All's Fair at the Derby

Where getting smashed while driving is not only legal, it's mandatory.Harking back to the roots of the season of harvest, September is the big month for fairs in New Hampshire.

While the ancients would sometimes perform ritual sacrifices of livestock in gratitude for the fertility of the land, our agricultural traditions have a more modern approach: Let's sacrifice old beat-up cars by crashing them into one another in front of a cheering crowd.

The demolition derby is so embedded in the schedules of our fall fairs that it's hard to imagine some of them, like the Hopkinton or Rochester Fairs, apart from that scene of Road Warrior-style automotive carnage that thrills onlookers and briefly gluts the scrap metal industry.

It looks dangerous, but the Demolition Derby Drivers Association (yes, there is one) reports that fatalities are rare and injuries are usually not serious.

Besides, each derby has a set of rules regarding what is and is not allowed - complete with seemingly vindictive clauses aimed at specific parties. For instance, rule H. in the Lancaster Fair regulations reads (in all caps) NO CHRYSLER IMPERIALS ALLOWED.

There are rules of conduct on the field. No playing "possum," i.e. pretending to be immobile while the other cars smash each other silly, and no direct collisions with the driver-side door of your opponent are both pretty standard.

The Rochester Fair ups the ante with a Trailer Derby, which General Manager Mark Perry says is a bit like the chariot race in Ben Hur, but with cars AND trailers racing around the track and sideswiping each other for guts and glory.

In the end, the last car rolling takes the prize - $2,000 at Hopkinton Fair.

That will buy a lot of hot dogs, candy apples and rides.

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