“Fans, are you ready for some metal crunching?”
A roar of approval greeted the announcer’s words.
“Five, four, three, two, one...”
A moment later, the sounds of revving engines and crumpling fenders rang out across the Dubuque County Fairgrounds.
The demolition derby, held Friday night at the Dubuque County Fair, drew hundreds of spectators to the fairgrounds’ race track.
The derby was one of several hallmarks of the fair that still took place, despite the elimination of many fair traditions due to concerns related to COVID-19. The event has been shortened to four days, there are no grandstand concerts or carnival rides, and some other staples of the summertime event are absent.
But the demolition derby was still there, in all its thunderous glory, a fact that delighted drivers and fans alike.
“When they said they were still going to do this, I thought, ‘Thank God,’” said Wayne Imbus, of Dubuque, who has competed in the derby since 2006.
Although the popular event is typically held on Sunday, fair organizers moved it up to Friday night this year, filling the slot vacated by the cancellation of musical headliners Skid Row and Queensryche.
The change didn’t bother Imbus. On the contrary, he was excited.
“It’s actually great that it’s on Friday night this year instead of Sunday morning,” he said. “We don’t have to wake up at 4 in the morning, and … it’s not so hot.”
Helping Imbus prepare his car on Friday afternoon was Austin Hansen, of Dubuque. He also was looking forward to the evening timetable.
“It’s going to be cool that it’ll be under the lights,” said Hansen.
Tannen Jaeger, of Dyersville, Iowa, was competing in the event for the fourth year.
“(I’m) having fun wrecking some cars,” he said. “If I win, that’s a bonus.”
Jaeger said he competes in multiple demolition derbies around eastern Iowa. To find his vehicles, he searches Facebook for cheap cars that aren’t road-worthy, then tinkers with the machines to get them derby- ready.
“How rusted out (the car) is determines where I take it,” he said.
As the cars roared around the track later that evening, fans cheered as the vehicles smashed, crashed and, one by one, shuddered to a stop.
“I like to see who wins,” said 10-year-old Landon Dolan, of Epworth, Iowa, as he sat in the bleachers with his mother, Courtney Dolan, and his sister Allie.
“I like all the action,” said Allie, 12. “I like the really colorful (cars).”
There were plenty of colorful vehicles to admire, from purple to pink to neon green and even a multicolored Skittles-themed one.
Four-year-old Aidyn Henderson was partial to the Green Bay Packers-themed car.
“I’ve taken Aidyn to the derby for several years now,” said his mom, Megan Bloedow, of Maquoketa, Iowa. “It’s always been a big popular family event.”
For both spectators and drivers, the appeal of the derby isn’t hard to understand.
“There ain’t nothing better than playing bumper cars for real,” Imbus said with a grin.