The Coconino County Fair and the Demolition Derby started off with a hit Saturday, as people flocked from around the state to enjoy the warm weather, wild rides and loads of food.
The fair will be open throughout the Labor Day weekend, while the derby will continue through Sunday.
The 67th annual fair came back into town with its rides, vendors, and animal pens in virtually every corner of their space, while the 35th annual Demolition Derby used its space more destructively.
If you hadn’t have parked right next to the fairgrounds, it would be easy to forget from the stands overlooking the Demolition Derby that there was a Ferris Wheel a few hundred yards away. Before the show, the dirt floated through the air and children with their families positioned themselves around the pit. Meanwhile, people moseyed around the works of destruction displayed near the entrance.
The event led competitors to put in nearly $5,000 and hundreds of hours into their mean machines. Vic Page was one of those people. The 65-year-old derby competitor had enjoyed the derby as a spectator, but found a reason to get himself behind the wheel.
“It’s a bucket list item for me. I’ve been coming off-and-on for ten years to watch this, and I said man I gotta do this,” Page said. “I think I might be the oldest novice today. I’m sixty-five, and the oldest starter they’ve had was 72.”
The race had multiple rounds where different cars competed. The drivers of small cars, big cars, and trucks all entered their heat with one goal in mind: to be the only car to exit the ring.
Despite the competitive edge, safety is still the derby's top priority. All drivers wear neck braces and helmets, and each driver-side door is painted with a large red stop sign on it. Any hit to the driver-side door will cause the referees to halt the derby.
After the air-horns blow, the crowd can get as loud as the cars. According to the announcer, getting hit in a truck can hurt the drivers the most because “the frame has no give.”
At one point during the truck heat, the front-end of one truck was crunched down to half its size.
Another lost the rubber of its back wheel, but that didn’t stop it from roaring across the track to send its opponent skidding through the mud. And nothing riled the crowd up more than seeing the underdog, with no tire and ramshackle sides, take it to the cleanest car with the back-end of his truck bed.
The winner of the truck heat, Travis Earles, hasn’t lost in the three years he’s done it. One viewer chalked that up to his spray-painted Mountain Dew green Chevy Suburban.
After three years, Earles still loves getting in the driver seat.
“It was crazy. It’s the biggest adrenaline rush you’ll ever feel,” Earles said. “You lose everything and all you focus on is that next car.”
Clint Bleeker, an organizer and announcer for the event, wants to see more families and newcomers at the event each year. The event is the Flagstaff Sunrise Lions Club’s biggest fundraiser that helps deliver eyeglasses and hearing aids to those in need.
“I’ve been helping for years. I’ve driven every kind of car and it is a lot of fun,” Bleeker said. “There’s no automobile racing up here. This is as close as you’re going to get. After you’ve done this once, you’re hooked. You’re absolutely hooked.”
It stayed around 70 degrees throughout the day as people made their rounds looking at all the vendors. Rainclouds hung in the distance, but stayed away from the fairground throughout the afternoon.
In the back section of the fairgrounds, the Gravitron spun while the Zipper flipped and the Yo-Yo swung. Ride-goers could be heard screaming from the parking lot.
Chad and Staci Clayton have been coming to the fair for fifteen years and despite recently moving down to Peoria, that didn't stop them from attending this year. While their girls were off riding their favorite rides, they stayed back for their own sake.
“It’s been many years [since riding]. We just watch now,” Chad said.
There were vendors selling clothes and accessories, offering services like massages and henna tattoos, and a large area that was dedicated to live music with spots for people to eat whatever they could get their hands on. People walked about the fairgrounds eating corn on the cob, cotton candy, flavored lemonades, turkey legs and much more.
Festival-goers Alex Blewitt and Jayla Tubbs watched the whole derby, then walked to the fair to get a Navajo Taco and hot dog. For them it was a great way to spend a weekend in town. Blewitt had made a plan to satisfy his cravings.
“Probably in an hour I’m going to get a turkey leg, and then a corn dog. Basically going to see how my night goes,” Blewitt said.
The fair is open over the long weekend until Monday, Sept. 3 and opens at 10 a.m. Every day the park closes at 10 p.m., except Monday where it closes six hours earlier at 4 p.m. The derby opens at 11 a.m. and ends after Sunday.