: that’s a lot of demolition and a lot of cars.
And that’s just Ohio.
Then in the wake of the oil crisis of the 1970’s Detroit stopped building cars like tanks.
The shelf life for derby cars is, obviously, very short. Even for the one’s built like tanks.
For the hard-core derbiast, finding the perfect derby car is getting more and more difficult.
Ryan Place, of Cridersville, has been competing in demolition derbies for 15 years, often hitting multiple county fairs in search of that adrenaline rush.
But now the cost of competing is limiting him to just one a year.
And he had to go all the way to Wyoming to find the car he drove Thursday in the Auglaize County Fair derby.
“They’re scarce now, which is driving the price up on them,” he said. “It’s getting expensive to derby. It’s a lot of time and a lot of money.”
Place said his car of choice is any GM product built between 1973 and 1976.
“It’s seems like the sheet metal, the frame, the drivetrain — it’s just a heavier duty car,” he said. “Everything back in the ’70s was built better.
“Those are my preferred cars. A lot of derbies are going with like ’98-’02 Crown Vics, police cars. That’s the new age car.”
Place’s first derby car was a four-door 1968 Chevrolet Impala.
“[I was] scared to death,” Place said. “I thought I had to use the restroom right before I went out. Didn’t know what to expect. Once you go out there, your nerves go away when you make that first hit.
“I was hooked from that first hit. All the nerves went away and you’re just out there having fun.”
Place has taken — and dished out — a lot of hits over the years. The worst, he said, was three years ago, a hit that left him seeing stars.
“We were allowed leaf-springing the axles back then,” he said. “We hit back end-to-back end with Jeff Schaub with almost a full-track shot each. That hurt the most.”
Schaub and Place squared off again on Thursday in the Smash-It class, with Schaub outlasting Place for the win.
As long as he can still find cars to smash, expect Place to be back in the pit on derby night.
“You’re always taught not to hit cars when you’re driving,” he said. “But you go out there and hit cars. Breakin’ the rules. It’s an adrenaline rush”