Cash for clunkers
Woodland isn’t just a place on the map—a small agriculture-rich town north of Sacramento—it’s a way of life to which you’re either born or marry into.
I married into Woodland 10 years ago, getting hitched to a local, so it’s kind of a shocker that this summer marks my first time at the Yolo County Fair and, to be more specific, the Demolition Derby. I’m especially excited because legend has it my father-in-law drove in the first derby way back when. The information’s yet to be verified, but I’m taking it as the gospel truth tonight.
I’m ready, armed with cash and a steely resolve to brave the thousands swarming the fairgrounds in search of food, beer and good times. There are countless kids running around, bursting at the joints with pent-up energy, harried parents trying to keep up, anxious teens looking to make a love connection and dozens of cops, including several members of the Woodland gang unit.
We head over to the derby entrance. Seats sell out long before the big night, so our $15 tickets are a hot item. Our seats are near the front, a prime spot to check out the clunkers as the emcee makes lame “you might be a redneck” jokes over the intercom.
My husband tries to explain some arcane ritual about rooting for the car associated with your ticket. I don’t quite understand it, but it means we’re cheering for Car 5—an appropriately beat-down gray beast emblazoned with sponsorship logos and a giant, stenciled “5.” Apparently, this is quite fancy, as many cars only sport spray-painted numbers.
“What kind of car is that?” my husband asks the self-proclaimed super-fans in front of us.
“I have no idea what it used to be,” he admits.
It hardly matters, because over the course of the night all the cars will crash ’em up so hard that any vehicle left standing is little than a smoke-spewing, burned-out shell of its former self.
There are several qualifying heats, two mini car rounds, a consolation round and then, at long last, the finals, with 19 cars competing for the $4,000 purse.
By finals time the stadium lights are bright and the chilly night sky thick with gasoline fumes and dirt. The last round is seemingly endless as cars rev, charging into one another like angry bulls. Car 5 is long gone, an abandoned, smoldering husk somewhere in the derby graveyard.
Dixon’s Ralph Garcia wins the ultimate prize as the last car moving, but the crowd barely seems interested in the outcome, quickly descending the bleachers, pulling shirts over mouth and hoodies over heads, trying to escape the veil of smoke clouding their path to the bathroom and beer garden.
And I feel like, finally, I am truly Woodland.