Derby cars in short supplyPublished 9:54pm Monday, July 30, 2012
CASSOPOLIS — It was hard to tell who was more excited — first-time demolition derby driver Corey Kovatch, 22, of Dowagiac, or 22-year veteran Todd Collins.
Collins busily attached a Cassopolis rocket football starts Aug. 6 sign to the roof of his blue-and-white Ranger pride bomb with TC-4 on the door indicating that it is Collins’ fourth car.
Numbers don’t mean much except to drivers.
One driver would reveal only that he considers 407 his lucky number.
A former driver who used 102 said it represented “the country station I listened to.”
There were only nine drivers behind the wheel of cars crashing in front of the 161st Cass County Fair grandstand Monday night.
Demolition derby has been dented by more than what announcer Tom Hartsell likes to call “non-stop motorized mayhem.”
“We can blame Cash for Clunkers and high scrap prices,” Hartsell said, “because it’s awfully hard to find cars that are ‘derbyable.’ Six hundred dollars for a car is a lot of money when you’re doing this for a hobby. We’re going to run three full-blown features — two truck classes and large cars.”
“My son plays on the rocket football league,” said Collins, who in previous years used a red-and-white color scheme. “We’re trying to get more kids to come out, and it starts Monday after the fair to remind them in the stands.”
Collins won last year at the St. Joseph County Fair in Centreville, but the Cass fair is his elusive white whale.
“I always watched it as a kid up here,” he said. “When I went away to college (Michigan State University), I got to help a guy in Lansing with his car. When I got home, I immediately started and have been doing it ever since.”
Collins in his day job is a Selge Construction operator.
His only strategy is, “Anything that’s messed you up in the past, take note of it. A lot of people hold back, but I usually try to strike. I’m probably the only one here who doesn’t care” about winning.
Four-time competitor Dwight Ottman, a 2011 Cassopolis graduate, has 237 emblazoned on the door of his 1989 Grand Marquis. It refers to the baseball uniform numbers of himself and two friends.
“My dad and uncle did it,” Ottman said. “My dad does it every now and then. It’s hard to find cars, then it costs $400 to $600. It takes a month to get ready.
“I usually hold back and try to make it to the feature,” Ottman said.
Kovatch, a 2009 Union High graduate, is following his stepfather, Barry Yakim, into derbies in a Crown Victoria. These larger cars can be fine-tuned with sledgehammers.
“I’ve wanted to get into it for a lot of years,” said Kovatch, who does landscaping, “but I didn’t have time to put into it with school and work. I’m here every year in the pit, working on cars. Now it’s time to take care of business. I’m definitely excited.”