(First ran 8-28-12; it’s county fair time again)
Nothing says late summer quite as much as the county fair.
Frequently, the vehicular variety at Midwestern county fairs is limited to the color and cab configurations of the F-Series or Silverado pickups parked near the livestock, or the number of silver-and-white Impalas and Camrys in the parking lot. Still, that doesn’t mean exciting vehicular activities do not exist at the fair.
The county where I live had a fair recently. From my experience, the organized entertainment at county fairs generally is limited to country-western singers well past their peak, and demolition derbies. However, this year there was a change of flavor–the Figure 8 race.
The announcer asked the audience a rhetorical question: What is a Figure 8 race? He claimed that the Figure 0 has been taken by NASCAR, and that drag racing uses the Figure 1. Thus is a Figure 8 race exactly what its name implies: Racing on an “8” shaped track, with the goal of being the first to finish so many laps without having your ride obliterated by the competition. Ten was the magic number of laps required here.
When I saw this Crown Victoria at the front gate, I was quite curious about what to expect. Sadly, it sat by the 4H building all night. From what I have gleaned, Figure 8 racing started right after World War II; Indianapolis claims to have the oldest Figure 8 track still in use, but ABC-TV’s 1960s-era Wide World of Sports program occasionally featured Figure 8 races from Islip, New York.
As the fan of lowbrow entertainment I am, I was compelled to watch the festivities. So, what cars were competing?
Front-wheel drive compacts: Chevrolet Cavaliers, Pontiac Sunbirds, Cavaliers, Ford Escorts, Cavaliers, an old Toyota Celica, Cavaliers, and a Buick Century, and a few more Cavaliers. There were 67 vehicles in all. I suspect General Motors made the Cavalier and its ilk expressly for Figure 8 racing. They are stout little cars given the kind of treatment they receive. One had a rear wheel shoved under its body, perpendicular to the way it began, yet went another entire round, literally dragging its tail. A second one, flipped onto its roof amidst the chaos, was turned over and started immediately.
Granted, for a few seconds it smoked like Cheech and Chong, but made it to the finals.
There were about twelve rounds in all, with the top two finishers qualifying for the championship. After each round, the obvious losers had their carcasses hauled off by a bobcat.
Sadly, this horny Dodge Dynasty never made it to the party. Later, I learned from an event organizer that there was a maximum allowable wheelbase that the Dynasty exceeded. A V6 in the lineup would have been exciting.
But wait! There was a V6 in the lineup, as evidenced by the deeper sound of an open exhaust system. It was the sole Buick Century in the race, and was simply too speedy for my Blackberry to capture. It made it to the finals after blazing its way around the track in two earlier rounds. It was undoubtedly the fastest car of the night.
Yet it was not to be: After its engine died and remained unwilling to restart in the championship round, it became an also-ran. So what was the winner for the night? A Chevrolet Cavalier. What a shocker.
For me, going to a Figure 8 race is similar to eating Rocky Mountain Oysters or attending a high school reunion – something you do exactly once. Now had it been a Joie Chitwood type show…well, that’s a different story.
Maybe the time has come to where I can finally start enjoying the destruction again. I loved it when I was a little kid but as I aged I realized just what was being destroyed. I cannot imagine having to witness a Clamshell Wagon death as those are on my bucket list.
Bring on the Nissans & Mazdas!
At least these get to go out competing under their own power. So much better than the poor cars that are crushed to death while parked in the path of some monster truck.
I have never seen a figure 8 in person. I have always enjoyed watching races of low-buck cars, though.
The number of Cavaliers is interesting, and probably a pretty good choice – cheap and heavy. But at my age, I have trouble wrapping my mind around figure 8 cars that do not look like this.
Jim you ever been down to the Speedrome? All the low-buck racing you can handle, and a buddy of mine are (slowly) building a ’98 Neon R/T to race next season. The current field is currently absolutely dominated by Honda products (Integras, Civics, Preludes), it’s an absolute blast to watch.
The A bodies [Century] have the same WB as the X cars, compact size, so it squeeks under the limit. Thus, are a popular ‘compact’ demo derby car. Dynastys were stretched longer than compact size, so out.
The opening scenes of “The Love Bug” are of this type of race…
Demolition derbys and figure 8 racing were some of the more unexpected boons of immigrating to the US in 1960. Needless to say, we did not have these types of fine motor sports in Austria. It was a child’s dream come true, although it did take several years before I actually got to see one. And no, it wasn’t my father who took us!
Your story kind of reminds me of Mario and Aldo Andretti coming to the US from Italy and just happen to settle in a town with a race track.
Once I was old enough to realize what was mostly being smashed I stopped watching.
Looks like Lake county (Oregon) is doing the demo derby (however, they have figured out how to get up-and-coming country acts *just* before-or-as they make it big, like the Band Perry last year).
Across the California Border, Tulelake/Butte Valley fair is advertising mudbogging, and looking for people crazy enough to participate. (They lost the up-and-coming country acts with funding cuts–now just a Battle-of-the-bands. It was pretty cool when they got Dierks Bentley just as he made it big, but it helped that he’s a local boy.)
My BIL used to mudbog in the 80s in a 1978 F-250 4×4 powered by a 4 bbl high compression 460 pulled from a 70 Lincoln. Then he would drive it home and set up a lawn sprinkler under it and go to bed. Then he would drive it everyday through the week. It was a beast.
We do oval dirt FULL contact racing in various classes Ill get some pics when the season resumes but for weak types like street stocks the track is well watered to keep traction/speed down but A graders run big V8 motors at5 high speed and cars being slammed into the wall is cool, none of your pansy nascar dont scratch me crap here on a Saturday night.
As to the musical entertainment: The Cambria County (PA) Fair about twenty years ago had Jan & Dean as the main entertainment. Of course I went. I’d seen the Beach Boys about 12-15 times by that time, but I’d never seen Jan & Dean.
I learned what “rock and roll hell” really meant that night.
I seem to remember some dirt track stock cars at the fair but it never a really big thing. When you’ve got the 1/2 mile paved oval at Jennerstown, PA nearby, dirt track doesn’t register all that well.
I have been attending demo derbies and the always-preceeding heat races since a child, and actually competed once with a 1973 Pontiac station wagon. I was the mechanic and my friend Jim was the driver – he won two heat races ($60 prize each) but we were taken out early in the demo (insider’s tips: always install tubes in the tires, and weld the differential gears so you have a straight axle).
I have long been waiting for the SUV-class demo derby, but I have yet to see anybody set this up – Cash For Clunkers took a lot of 1990s demo derby candidates out of the automotive gene pool.
I’m a car lover but I don’t cry for the loss of those cars – whether they sit at Pick-n-Pull for 3 months getting picked apart, or run bomber class and then end their life in a demo derby, their final destination (on the slow boat to China) is the same (but one way provides a heck of a lot more fun and entertainment).
I wonder if the reason for a lack of a SUV class is that it would likely attract a lot of 1990’s era SUVs that tend to be more top-heavy and have narrower tracks which means they would be a lot more roll-overs. Of course, could just make a roll cage a requirement, but I can see the organizers just not wanting to deal with it.
Another thing we might see soon is a CUV class. I’m a car lover too, but to be honest I wouldn’t be shedding a lot tears seeing a bunch of the current crossovers getting smashed to bits.
And you guys wonder why I like Cavaliers… ;^)
Here’s a figure of 8 that you’ll find quite troubling, I’m sure http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DZXoLlE5Sb3o&v=ZXoLlE5Sb3o&gl=NZ
Actually the second film on that page the “All Jaguar” banger race is much sadder.
I have competed in 2 figure 8 races. The fairboard had a youth class opened up for us kids competing in this, i was 15 when i competed, my first car ran was a buick century with a 6 inch chrome semi stack, and the second one was a toyota carolla, and surprise surprise, the car of choice was a cavalier, but my v6 century had the race won until my alternator fried, and my battery died on the last lap. needless to say, i am running a cavalier this year, and will hopefully do better.
When I was a wee laddie the cars were mostly early to mid 1950’s rigs , un damaged until given up for Demo Derby ~ no one wanted them back then .
During my 4 years living in the Indianapolis area, I had the joy of going to a couple of the local short tracks, Anderson and Speedrome. Having grown up in Central Florida with family and neighbors racing asphalt short track cars, I knew I needed to check out what the locals were dishing out. Speedrome, which claims to have invented Figure 8 racing, was, um, rather Jerry Springer. There were the modified 8s, basically a Modified Late Model, just running the 8, but also lots of locals in Cavaliers running hornet class (or whatever it was called). Lots of Cavaliers. With angry novice drivers who would demo each other in the infield after their race.
However, the fast figure 8 races were glorious. The intersection was used to make or break the race, as some slower cars seemed to aim for (or to be in the way of) the leaders as they crossed paths. The anticipation of wrecks is what the crowd wanted, and got in spades. If NASCAR was honest in saying people watch superspeedway races for “the Big One” inevitable wreck, it would be the most honest thing they have ever done.
I’ve just started going to the Speedrome immediately fell in love with the place. The racing, the crowd, it’s awesome. My friend and I are actually building a 1st gen Neon R/T sedan to race next year. Since you last spectated, the field has become dominated by older double-wishbone suspension Hondas: 2nd gen Integras and 3rd gen Preludes seem to be the hot ticket, Civic EXs (single cam 1.6L VTEC) run midpack, with heavier but torquier Accords scattered throughout. The few Cavaliers that I’ve seen on track are left as backmarkers and/or have mechanical issues. On paper our Neon should be competitive once we have the suspension dialed in and assuming we can keep the DOHC 2.0L together.
“Only in America” is what DemoDerby and figure-8 seem to be about—but I have no idea if that’s true. As a child I used to watch these on TV, with mostly full-size Detroit iron, IIRC, but have never seen/heard one live.
FWIW, here’s NASCAR’s Benny Parsons in 1972, telling of his humble Figure-8 roots:
The Vermont equivalent of the Figure 8 is called the Enduro. It takes place at Thunder Road Speedbowl, which is a 1/4 mile paved and banked oval. How it works is that about 90 cars line up three abreast around the track, taking up about 50% of the length. At the green light they all start to go as fast as they can, smashing into each other to get around the wrecks. The red light only comes on occasionally to rescue drivers wrecked broadside with their seat facing the traffic. First person to do 200 laps wins, by which time there may be a dozen cars remaining.
This year’s Enduro happens Sunday night (Aug 4).
The local Fairs around here don’t have Figure 8 racing but do have demolition derbies. I went one last summer. My son wanted to see the demolition derby. There were several classes of vehicles all determined by size. Only the large vehicle class had the traditional rear-wheel-drive full frame vehicles with a good showing of for Panthers and GM B bodies. A Buick Roadmaster ended up winning the large vehicle class. The last race was a free-for-all of all classes against one another. It was actually the midsize class winner that took it all, an unstoppable circa 2005 Toyota Camry. I was surprised to see it beat the big American barges but that car was surprisingly tough.
I saw a few minutes of figure 8 at our local fair on Wednesday. Other than a Century, and probably a Neon, the cars were pretty unrecognizable by the time I was watching.
I can’t see from home, but it sounds like the Tractor Pulls are going on tonight.
When I was a kid, we used to go to all the demo derbies at the country fairgrounds. Not to watch, but to work under the bleachers picking up beer and soda bottles that would be discarded during the race. We’d fill cases and return the bottles to the stands to get the deposit back. Most bottles has a 2 cent deposit if I remember right. It was one of those ways a kid could earn some money when you were too young for a real job.
But wait–if the Dodge Die Nasty was excluded based on wheelbase, shouldn’t the A-body Century have also been excluded? It was about 1/2″ longer.
I’d love to see a demo derby/figure 8 in my area that actually allows and encourages FWD unibody “cockroach” cars. Watching the same old B-bodies, G-bodies, and Panthers get smashed up is boring after two races.