Thursday, July 29, 2021

Salena Zito: There's More Than Meets the Eye at a Demolition Derby

 The scent of funnel cakes, grilled hot dogs and an ever-so-faint whiff of diesel fuel fill the air. The odd combination somehow works, adding to the excitement and anticipation as thousands of families and gearheads fill the stands surrounding the track of the local Lions Club Demolition Derby here in Westmoreland County. 

     From the clothing to the massive, oversized tires that serve as makeshift bumpers to protect the people in the stands from an errant jalopy, nearly everything and everyone is draped in red, white and blue.

        Before you form a misguided stereotype, there is a lot more going on here than first meets the eye -- beginning with the organization that is running it. The Lions Club began in 1917 in Chicago, founded by business leader Melvin Jones. Jones believed that members of the business community, large and small, had an obligation to address the betterment of their local communities. Like other do-goody fraternal organizations of that era, the club's objective was to serve outside the influences of government and politics.

        Within three years, it went international. The club showcased its efforts at the world's fair, made Amelia Earhart an honorary member, answered Helen Keller's challenge to serve the blind, provided an organized baseball program for children (that led to the very first Little League baseball game, played in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1939) and gave 6-year-old Stevie Wonder a drum set for Christmas.

        One hundred four years later, the Lions are still doing good deeds, including this demolition derby. Its proceeds will go back into the community, explains Randy Bacher, president of the New Alexandria Lions Club. 

        "This is all about giving back and serving the community," Bacher says. The roar of the engines of the derby cars is so constant that he has to shout, and then the siren signals the end of that round of demolition driving. "Our proceeds go to the local schools where we run the Lunchables Backpack program, which provides weekend meals and snacks for local schoolchildren. We also sponsor scholarships through the two local high schools for the community college and also help fund four local volunteer fire departments."


        In turn, those same people give back by volunteering to staff the event. "They are running the stands, keeping the track clear, coordinating the parking lot and serving as ambassadors to guests," explains Greg Oyaick, second vice president of the club. 

        Both men are standing on the sidelines, overseeing the operation, enjoying the event and making sure everything is running smoothly. 

        "Unfortunately, we have more volunteers than we have members of the club," explains Bacher. They have tried 100 different ways of trying to recruit young people to join the club, he says, but nothing seems to interest them. 

        "When we were young, we were compelled to serve," he says. "This culture promotes this what-is-in-it-for-me attitude that doesn't always lead to service to the community." 

        It is a problem many fraternal organizations across this country have encountered since the children of the 1960s Me Generation took those attitudes with them into adulthood and passed them on to the next generation.
        "What is going to happen to our club?" Bacher wonders out loud. 

        In response, Oyaick asks, "What is going to happen to our communities?" 

        The void would not only be felt at an empty track off old U.S. Route 22 on warm summer nights, but also in the lost funds that this and similar organizations provide outside of government to keep communities from fraying.

        Young people often cite their busy lives as reasons for not joining, yet that excuse was not used by their fathers and their fathers before them, a series of generations that joined service organizations such as the Lions Club or the Kiwanis or the Elks or the Rotary. As they diminish and their members die off, one more cultural touchstone goes with them, and one less community has its volunteer fire department funded, or a baseball field for the local kids, or lunch on a Saturday for a family experiencing food insecurity. 

        Demolition derbies are as American as a glass of bourbon, an apple pie or the sound of a wooden bat cracking against a speeding baseball. They began around here sometime in the 1930s, as people found a use for their old tin lizzies that were rusting away in barns all across rural America.

        The rules often vary, but the object remains the same. At least five (there were 25 at this event) drivers compete by intentionally ramming their vehicles into one another. 

        "The last person standing -- or I should say, still operational -- is crowned the winner," explains Oyaick. 

        Some fans follow drivers and their cars from event to event. Some people just pick a car to win, just by the look of it, the make or even the color. There are wild cheers when a car makes it through another round, and there are even cheers of admiration when one is so beat up it has to be towed off the muddy field by a tractor. 

        Walking through the parking lot, the variety of license plates from New York, Maryland, West Virginia and Ohio provide more evidence people are looking for entertainment outside of sitting in front of a large screen in their home or hunched over a small screen elsewhere. They are looking for community and a sense of belonging.

        "You definitely get that here," says Bacher. "Our challenge is to get people involved, so events like this continue to happen. I guarantee you, once you are part of a service group, you always want to be part of that. We just have to figure out how to get them in the door that first time." 

        If not, he says, he's not sure what will happen to the club or the people who benefit from its volunteerism.

        Salena Zito is a national political reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner as well as a weekly columnist for the New York Post. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I’ve always wanted to see a real demolition derby.
Any fellow millennials here remember Twisted Metal and Destruction Derby for the original Playstation?

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS