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Chaos on wheels: Fair’s demolition derby is a smash with fans

A series of multi-car smash-ups hit Hamilton on Monday night, and thousands cheered on the vehicular mayhem.

The Butler County Fair’s Demolition Derby drew more than 2,000 fans packing the grandstand and surrounding the derby field.

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The cooler, clear weather saw big crowds at all the fair’s attractions, and event officials said it was one of the best attendance days in years.

Among the derby drivers barreling into one another was 14-year-old Amberlee Pennington.

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Don’t let her youthful face fool you. She’s a veteran demolition derby driver, having taken third place in the Hamilton County Fair’s event.

“When you get out there you get to hit around, you have your own freedom to do what you want,” said 14-year-old Ross High School freshman.

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The popular derby competition is a big attraction at the annual fair. So much so that a second derby will be held as the main grandstand event Friday evening.

The derby has cars colliding into each other until only one vehicle is still moving. It’s broken down into driver-age categories and vehicle types. Young drivers like Amberlee must be accompanied by an adult.

Seat belts and helmets are mandatory, and every car is inspected beforehand for safety. Drivers are not allowed to smash into driver’s doors – or passengers if two people are in the vehicle. Fire and emergency crews stand at the ready, but even with all those precautions, it’s still no drive in the park.

Helping to keep the carnage contained are large cement barriers enclosing the field. Speeds are also dampened by wet turf and mud that keeps wheels spitting up dirt instead of digging in and propelling cars at high speeds into others.

Depending on competition category, the cars can be modified within certain safety and performance restricting limits set by competition judges.

When a car can no longer move, or a driver has simply tired of being a knocked about like a human piñata, they break off a wooden stick outside their driver’s window to signal they are no longer a target to be hit.

James Jones of Hamilton was a derby winner last year. His Chevy Lumina’s side is sprayed with Jame’s derby nickname “Pile Driver.”

The appeal to drivers, Jones said, is easy to understand.

“It’s just fun. And it helps you get rid of road rage. I’ll be a lot nicer guy tomorrow morning,” he jokes.

Amberlee says her friends are puzzled by the hobby she loves.

“They don’t understand why you would want to spend money on wrecking a car,” she said.

Doug Turner, president of the Butler County Fair Board, described Monday’s crowds jamming into the fair, which is in its 167th year, as “fantastic” and that there were no major problems at the event.

The fair runs through Saturday evening.

General admission tickets per day, which include parking, are $8 for adults, children 6-12 accompanied by paying adult are $3. Senior citizens and U.S. military veterans can enter for free on Wednesday July 26.

For times, specific events, evening grandstand shows – separate admission tickets required - and other information go to the Butler County Fair website or call 513-892-1423.

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