The roar of the engine is deafening, the smell of burning rubber and smoke quickly masks the smell from nearby food vendors, and the loud crunch of metal on metal rings throughout the Telkwa Barbecue Grounds.
Cheers from the crowd echo in the pit as they announce the three cars who have moved on to the semi-finals in this year’s demolition derby.
The remaining three cars had to be taken out by forklifts — too damaged to drive out.
“It was fun, it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on, that’s for sure,” said Telkwa’s Erik Steigleder, who advanced to the semi-finals after the first heat on Sunday morning.
Steigleder is one of many drivers in this year’s annual demolition derby, a revered tradition of the Telkwa Barbeque since the ‘70s.
To the hundreds of audience members, sit may be a form of entertainment, but for the drivers and mechanics responsible for the cars, it’s more than just a derby.
“It’s just become a way of life, really,” said Steigleder. “My whole family is into it, it makes it easy. My wife is a powder puff driver and my brother-in-law is my mechanic. It works well.”
Steigleder was first introduced to the sport by a friend who also participated in the derby, and 23 years later, he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
“It’s a mix of brutality and good driving and basically recycling cars before they go to car heaven,” he said.
Steigleder and his team travel far and wide to find the perfect car (the farthest being Saskatchewan) and will spend hours fixing them.
“We’re quite ridiculous. We run our own gear. We put in a new motor, new [transmission], all new brakes,” said Steigleder, adding that it is a matter of trial and error to see which cars will last the longest in the pit.
Kirt Dupras is a mechanic who has been working with the team for 12 years.
“Anything you can think of, we’ve had to do it,” said Dupras. “I love it — the camaraderie. It’s a fun and good way to get together and see your friends.”
Randy Brook, who also moved into the semi-finals after the third heat on Sunday, has participated in the derby for just over a decade.
“I drove first when I was 15 and only missed one year since then. Once you do it once, you’re just hooked. It’s quite the adrenaline rush out there,” he said. “Until your first hit, your foot is shaking on the gas pedal. I’m always nervous as soon as you start.”
For Brook, the derby has also become an important part of his life.
“I think it’s your background,” he said. “We all grew up fixing old cars up and wrecking them. It’s who you are — hillbillies, I guess.”
While racing around with the goal of being the last car running does occasionally cause minor injuries, Steigleder said most drivers look out for one another.
“I don’t even notice if there’s anyone in the seats. Your head’s on a swivel and you’re watching all the other cars,” said Steigleder. “If you get clipped while you’re not looking, that’s when you’ll get hurt. Everybody is pretty good about keeping an eye out for each other.”