Demolition Derby Gives Cars Final Mission: Destruction


Two Taneytown Drivers- 'Hammer' And 'cruncher'--go Bashing For Fire Company Benefit

September 16, 1990|By Stanley C. Dillon

KINGSDALE, Pa. -- Some of the cars were hauled in on trailers, others were towed behind trucks, a few were brought in on fancy haulers and a couple were driven to their destination in the dark of the night. These weren't fancy race cars that cost $20,000, but cars that had two wheels in their grave. These cars had been given a new lease on life.

The cars were called upon one final time, all for the same mission -- to destroy the other cars. They were all entered in the Demolition Derby at the Kingsdale Fire Company carnival grounds here last weekend.

Two Taneytown men, Kenny Hommerbocker and Bernie DeGroft, both members of the fire company -- just across the state line in Adams County, Pa. -- were making their debut in the derby. Each had his car ready for one final run.

The Kingsdale Fire Department is a small, rural volunteer fire department that depends on fund-raising projects like carnivals and mud bogs. When they decided to try a demolition derby, Hommerbocker and DeGroft wanted to support the event and decided to enter.

Neither had any demolition derby experience. DeGroft had watched them on television when ABC televised the World Demolition Championships from Islip Speedway in New York on Wide World of Sports, but he had never seen one in person.

Knowing he lacked experience, Hommerbocker traveled to Bucks, Pa., to watch one, making note of the maneuver and driving techniques that were used.

Hommerbocker noticed that the most successful drivers had large cars or station wagons. He remembered an old 1970 Cadillac four-door Coupe DeVille that he used to cruise in. He called the man he sold it too, Ray Cain, and brought it back for $120.

The car had more than 180,000 miles on it and the huge 500-cubic-inch motor still was running like new. The 31-year-old Hommerbocker had the appropriate nickname for his new adventure. He is known throughout the area as "Hammer."

DeGroft, meanwhile, had noticed a 1977 Buick Century while doing work for his employer, Kauffman's Lawn Service. He asked the owner about the car and then she gave it to him.

Kauffman's Lawn Service, the area representative for Lawn Boy, provided the lime-green paint and Bernie "The Cruncher" DeGroft was ready.

The big day arrived Sept. 8, and the men were first in the registration line. The "Hammer" had his Cadillac trimmed in fluorescent orange with a big hammer painted on the side. DeGroft had his Lawn Boy green Buick purring like a kitten.

Demolition derbies were very popular in the 1950s and 1960s. They could be counted on by area speedways as an attraction that would fill their grandstands. They lost their popularity at the race tracks when enduro racing began, and the demos were only found at county fairs and special events. Lately, the popularity of the derbies has increased, and Kingsdale chose one to raise money.

The purpose of a demolition derby is to ram the other cars until they can no longer run. This is done by backing the rear of the car into the other, since the rear can take more of a beating then the engine compartment.

A solid hit can put another car out of competition in a hurry. The last car running and still able to move is declared the winner.

At Kingsdale, qualifying heats were run with $75 going to the last car running in each heat. The top two cars advanced to the feature and the rest, if they could, ran in a consolation.

The feature, the final event, paid $400 to the last car running.

"I am just looking to go out and have a good time," said DeGroft before the competition.

The 25-year-old had his wife, Leah, and his 18-month-old son, Adam, cheering him on.

"She is a little scared for me," he said. "She is afraid that I might get hurt."

Since it was for a good cause, she let him participate. And Bernie wasn't the only DeGroft in the event, as his brother Doug drove his Ford LTD down the road to registration.

Hommerbocker was entered in the first heat, but "The Hammer" took a beating and did not qualify. He lost water after taking a couple of hits and could not continue.

"I had a bug in the car," he said. "I should have had a steel braided radiator hose."

DeGroft had better luck. He weaved through the cars, banging and dodging like a pro.

When it came down to just two cars, he dodged in and out of the stalled cars to get position on the other driver. Then he moved in and gave the car one last whack.

DeGroft won his heat and advanced to the feature, where he was fourth from the last to be eliminated.

"It turned out to be more fun than I expected," said DeGroft. "I was scared when I first went in, but after the first couple of hits, I got all pumped up and was ready to go for it."

Sunday for the DeGrofts was spent watching the videotapes and resting.

"I was a little sore in the neck and shoulders," said DeGroft. "I guess it was from turning around to look over my shoulder and being jerked around."

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