HARMONY — The old, dented cars, spray-painted all the colors of the rainbow, began smashing into each other, tearing off bumpers and fenders and sending pieces flying.
The noise was deafening as the drivers, all wearing helmets, revved their engines.
The crashing and banging around sent the crowd of about 300 at today’s Harmony Free Fair demolition derby into an uproar. They screamed, yelled and hollered.
All of a sudden, smoke started billowing out of a blue 1971 Cadillac DeVille.
“Fire!” announcer Stanley Woodard screeched into the microphone. “Fire guys — fire!”
Firefighters were all suited up, despite the hot, muggy weather, and pulled a hose down into the demo pit. They started dousing the Cadillac’s engine with water as the driver, Mike Gilbert, 42, of Canaan, climbed out of the car’s window.
The crowd, sitting on the bleachers, in chairs and on a grassy incline that dipped down into the pit, laughed and cheered.
Gilbert, acknowledging his Cadillac was disabled and that he had to sit this particular event out, stood back with the crowd and watched.
“There was a lot of fire inside,” he said, beads of perspiration glistening on his temples and cheeks. “I couldn’t breathe. I had to get out.”
He said the battery cable had melted and the wires to the starter had burned in the Cadillac, which was built the same year he was born — 1971.
“I’ll fix it up and go somewhere else with it,” he said.
Later in the day, Gilbert planned to take part in another event with a Honda station wagon, he said. The owner of A Plus Auto and Towing in Canaan, Gilbert said he has been entering derbies about 30 years.
“You try to wreck everything out there and try not to wreck the driver’s door,” he said. “I’ve been rolled over and everything. It’s fun. This is a blast. To me, this is the best derby in the state, Harmony Fair — thanks to Stan Woodard.”
Woodard, of Harmony, entertained the crowd with jokes as he strolled through the pit, announcing the Prettiest Car and Ugly Car contests and introducing drivers. His wife, Lisa, stood next to the fence, watching.
Teresa Gillespie and her fiancee, Wayne Smith, of Dexter, also stood nearby.
“This is my first time (at a derby),” Gillespie said. “This is awesome, pretty crazy.”
Michelle Smith, 13, was enjoying the derby and waiting to sing the national anthem for the crowd. A freshman at Foxcroft Academy, Smith said she sings in the Select Choir at her school and hopes to be a registered nurse one day. She has attended the fair since she was 3.
“I’ve always loved it,” she said. “It’s always a great place to hang out. It’s great for the community.”
The best part of the fair, she said, is the people, because they get involved and care about the annual event.
“It’s a lot of work, and it’s nice to see the community come together,” Smith said.
Elsewhere at the 66th fair, sponsored by the Patriarch’s Club, people of all ages strolled around the fairgrounds, munching on cotton candy, popcorn, doughboys, Italian sausage and onion rings.
Some braved the rides, while others wandered into the barn to see cows, donkeys, pigs, chickens, goats, llamas, alpacas and other animals.
In the exhibition hall, fairgoers inspected displays of vegetables, canned and baked goods, quilts and plants; outside, the Road Ranger Band belted out classic country tunes.
The fair continues through Monday, which will feature a 9:30 a.m. Labor Day parade followed by all sorts of activities including a horse show, chicken barbecue, magic show and men’s hammer throw.
Amy Calder — 861-9247