More than 40 years ago, I was a little boy then, my father would sometimes take me to an event where people deliberately did what was to be avoided in road traffic at all cost: run automobiles into each other with the intent of causing maximum damage. I remember how excited the audience was and how they cheered the last driver whose car still moved. For some reason events of this kind don't seem to take place in my native Germany any more.
Enter Shelby, a small town on the Hi-Line, a long stretch of road following the original railway tracks across northern Montana. This part of the world is dominated by highly efficient, large-scale farming and has a very low population density. Miles of road between towns. Not a lot of opportunities for entertainment. The annual Marias 4-County Fair is a big thing for anyone living here. And the main event on its last day, just before the closing fireworks, is that deliberate destruction of cars that I remember from my youth: the Demolition Derby.
For a fee of $75 drivers can enter the derby that offers the chance to win $2,500 for finishing in first place. There are a number of rules describing what types of cars can be run and what modifications are legal. Some cars make you wonder if they will run at all, others show the creative side of their owners.
The pit area is busy until the last minute before the first heat, as the individual runs are called. Fierce dogs watch over the cars.
As with any other sports event in the United States, the National Anthem is sung before the competition begins. Audrey Cheetham, 12 years old, captures the audience with her clear voice as her father, dressed for the occasion, works the PA system.
With the cars of the first heat caught up in a jumble of steel, the announcer gets really excited.
Some cars can leave the arena on their own, others need help.
In between heats, repairs are allowed for a limited timeframe, resulting in a frenzy of activities in the pits.
Close to the end of the event, only three cars survive.
An evening of quality entertainment and a good place to pick up some scrap metal.