A machine clears a banged-up car during the Nationwide Demolition Derby at the Suffolk Peanut Festival Friday. Bleachers were full for the crowd-pleasing attraction, and away from the derby, the rest of the festival appeared just as popular, with a large crowd accumulating by late in the afternoon.

Archived Story

Clash of the cars

Published 11:06pm Friday, October 5, 2012

The Nation-Wide Demolition Derby always draws a big crowd at Suffolk Peanut Festival, Brian Rutter says.

Rutter’s life has been entwined with the high-adrenalin car-wrecking show, sort of like a bent fender mashed into a steaming radiator, for 23 years.

“It’s a very good crowd,” the derby’s head track official said Friday, engines burbling then roaring behind him as competitors warmed up their motley machines.

“We always have a good crowd here. We enjoy watching the cars crashing; that’s what we’re all here to see. This is all about the crashing.”

Pretty soon the competition was underway, the volume of cheers from the bleachers in tune with the severity of the vehicular impacts and the height and distance of mud sprays from spinning wheels.

Before the event got started, Zack Murphy of Wake Forrest, N.C., gave a minute of two of his time before firing up a 1973 Chrysler and climbing inside.

“It’s fun, it’s a good stress relief, and there’s a lot of good people doing it,” he said. “If you do it enough, you can almost be self-supporting, for a hobby.”

Jason Balsiger of Virginia Beach, a spectator, said it was his first time at the demolition derby and the festival, “and I’m pretty pleased with it so far.”

“It didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I thought they were going to be driving backwards all the time so they don’t bang up the engine.”

Suffolk’s George Kitchener said he’s been coming to the festival and enjoying the derby for pretty much as long as he can remember.

“They should have a little bit bigger track” to encourage even more thrills and spills, he said.

Jessica Markin, also of Suffolk, was even more enthusiastic. “I love it; it’s outstanding!” she said. “We need more of them – that’s what brought us here” to the festival.

Mike Harrell, formerly of Suffolk but now living with his family in Chesapeake, said he is thinking about bankrolling his son into a demolition car next year.

The son, 17-year-old Brandan Baker, seemed to like the idea. “I think it would be fun,” Baker said. “I’d be tearing up cars.”

Elsewhere during the festival, away from the mud spatters and crunching metal, among the amusement rides, sideshows and vendor tents, folks were just as pleased.

“We’re getting a bite in just a minute,” said Susan Sumner. “We just witnessed the demolition derby – quite entertaining. My money would be on the station wagons any day.”

The festival opens 10 a.m. Saturday with the horseshoe competition. A host of other attractions are planned, including the world’s only peanut butter sculpture contest at 2 p.m., a jalapeno-eating contest at 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

A karaoke contest starts at 7 p.m. and fireworks will be held at 8 p.m.

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