‘I was all for her (competing). You can’t
describe the feeling.’ ––Meryl Bischoff.
By GAIL PARSONS
Part 2 of a two part series on the demo derby at the Central Kansas Free Fair.
When Dickinson County Sheriff Deputy Cory Ward slides behind the wheel of his Crown Vic on Aug. 6, he won’t be running down lawbreakers or chasing after a speeder. He does, however, plan to go after his opponents with everything his car has to offer.
Cory is the youngest of three generations of demolition derby drivers who have competed in Abilene. His mother, Michelle Ward and his grandfather, Meryl Bischoff, have been drivers.
Meryl started the family tradition which includes several other family members, as well. Michelle recalled one derby that had five members of the family competing. Three of them ended up in the same heat.
“I didn’t do my first one until I was 39,” Meryl said, proving that you’re almost never too old to try something new. “I just started for the fun.”
After about 15 years, he decided that the sore necks, the sore shoulders, the bruises weren’t worth it anymore. It was starting to take its toll on an aging body.
“I just didn’t want to go out and get hurt anymore,” he said. But that doesn’t stop him from being an active participant in the sport. He still goes into the pits, although, admittedly does more watching than working. “I still enjoy being out there.”
Before he quit driving, his daughter was finding her place in the sport.
“I was all for her (competing),” he said. “You can’t describe the feeling.”
And he wasn’t about to deprive his daughter from experiencing the adrenaline rush that he had come to love.
Michelle remembers her first car that she drove in 1994.
“We got this old Cadillac from a farmer’s field and towed it in and it started right up once we put gas in it,” she said.
Through her driving years, she took some time off because of pregnancy but eventually, like her father, she started getting tired of being hurt.
Together they recalled the last time she drove and took a hard hit. She got smashed on the driver’s side hard enough to break the seat belt and the seat. Just seconds later, before she could recover from that hit, came another one on the right side of the car.
It happened right in front of the family. Meryl and Michelle’s husband weren’t 50 feet away.
“I wasn’t sure which one of them was going to come over that fence first,” she said, recalling that she quickly pulled her flag and gave a quick wave to them to let them know she was okay.
Now she’s behind the fence as she watches her son go out there and take the hits but she also knows that he can hand out his fair share of damage.
“You always sit there and worry, but I like to think that he has been around it long enough,” Michelle said.
He practically grew up tearing apart cars, having received his first drill gun when he was five-years-old and his first truck when he was in the eighth grade. Over the years, he has learned a lot about driving and a lot about building demolition derby cars.
“He builds a pretty good car,” Meryl said. “I don’t think I would to go toe to toe against him.”
There have been many changes in the sport from when Meryl started driving and when Cory took over his family’s legacy.
“Derbies are a lot different now,” said Cory’s grandmother, Barbie Bishoff. “Back then, all were equal. Now people put thousands of dollars in the motor alone.”
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the family atmosphere of demolition derbies. Meryl said he has seen this become a family activity that generations come together over.
Cory knows that if it wasn’t for the use of his grandparents’ garage and tools, he likely wouldn’t be able to build his cars. He said he is thankful they have given him that opportunity and for their time and patience and the guidance that he has gotten over the years.
That family unit extends beyond the immediate family garage or pit. Everyone is willing to help each other out, Michelle said.
“It’s still like that today,” Cory said. “Take for example any of the Markleys. If you need something, they will get it for you or find a way to help. They really like to see the younger people get involved.”
With help of family and friends and sponsors in R&R Service Center, 3MB Trucking, and Abilene Concrete Supply, Cory will crash the arena and doesn’t plan to take any prisoners.