Doug Holt, of Oakdale, outlasted a strong field of contenders to capture a hard-earned victory and a $5,000 purse in the 47th Annual Stanislaus County Fair Demolition Derby inside the Food Maxx Arena in Turlock on Monday night, July 10.
The grandstands were packed as the popular derby was once again put on by the Turlock Lions Club, with the proceeds funding a variety of worthy local charities.
Following the traditional opening parade of cars, the 27 entries were split into three groups of nine for the preliminary heats, with the top five cars from each group advancing directly to the final along with the top five cars from the last chance heat, which gives a second opportunity to the cars that failed to make it out of the first round. Drivers were judged by the number of hits they deliver, the severity of the damage those hits inflict, and their ability to remain active until the conclusion of the round.
The Holt family has become synonymous with the Turlock Derby over the last 40 years, with multiple family members posting victories there, including four by Doug’s brother Brian, who, along with nephews Nathan and Joshua, were all competing in this year’s event.
“We had to be smart and strategic out there and pick our shots. Luckily, the car came out in pretty good shape,” said Holt, as he assessed the damage to his car back in the pit area after the opening heat. “We are doing a little trimming and putting on new tires, and we should be ready to go for the main event.”
Steve Evans, of El Nido, a derby veteran who has competed in various events around California, was impressed by the competition in Turlock.
“This is a hard-hitting derby, and I really like the competition here,” Evans said. “This is only my second time here, and it is a lot tougher with more diversity than my first time here. I am enjoying it.”
One driver who was definitely not enjoying himself was Mark Cabral, of Turlock, a 40-year Turlock derby veteran.
“The heat was going good until I got stuck on the wall with no reverse gear,” explained Cabral, who won the event in 2009. “It is really frustrating to go out so early. This is a lot of work, so I am not really happy right now.”
Although only six cars were in good enough condition to limp back into the arena for the last chance heat, the round provided one of the night’s highlights when rookie driver Albert Mendes, of Crows Landing, climbed onto the rear of another car before slowly barreling over and ending upside down on its roof as flames and smoke spewed from the engine.
After the event was red flagged and the flames were extinguished, the crowd cheered wildly as Mendes wiggled out of the driver’s window, climbed up on his capsized car with arms triumphantly raised in the air, and shouted, “That was awesome!”
Back in the pit, Mendes talked about the experience.
“That was wild. I was not expecting to climb up like that, and then I heard him gun it, and the next thing you know, I hear the crowd going crazy as I am rolling over. The firemen were right there blowing out the flames before I even stopped. God bless them.”
As the vehicles began to enter the arena for the final heat, a tragedy unfolded when the car of Cody Thompson apparently lost its brakes and hit a fence. The EMTs on hand for the event quickly rendered medical assistance to two injured workers, who were then transported to the hospital by ambulance for further evaluation and treatment, causing a lengthy delay before the final heat.
The hitting was fast and furious as soon as the green flag dropped to begin the championship heat, causing the stadium to quickly become enveloped in a haze of smoke and flying mud. With the arena floor now littered with various car parts and debris, the starting field of 20 cars was slowly whittled down to three survivors—Holt, Turlock’s ‘Fast’ Freddie Neto, and Tony Silveira, the driver of the ‘Suicide Lincoln’ from Denair—that somehow managed to remain moving despite sustaining heavy damage. After 30 minutes, the red flag dropped to conclude the nonstop action as the crowd loudly roared their approval in appreciation to the drivers for their metal-crunching efforts.
“That was awesome. Some really hard hitting tonight,” exclaimed Neto, as he stood exhausted next to his mangled car. “Everybody builds great cars here, and there is a lot of stiff competition.”
The judges quickly tabulated the scores and declared Holt the winner. Completing the top five were Neto, Silveira, Westley’s Jason Yamamoto, and Mariposa’s Josh McClure.
“That was a real marathon tonight. There are so many good cars out there, and you have to keep your head on a swivel at all times. The key is to keep moving and never sit still because that is when you get hit,” shared Holt as he celebrated his second victory in the Turlock Derby with his family and team. “I lost my radiator and brakes in the first couple of minutes, but we made it work. No bragging; I am just super happy. This is in our family’s blood.”