‘Abilene is not a soft derby.
You have to bring your A game.’ Levi Markley
By GAIL PARSONS
Part I of a two part series on the upcoming demo derby at the Central Kansas Free Fair.
In a demolition derby, the rule is: every driver for himself. But a few years ago the Abilene Demolition Derby added team driving to its event line up and for the first time an entire team of Abilene drivers will hit the arena.
“Normally, two drivers can’t team up on another driver,” said Winston Elliott who is a member of the three-man team that includes Rick Van Ness and Levi Markley.
The three have worked up their strategy and are getting their cars in order, ready for the Aug. 4 event.
“It’s a little different than a normal show,” Markley said.
The spectators will see the obvious differences. What they won’t see is the difference in what this team expects from themselves and their teammates.
“What changes is the trust,” Van Ness said.
They are all friends but they have always been competitors and have run against each other many times.
“We try to stick together. We’re friends. When it’s over, it’s over,” Elliott said.
That friendship and understanding of how the others drive may help when they get into the arena as a team. They have to be prepared for a change in dynamics amongst themselves and be able to follow each other’s leads and work together with limited ability to communicate.
The one thing that won’t be different is the goal and desire of each driver to hit their opponent as hard as they can. Van Ness, who admittedly may be the oldest driver out there at age 51, is ready to take the hits as well.
“What I really like is the sound of the motor and the harder you hit, the bigger I smile,” he said.
He started driving in 1985, which Elliott noted was before he was born, and has seen many changes in the rules, the cars, and the drivers.
“We do things today that back in the day we never thought we could do with our cars. When I first started, we would run one car and throw it away,” he said. “It is way different today, a lot of younger kids get pretty arrogant and some of younger ones are not as easy to make friends with.”
He doesn’t find that attitude with all the younger drivers and not at all with his teammates. He recalled being there when Elliott won his first modified A feature and was impressed with what a humble winner he was.
Van Ness said he thinks the arrogance he does see sometimes is rooted in the difference between what the drivers do today to prepare for an event compared to 25 years ago. Today there is a lot more time and money that goes into the sport. It’s not just grab a car and go. While attitudes may have shifted over the years, it’s not all a bad thing.
“We have a lot of good drivers here. In Abilene we take the demolition derby stuff seriously,” Van Ness said.
Elliott who started driving in 2005 and Markley who ran his first derby in 2003 both grew up with stricter safety and more attention to the cars.
“What I like is trying to build a tougher car than anyone else has,” Elliott said.
The event itself is the completion of what can be months in the works: from the planning stages, to the analysis of how to build a better car, to actually building it. When his car stands up to the worst of the hits and when his car dishes out punishment on his opponents is when he has his satisfaction.
It’s not much different than what keeps Markley going back for more. “It’s the competition,” he said. “It’s when you take what you learn and what you know and not ever giving up.”
As they enter the arena the first time as teammates, they will combine their competitive spirits to form one cohesive unit and plan on giving Abilene the show they are expecting.
“Abilene is not a soft derby. You have to bring your A game,” Markley said. “There’s nothing like driving in your hometown.”