"You've had situations in your life where you've had someone pull out in front of you. This is a one-on-one cure for road rage," said Frank Roberts, an organizer of the Stoney Roberts demolition derby, named after one of Mr. Roberts' relatives.
Organizers of the Western Carolina State Fair, which ends today in Aiken, have worked to make the derby their premier event this year, saving auto showdowns for the fair's last days. Drivers who made it through previous grueling heats will compete for a place in tonight's final showdown.
The demolition derby is considered a poor man's extravaganza. Prizes are usually $1,000 or less, but it's the thrill of the wreck that gets drivers behind the wheel, Mr. Roberts said.
"Most of the people who have participated have always wanted to take an automobile and smack someone with it," he said. "It's a controlled situation where you can do damage and destruction without hurting someone. It's adult bumper cars."
The demolition derby consists of gutted cars going head-to-head until one car is left running.
Glass, chrome and cloth is stripped from the car for safety. The gas tank and battery also are moved to a protected area either inside the car or trunk. Doors are welded shut and coolants are flushed.
With less than 5 gallons of gas, a seat belt and a number painted on the doors, the drivers are ready to rumble.
Mr. Roberts and drivers in tonight's competition said first-time spectators might think of a derby as the "redneck sport," but "I always tell everybody they have no idea what a demolition derby is about until they step on the gas and smack into someone else," Mr. Roberts said. "It's an adrenaline rush."
With a registration fee of less than $30 and a car costing less than $200, the hobby can easily be picked up just a few weeks before a show.
John Smith, of Warnerville, S.C., has been a spectator of the fair event for several years. This year, he decided to take his shot in the arena. His 1981 white Buick Park Avenue was ready in less than three weeks.
"I just like running into people," he said. "I'm going to play it by ear and hopefully I'll win."
The 140-by-90 ring leaves little space for drivers to escape a collision.
"It's like a crescendo in music," Mr. Roberts said. "You build up to the climax, or the finale. And in doing that, people want to see a little bit more and a little bit more. People want the wrecks."
"It's finally drawing the crowd it should and we want to make sure it becomes the main event at the fair," he said.
Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Western Carolina State Fair
Where: U.S. Highway 1 in Aiken near Interstate 20
Cost: fair admission is $6
When: 7 tonight