by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Winning demolition derbies has never been an exact science. There’s a certain amount of luck involved, as three couple of first-time winners at the Sherburne County Fair cheerfully acknowledged Sunday evening.
“Oh, sure, there’s luck,” said Jeremy Denault of Monticello after he won the Compacts feature for his first victory in years of trying. Asked what was different tonight, he grinned, “I have no idea. This car has five derbies on it. The first four times, I was never in longer than a minute! I’ve broken everything on it.”
Duane Fox of Andover, another derby veteran, took the Full Size feature. Asked what put him over the top, he smiled, “Luck helps!” adding that he could’ve have lasted much longer, because “my radiator was popped.”
Nick Johnson of Monticello, who won the Trucks Division, figured he’d entered 10 to 15 demo derbies and finally was fortunate to be the last one out there snorting.
“Tonight, I just kept going, and the others got hot (heated up). My driver-side frame was pretty crooked and the front passenger side tire was flat.”
Brad Schillewaert of Big Lake, Fred Hemmerisch of Elk River and Ken Miller (residence not available at this posting) also emerged as winners in the three-hour show with 50 cars entered in six divisions.
As usual, the Demolition Derby closing the county fair was a big draw, helped by milder weather following a week in the high 90’s. Derby officials delayed the start nearly a half hour to accommodate a long line of ticket buyers. The crowd was probably close to 3,500.
Schillewaert, who won the Chain Class in a 1973 Chevrolet, said he’s been doing derbies for several years and has won a few including here and in Litchfield. “I just avoided getting hit,” he commented. “I dished out a few.”
Andy Hanson of Clearwater, longtime participant here usually among the leaders, took second in a 1973 Chevy Impala, and Mike Middendorf of Monticello placed third in 1985 AMC Eagle.
Fox won the Full Size Class feature in a 1979 Ford. He gloated a bit about his favorite make of car.
“We showed that a Ford can win. We took out a lot of Chevies tonight,” said Fox.
He said his best strategy was taking shots at opponents’ tires.
Eric Waba of East Bethel was second in a 1972 Chevrolet, and Erick Kotila of Cokato took third in a 1973 Chevrolet.
Johnson prevailed among six entrants in the Trucks feature, driving a 1989 Chevrolet. Joe Painschab of Howard Lake was second in a 1968 Dodge, Andrew Fox (Duane’s son) of Big Lake third in a 1974 F250, and Scott Svinger of Benson fourth in a 1964 Dodge.
In the Compacts feature, Denault’s 1981 AMC Eagle was the only vehicle still moving while four other cars were idled but still had their sticks up. One by one they timed out, and he had his first win.
“I was hitting every one that moved. At the end one guy still had his stick up so I hit him until they told me to stop,” said Denault.
He’s a regular at the Benton County Fair in St. Cloud. He said his last Elk River derby was 2006 when he got second in Trucks.
Nick Valerius of Becker took second in a 1998 Oldsmobile, Michelle Moen of Clearwater third in a 1998 Chevy Lumina and Aaron
Bring of Big Lake fourth in a 1999 Chevy Lumina.
Hemmerisch was the Mighty Mini’s winner, driving a 1995 Dodge Caravan. Riley Guimont was second in a 2000 Plymouth and Chris Guimont third in a 1994 Dodge Escort, both also from Elk River. Hemmerisch took the upper hand when he got the best of a crowd-pleasing head-on collision with Riley Guimont.
The Smash and Crash was won by Miller, with Dan Leabch second and Ed Peterson third. Smash and Crash is a crowd participation event. Fans buy a raffle ticket, and six are drawn and assigned cars.
Best Paint Job honors went to Tyler Bouten of Elk River. Bouten and pit guy Ryan Hildebrande painted a Ford Taurus in Ducks Dynasty camouflage colors and donned long fake beards during the presentation. The winner was chosen by fan applause from a field of eight entrants.
Among the non-placers, one interesting contestant was Jessica Fitzsimmons of Coon Rapids, whose white and polka-dotted 1991 Pontiac was the prettiest car in the arena, and took a close second in Best Paint Job.
The other guys love to mess up a car like that so she took some vicious hits and quickly lost her back bumper in the first event of the night, a Chains division heat. Fitzsimmons was undaunted as she fought back with some good hits of her own before stalling out.
Soon after, her No. 306 car was back in action in a Compacts heat, driven by her dad. Again it took a beating. This time the front bumper came off and the pretty car was resembling a crushed tin can.
Action had to be stopped for the only time all evening when the driver showed distress; it turned out to be a jolt to his back. He appeared to be OK as crawled out the back window and stood on the roof, arms raised, as the crowd applauded.