The 150th Wayne County Fair got off to a rousing start Friday evening despite skyrocketing temperatures and oppressive humidity.
Thousands of fairgoers packed the century-old wooden grandstand to witness the Opening Night demolition derby, which has become something of a tradition over the past few decades.
"I'm absolutely thrilled with the turnout of fans," organizer Dave Cole told TWI Sports. "Hats off to the drivers because they put on one heck of a show. I think everyone had a great time...myself included."
Rent-E-Quip sponsored this year's edition of the event and owner Steve Motichka was equally impressed with the result. Steve competed at demolition derbies in the past, then stepped aside to let his daughter enjoy the spotlight.
He's an unabashed supporter of both the Wayne County Fair and the demo derby.
"We're very happy to sponsor it," Motichka said. "A lot of the guys who drive here come down and buy steel from us. We love anything with a motor, so it's a perfect event for us to get behind."
Despite Cole's countless hours of preparation and Motichka's unwavering support, things appeared a bit bleak for Friday night's main event. Less than 24 hours before showtime, the list of entries was looking distressingly thin.
Thankfully for the big crowd of demo derby enthusiasts who packed the stands, a last minute flurry of sign-ups ensured success.
"I've been working hard on this since May, and as of this morning we only had 10 cars register," said Cole. "So, to have all these cars show up at the last minute...well, I'm just tickled to death."
Ready to Rumble
John Whetmore opened up his microphone at exactly 6:55 p.m.
The veteran fair announcer welcomed fans and introduced Leah Schweighofer, who favored fans with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem. Schweighofer is heading into her junior year at Honesdale High School and just recently performed at the 7th annual Roots & Rhythm Fesitival.
Moments after the applause faded away, cars for the opening heat roared onto the track.
The evening's first heat featured compact cars and attracted eight entries. Among them was eventual winner Joe Pozza of South Canaan. A 16-year-old Western Wayne junior, Pozza ran roughshod over his competition on this particular night.
Pozza scoured the local junkyards a couple of weeks ago and came across his winning entry, a 2002 Toyota Solara. He invested a grand total of $50 on the car, but spent every night whipping it into shape in his garage after work.
"This was my first demolition derby, but it definitely won't be my last," he said with a smile. "Really, I thougt I'd probably be the first one knocked out and I ended up the last one standing. I'm really surprised...happy, but really surprised."
Joe is the son of Gary Pozza and Jane Adams.
The second heat featured full-sized autos and a packed field of 13 entrants. Pete Hansen had his way in this one, dominating the opposition and roaring to an impressive victory.
Hansen graduated from Valley View High School, but has called Damascus home for many years. And, while Joe Pozza is a rookie driver, Pete is a battle-tested veteran of demo derbies. He's traveled all over the East Coast and Midwest competing in hundreds of events. This was the 89th feature win of his career.
"I spent a good month getting this car ready for tonight," Hansen said of the beast into which he sunk a total of $14,000. "The engine ran great and everything went really well. I'm very happy to be here and to win."
Hansen began his demo derby career at the Wayne County Fair 21 years ago. He's 36 now and has no plans to stop competing anytime soon.
"I love it," he said simply. "It's great to come out here in front of the home fans and give them a show. We'll definitely be back again next year."
Pozza and Hansen each received $900 and a handsome trophy for their efforts. A third major award, the "Officials Choice," went to Ryan LaTourette of Beach Lake. He took home $100 and a trophy.
Over & Out
Dave Cole was quick to point out that many people labor anonymously behind the scenes to stage each demolition derby.
He thanked all the volunteer judges (Robert Hiller, David Spry, Micheal Herzog and Joe Gries) for their countless hours of hard work. Cole also tipped his hat to Rent-E-Quip, the Wayne County Fair Board of Directors and track announcer John Whetmore.
"We couldn't pull this off without all those folks," he said. "But, most of all I'd like to thanks the drivers and the fans. They're what it's all about."