by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Without traction, there’s not much action.
The Demolition Derby drivers at the Sherburne County Fair sputtered and skidded all Sunday evening on a surface turned to slop by heavy rain, when they could get moving at all.
“It was pretty greasy out there,” acknowledged Jim Riebe of Watkins, who won the Trucks competition.
Did he get any good licks along the way?
“Not really,” he said.
Demo Derby is normally slashing, dashing, bashing mayhem. That’s what attracts the biggest crowd for any Elk River sports event every year.
This year it looked more like bumper cars most of the time. Seldom could anyone get a head of steam.
“It was way too wet,” said Joseph Ahner of Zimmerman, who won the Compacts division. “At the very end, I got some shots in.”
Jeremy Wroblewski of Benson won the Heavies, prevailing in an eight-car feature that closed the show and came closest to looking like Demo Derby as the track may have been a little packed down by then.
Attendance was between 2,00o and 2,500, estimated event director Roger Kostreba, smaller than usual in the steaming heat.
There were 28 drivers, including four who won a raffle for the right to drive a car provided for them. Michael Ahner of Elk River won that one.
The number of drivers has slipped in recent years. Kostreba attributes that to the economy and the high current price of steel (you can sell a junker for a decent check these days).
In the Heavies feature, Wroblewski was able to knock out the other two cars still going when the field of eight was reduced to three.
An electrician in his 14th season of Demo Derby, he slowly built a head of steam in his blue 1992 Ford (No. 519) to smack Chad Davis’s 1984 Ford in the butt, repaying the Elk River driver for a good shot a few minutes earlier. Davis stirred a bit, then pulled down his stick.
That left Wroblewski and Jack Pribyl of Webster. Pribyl’s 1997 Ford was battered pretty good by then. Trying for one last assault, he pulled alongside two
dead cars on the far end of the track, but he was unable to go further. Wroblewski revved up his engine in the middle of the pit and had a clear
shot into Pribyl’s side. When he backed up for another run at it, Pribyl took down his stick and it was over.
Two locals attracted some attention in that event. Davis calls his car “The Juice Box” each year. It’s labeled as such and painted orange, black, green and white. He got the fans’ vote for best paint. Meanwhile, Devin Olson of Otsego painted “Here to Get the Juice Box” on the side of his 1991 Ford.
In the feature, Olson jolted his prey a couple times along the way, and was one of the last five going. But he took body blows both Davis and Wroblewski, after which fire burst out of his exhaust pipe mounted in the hood area. He was done, but could be seen applauding happily, his arms extended through the opening in his car, when Davis went out.
So the order of finish was Wroblewski, Pribyl and Davis. Wroblewski said he wins five to 10 of these each year. He’d been to Elk River once before, in team competition last year.
The Compacts division had just four entries. Ahner, in his first Sherburne fair appearance, placed first, with Joel Snyder of Elk River second and Brandon Blaine of Otsego third. This was Ahner’s first victory, after placing as high as second and third previously.
Ahner, in a red-and-white 1995 Dodge Stratus with “The Rocket” emblazoned on the side, sloshed around in the muck with the others until just he and Snyder remained, when he was able to thump Snyder’s 1998 Dodge Neon, lodged against the wall, in the side a couple times to finish the job.
The Vans and Pintos class, which had four entrants, was won by Gene Denault of Big Lake, with Chris Guimont of Elk River second and Jonathan Zemlicka of Princeton third.
Riebe, a 22-year Demo Derby veteran who won in Rush City the night before, capped a good weekend by piloting his 1969 Dodge pickup to first place among five entries, with Jim Binsfeld of Litchfield second and Andy Fox of Big Lake third.
There were no knockout blows. It ended when Binsfeld got hung up and couldn’t move. But even if the action wasn’t furious, that doesn’t mean it was any easier for the drivers as they wrestled those vehicles through the quagmire.
“I’ve go a spot on my butt the size of a quarter with no skin on it,” grinned Riebe, “from bouncing around in the seat!”