The last major event of this year's Wayne County Fair was the demolition derby...and it drew thousands of spectators to the grandstand. Next summer, one of the Fair's most popular attractions will be under new management. The Branning Family is calling it quits after 30 years of organizational excellence.
Donna Branning isn’t exactly sure where all the time went.
Thirty years ago, her father-in-law asked for a little bit of help at the Wayne County Fair. Allen Branning served on the Fair Board and wanted to take charge of the annual demolition derby.
Things had gotten a bit expensive using professionals and Allen thought his family could do a good job...and save the fair some money. So, the Brannings volunteered their time and all started to pitch in.
The next thing Donna knew, three decades had flown past
“We’ve had a great time doing the demolition derby all these years, but now it’s time to let someone else do the work,” Donna told TWI Sports. “We’ve really enjoyed the experience. I have to tell you, though: it’s going to be tough sitting in the stands next year as a spectator. It’s bittersweet.”
Donna and her husband, Terry, have been intimately involved in every detail of the Fair’s productions. The couple will be married 35 years in September and the demolition derby has been a big part of their lives.
According to Donna, the phone calls start up in December. Drivers drop by the house to say hello and to pick up copies of the new demo derby guidelines. Sometimes, they stick around to chat. Sometimes, they share a cup of coffee. Sometimes, they even have a bite to eat.
She even recalls one year when they were asked to organize another derby outside of Fair Week. This event was slated for October and drew significant interest...until the actual day arrived.
“We got up that morning, looked outside...and it was snowing!” Donna said with a laugh. “That’s one we’ll never forget. We were all wearing snowmobile suits. It was really cold.”
The Brannings are smalltown folks who exude hospitality. They work hard and throw themselves whole heartedly into whatever project is on tap...like the demolition derby. Terry used to compete in the derby, but he stepped back to focus more on the organizational end.
Safety is a point of pride with the Brannings.
“Thank God, in 30 years of doing this we’ve never had anyone seriously hurt,” she said. “When you think of the hundreds and hundreds of drivers who competed...that’s a pretty amazing safety record.”
The Brannings’ involvement in Wayne County Fair demolition derbies now spans three generations. It began with Allen Branning, quickly consumed Donna & Terry, then caught on with their sons TJ and Chad.
Jaymie and Nicole Branning handle registrations and monitor Pit Row during the actual events. Jaime & Mike Roche also lend a helping hand...as do flagmen Ray Clemo, Kenny Bates and Mike Spittel.
“We have five grandchildren now, so it’s time to focus on them,” Donna said. “I’m definitely going to miss all the people and the excitement. It’s been fun.”
Demo Derby Results
This year’s final demolition derby, which was held Friday night at the Wayne County Fairgrounds, attracted nearly 100 entries and featured five separate heats.
Dominick Caljean, Zach Knapp and Billy Starbuck emerged as winners in the first heat. Randy Hadden earned the Fans’ Choice Award.
Ryan Clemo, Ryan LaTourette, Clint Utegg and Vernon Hansen prevailed in the second heat. Nick Gries received the Fans’ Choice Award.
Tim Roskoski, Mike Novak, Dean Wells and Travis Carney were declared winners of the third heat. Russ Rieman copped Fans’ Choice honors.
Josh Korb, Rich Henderson and Dale Knecht visited Victory Lane after the fourth heat. Pat Schmitt was named Fans’ Choice winner.
Brandon Kenyon finished first in the Compact Division, while Brandon Knapp earned runner-up honors.
The final event of the 146th Annual Wayne County Fair’s demolition derby featured winners from each of the previous heats. Tim Roskoski took the trophy and Ryan Clemo ended up second.
“We’d like to thank all those volunteers who helped keep everyone safe,” said Donna. “We’d also like to thank the fans who came out to cheer on their favorite driver.”