By MICHAEL LAYCOCK
The Free Press (Fernie, B.C.)
Sept. 7, 1994

A choking cloud of smoke from burning rubber and exhaust pipes hung in the air.

The roar of tortured engines and the crunch of multiple impacts rang in eardrums. And twisted, shattered metal hulks littered the scene.

The aftermath of a horrific car accident, you ask?

Well, sort of. But it was all in fun.

The Fernie Lions Club held its 17th annual demolition derby Sept. 4, drawing more than two dozen drivers and 500 spectators to a field a few kilometres up Coal Creek Road.

The premise of the derby is delightfully simple in an age of complex sports. Eight or nine cars, essentially souped-up and graffiti-ed old beaters, show down in a dirt ring. The last car moving wins.

The stripped-down simplicity of the sport appeals to Lethbridge driver Lyle Metzger, who took second place in the finals.

“You spend your whole life building things,” he explained, as mechanics nearby fine-tuned their machines with sledgehammers.

“This is kind of a chance to do the opposite.”

Metzger, who has been taking part in demolition derbies for 16 years, said the sport is therapeutic. The opportunity to put other vehicles to death in the ring is a good way to release one’s frustrations without succumbing to yelling or violence, he explained.

“Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve gotten into less trouble on the highway,” Metzger said.

Sunday’s derby was the first ever for Fernie driver Sam Morley.

“It’s totally wild how much action is going on at once,” Morley said, adding that the sport is at once frightening and exciting.

Although he was eliminated in the second heat, Morley added he’d learned a few of the sport’s secrets.

“You just try not to get hit too bad,” he said. “A lot of it is luck. Your car can get hooked up (on another vehicle) before you even get a bad ding.”

For many at the derby the highlight of the day’s events is the Powder Puff heat, in which women face off in any vehicles that remain mobile after the finals.

Second-time competitor Donna Low of Fernie said she had butterflies in her stomach before the horn sounded to begin the event.

“I was thinking, ‘What are we doing?’” Low said, but she added there is something about the sport that drew her back.

“I like the adrenaline rush,” she said. “It’s just lots of fun.”

Roger Kuloway of Hosmer took the $700 first prize in the main event, followed by Metzger ($200) and Paul Mehrer of Lethbridge ($100).

Last year the derby raised about $2,000 for local community groups like Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and minor hockey, organizer Laurent Bourassa said.

The amount this year’s event raised was not available at press time.