The demolition derby somehow survives as if in a land before lawyers, in a world in which every thrill has not yet been hemmed in by worries about whether someone might get hurt or be offended. A signature on a waiver, a $40 entry fee, a quick inspection of your vehicle -- doors chained shut, all glass removed but for the windshield, drivers wearing helmets and seat belts -- and you're ready to aim thousands of pounds of steel at your fellow man.
It's always rush hour at the five demolition derbies sponsored each year by the volunteer fire department in Arcadia, Md., where amateurs with barely running junkers sign up for sessions of aggressive driving therapy.
We're in Arcadia, Md., an otherwise quiet hamlet on the northwestern edge of Baltimore County, about an 80-minute drive from Washington, and here at the base of a gentle hillside in a dirt pit filled with nearly 2,000 spectators, the volunteer fire company is staging one of five derbies it holds annually.
Your average county or state fair may offer a demolition derby, and the commercial version is a fine show, real-life bumper cars having at each other in front of a grandstand full of vicarious thrill-seekers. But in Arcadia, they cater to people who live, as the track announcer says, "derby-style." This is seven hours of action, from roundy-round races in which cars chase each other in circles around the short track to the big event, the smash-and-crash derby in which there is no pretense of a race, just a bunch of vehicles thrown into the pit slamming into each other until all but the winner are stuck in the mud, spinning wheels and getting whacked until the checkered flag flies.