A day in the life of a demolition derby driver

DCP writer Emily Kaiser ready for a spin in one of Mabe’s derby cars with Mabe’s son Gary. DCP writer Emily Kaiser ready for a spin in one of Mabe’s derby cars with Mabe’s son Gary.

The Montgomery County Fair introduces a whole new world to one DCP writer

By Emily Kaiser

DCP writer Emily Kaiser ready for a spin in one of Mabe’s derby cars with Mabe’s son Gary.

DCP writer Emily Kaiser ready for a spin in one of Mabe’s derby cars with Mabe’s son Gary.

Pulling up to the driveway of Todd Mabe’s house, I knew he was a notorious demolition derby driver, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I parked behind a car most people would haul away as junk, I began to realize what I had gotten myself into. As unsafe as how these three used-to-be-cars looked, I wanted to take a spin. How often is a girl in a polka dot dress going to get the chance to climb (and I mean climb) into a piece of grumbling metal and live the dream?

Todd and his son Gary are both dedicated demolition derby drivers, but the tradition didn’t start with them. Demolition derby driving is in their blood. Gary’s brother, sister, nephew and others including Ethan Lesh, a close family friend, are all demolition drivers. Altogether, there are about 20 drivers on their team.

Todd has been driving for 24 years.  At age 20, Gary has already been driving for five years, Shawn Goldshot, Todd’s nephew, for seven years and this is Ethan’s first year.
“I’ve done the Montgomery County Fair for about 24 years now,” said Mabe. “My first time ever running was at the Montgomery County Fair and I’ve actually [run in] all three derbies for about 18 years.”

I got some insight into the demolition derby world while sitting down with these guys at their kitchen table. Although I didn’t know all the language of the derby, I was able to keep up with a few questions.

After years of building the cars, Todd is glad to have the kids around to help. He prefers being able to just jump in one and go. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t someone putting in all the legwork.

Although all four agree their favorite part is the adrenaline that driving gives, which of course involves smashing into other demolition cars, a car must be built to get to that point.  These guys turn used cars into their own metal artwork. Gary, Shawn and Ethan have all mastered this process.  After stripping the car of the seat, chrome, glass, carpet, lights, dash and headliner, the welding begins. They like to weld everything they can get away with.  They then paint all their cars black with yellow writing, their signature look. After all this is complete, they put a header on it, which drags more attention to the cars and keeps them a little quieter.

“We can build a complete car in a day’s time,” said Todd. “We’ve done so many, everyone knows what to do.”

Listening to the stories they have acquired over the years, I began to realize this wasn’t just their jobs or hobbies, this was their life.  The four of them instantly had my respect and admiration for putting everything they’ve got into the one thing they love. The effort the team puts into driving the Montgomery County Fair is well deserved and it doesn’t go unnoticed. The Montgomery County Fair Demolition Derby is one of the biggest draws at the fair.

This year, the fair runs from Wednesday, August 31 to Monday, September 5.

What’s a county fair without your traditional fair food? Not to worry, it’s being served by food vendors all around the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, with options such as such as hot dogs, funnel cakes, french fries, and anything else fried and sugary. But there are a few interesting items added to the menu this year. For those who can’t decide between something salty or sweet, have no fear. Try the bacon dipped in chocolate or the Krispy Kreme doughnut burger. Instead of buns, the burger is sandwiched between two of the famous glazed doughnuts. These two menu shockers don’t sound like my cup of tea, but I have a hunch they will be a big hit at the fair.

For children, there will be pig races, and a petting zoo along with rides and games. Kids won’t just learn about farm animals, however. COSI will have a display where they can learn about science and Dayton International Peace Museum will also have an interactive display.

There will also be plenty of entertainment for adults. Wednesday and Thursday will have a harness racing and Friday, a Triple H Rodeo will take place.  Saturday will feature truck and tractor pulls along with the exciting demolition derby, which will be on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, there is plenty of local entertainment scheduled for the week. Saturday, you can wonder at the beauty of the Miss Miami Valley Pageant,  in the entertainment tent at 6 p.m. Local bands and entertainment will also be featured nightly.

There won’t be a dull moment at the fair this year. Make sure to keep an eye out for Mabe and Co. in the demolition ring. You won’t want to miss them.

The fair is $5 admission and children six years old and younger are free. For more information, visit www.montcofair.com.

Reach DCP editorial intern and freelance writer Emily Kaiser at EmilyKaiser@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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