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Demolition derby, an adrenaline rush: Action begins on Fourth of July

Terry Zastoupil of Dickinson just picked up a car to enter into the upcoming Sax Motor Co. Demolition Derby.

A 30-year veteran of demolition derbies, it will take him only three or four days to prepare it for the derby.

“I take a week’s vacation over the Fourth and I usually use it to build a car,” he said. “The car definitely had to be something big and strong, like a Chevy or Cadillac.”

A premier attraction of the Roughrider Days Fair and Expo, the derby starts at 2 p.m. on Friday, July 4, at the DSU Outdoor arena.

Zastoupil has used the same engine in more than 25 derbies. He has prepared about 100 cars to compete in derbies throughout southwestern North Dakota including Bismarck, Bowman and Hettinger.

This year, he plans to enter the chain-and-bang category, which he described as an “old-school” derby. In this category, participants chain their doors and take out the windows before hitting the arena.

“It’s one heat only, you don’t have to take spare parts, and you don’t have to have a pit crew,” he said. “Basically you run it and load it back up.”

Zastoupil started running the chain-and-bang category two years ago when he won the heat. He took second last year.

This may be his last year of entering derbies. He started with a No. 10 painted on the car. If the audience sees another No. 10, and not a No. 10X, it’s likely to be his last, he said.

But Zastoupil wants to finish on top.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, definitely,” he said. “I’ve been doing this 30 years and have entered some 100 derbies, but I still get a little bit nervous until I make that first hit. Then the nervousness goes away, the  competitive spirit kicks in and it’s just fun.”

Zastoupil might enter the new pickup category — it all depends on the type of vehicle he can find. 

He started competing in regular derbies, where participants would work on their vehicles for months. He’s seen vehicles with a water barrel on top of the car to cool the engine instead of a radiator, and bars welded inside the cab to provide added strength.

“It’s fun to go out and beat up cars, but you need strategy to make the car last long enough if you want to win,” he said. “That’s why the chain-and-bang heat was appealing. You can win $1,000 with one heat.”

Four derby divisions

Demolition derby co-chairman and Roughrider Commission Vice President Justin Olson said the entrance fee will be waived for the first 15 entries who pre-register for this year’s show.

The four divisions are regular derby, Herby Derby (smaller cars), the chain-and-bang derby and a pickup derby — if there’s enough interest.

Instead of a powder-puff division,  women are challenged to compete with the men, Olson said.

“I believe a girl won the Herby Derby a few years ago,” he said. “Of course, there’s the rivalry that goes on. People come to support their local driver. They bring a pit crew and also family members.”

The participants have an opportunity to win more than $10,000 in prizes. Participants also earn points through the Midwest Derby Association.

Sax Motor Co. General Manager Christian Kostelecky likes to sponsor the derby because it’s a good fit.

“We had a couple employees involved as entries, and we donated a wrecker — it’s a really good fit being in the car industry,” he said.

He’s attended every derby since the Sax Motor became a sponsor five or six years ago.

“I think it’s just getting in the ring and seeing who comes out the winner — it’s as exciting as many sports, especially for the kids seeing the action.”

Olson expects the stands to be full. While he is busy organizing the event, Olson likes to watch the beginners enter the arena.

“Some of the guys are new,” he said. “They start with the Herby Derby or chain-and-bang. It gets into their blood and they have a fever for it. They have butterflies and the adrenaline is flowing, but they’re ready to go and this is a true competition for them.”