Colorful driversStanding next to his red 1959 Chevrolet Thunderbird near the center of the track’s infield, Durango resident Paul Krueger puffed a cigarette while twisting a wrench with his powerfully built, heavily tattooed, right arm.
A nine-year veteran of demolition derbies, Krueger began competing in Durango nine years ago after he helped a friend build a derby car and quickly realized that standing on the sidelines was not for him.
Not far from Krueger, another Durango resident, Jaime Garcia, lit a cutting torch and moved toward his 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Like Krueger, Garcia sported muscled adorned with tattoos and professed a love of the sound of crunching metal and hard collisions.
“It feels good to put hits on cars, and the more you do it, the more it makes you want to get another one,” Garcia said. “I realized pretty quickly that this was too much fun to stand on the sidelines.”
Nonstop actionSoon after Garcia and Krueger made final adjustments to their muscle cars, the two men drove to a mud pit near the center of the arena where they were joined by 12 other drivers from locations around the Southwest.
Among those drivers was Cortez resident Richard Killingbeck, who has become well known to local race fans as a hobby stock driver and knowledgeable mechanic.
Driving a 1998 Buick with an engine so quiet that the PA announcer commented that the vehicle must be running on electric, Killingbeck delivered several bone-rattling shots to opponents during the competition’s opening round.
So, too, did Garcia, whose Monte Carlo collided with Krueger’s Thunderbird with such force that the red classic’s entire drive shaft snapped off and fell limply to the ground. In the moments after the collision, gasps reverberated through the audience, and even Krueger had to smile.
“We broke the entire drive shaft,” Krueger said. “We lost two caps on the U-joint, and the U-joint fell out. We’re going to spend some time here in the pits and see what we can do.”
Impressive repairsArmed with a cutting torch, several wrenches, a hydraulic jack and duct tape, Krueger set to work reattaching his broken drive shaft in hopes of resuscitating his car in time for the final round.
Meanwhile, Garcia worked feverishly to remove part of a loose front bumper with a cutting torch while Killingbeck and a friend chained his Buick to a truck and attempted to pull his crunched rear trunk into a better position.
“A big part of a derby is making repairs and keeping things running in between rounds,” Krueger said. “We welded two sockets in the U-joint caps and basically put the transmission back together in about 15 minutes. We have duck-tape holding the tail shaft on the transmission, and we’ll just have to see how long it all lasts.”
Winners crownedThanks to nifty repairs and some luck during the final round, Killingbeck and Garcia shined during the Derby’s final round and won their respective divisions.
Garcia was especially lucky as the cars of his two top competitors stuck together near the bumpers after a nasty collision, which rendered both vehicles helpless and open to continuous blows.
After the event, a still-sweaty Killingbeck could be seen high-fiving family members and friends before taking a moment to describe just what makes demolition derby’s so special.
“Getting ready for a derby is a lot of work because we have to strip everything that is flammable from the engine compartment, move the fuel cell, and pretty much strip the entire car,” Killingbeck said. “Then, it’s pedal to the medal and hang out and without a doubt, everyone has a great time.”