Fans of the demolition derby will pay tribute to local driver Tommy Wyatt and other drivers who have passed away in the last year tonight at the Butler County Fair.
Wyatt, 43 of Trenton, had been one of the area’s most popular drivers, a second generation derbier who passed away last week due to complications in treatment of leukemia, according to his wife Tanya.
He fell ill during a camping trip Memorial Day weekend and went to the hospital. He was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia and immediately started chemotherapy. Although he was responding to the chemotherapy well, his wife said, he contracted an infection and didn’t have the white blood cells to attack it.
He passed away July 16.
His father Junior Wyatt, who is also a demolition derby competitor, said that Tommy grew up in the garage and couldn’t wait until he was able to drive himself when he turned 16. For a time, his family said, he would fix up the cars Junior had competed in and would run them himself.
Tommy Wyatt competed in derbies all around the area, had won the Butler County Fair a number of times, and even won a $10,000 prize in Connersville, Ind.
“It turned him into a better person,” his wife said. “He was never into drinking and drugs because he was into the derby. Other than his family, that was what he cared about most.
“He never got mad,” she said. “Some drivers are ready to fight when the derby is over, but he had zero enemies.”
Tanya said that he was always willing to help out other drivers even though they would be competing against them.
“I couldn’t tell you how many kids have come to me and tell me he was like a father to them,” she said.
Over 600 people attended his funeral, she said, many of them sporting his number — 712 — on their cars, as many of the drivers at the first derby at the fair did on Monday.
Darrel Rutherford, who has been organizing the derbies at the fair since the 1980s and was a competitor long before that, said that Wyatt “really had something.”
“Tommy has participated for as long as I can remember,” he said, “ever since he was a little squirt. He was one of the guys that put on a good show and was one of the crowd favorites.”
Rutherford said that at tonight’s event, they will pay tribute to Wyatt and other local derby drivers who have passed away this year, including Sid Strunk, who was a popular driver in the 1970s and ’80s; Jerry King, who died of cancer late last year; and Reagan Roark.
Wyatt’s son, Jeremy, 21, will compete in the derby, making the third generation in the sport.
Tanya Wyatt said that she will have a “memory box” set up at the derby so that people can write down their memories of #712 so that his children will have a memento.
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.