Is the future of some Vt. demolition derbies in doubt?

Published: Dec. 5, 2019 at 6:23 PM EST
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The demolition derby is a favorite at fairs all across our region, but state safety rules could put the brakes on three Vermont events. Our Ike Bendavid breaks down why the derbies are in danger.

The demolition derby-- a day of excitement for many Vermonters each summer.

"Oh gosh, yes, that's really my other favorite thing," said Debbie Brace of Panton.

"Yes, that's quite a lot of fun," said Cody Sayers of Hardwick.

But the future of three Vermont derbies are in jeopardy.

"We have always been inspected. The fairs have always passed their inspection," said Jackie Folsom, a lobbyist for the Vermont Fairs and Field Days Association.

Folsom says the demolition derby is the most popular day at any fair.

But now, safety rules ignored for years are being enforced by state regulators.

"We just want to make sure public safety is put first," said Chris Winters, Vermont's deputy secretary of state.

Rules call for spectators and derby cars to be separated by more than 30 feet. Right now, that is not the case at the state fair in Rutland and the Caledonia and Orleans county fairs. And fixing it could cost thousands of dollars.

"They could lose their fairs quite actually," Folsom said. "In 2019, there seemed to be a change in leadership at the secretary of state's office, which often happens. So, when they went back out to do these inspections, all of a sudden the 30-foot barrier was more strictly looked at and three fairs didn't come under compliance."

The state let the derbies happen this year with some modifications but the future might look different.

"We just recently have taken a look at that again and want to make sure that the 30-foot distance makes sense or if something else makes sense. We will listen to the evidence," Winters said.

Sen. Joe Benning was contacted by the Caledonia County Fair. He questioned the ramped-up enforcement at a legislative hearing.

"If you don't have any evidence that there has ever been a problem, you're imposing something that has never been enforced before that has tremendous impact on the fairs. That to me is not reasonable and that's why we are looking at the rule," said Benning, R-Caledonia County.

This conversation comes just three months after two people were hurt at Thunder Road. A race car jumped the track and hit them. They both survived.

But Benning says racetracks and derbies are not subjected to the same rules.

"Thunder Road is not covered by this particular rule. This is a completely different scenario, demolition derbies," Benning said.

The fairs told the committee on Thursday they are already booking for next summer. If the state enforces the 30-foot rule, they might have to make some significant and expensive changes. The committee meets again in January.

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