A crash course in winning
Local teen takes first overall in demolition derby
Sitting among the shiny, cared for cars in queue for maintenance at Eudora Auto Tech, it's not hard to pick out Richard Neis' car. The compact Chevrolet isn't much more than a shell of a car, but that's all a demolition derby driver needs anyway.
Neis, 19, finished first overall for compact cars at the Leavenworth County Fair's demolition derby despite the competition being his first effort.
Looking at what used to be an intact 1987 Chevy Nova, Neis and Robin Robertson recall the week of preparation necessary to get the car battle-ready.
"It used to be a Chevy Nova," Robertson said. He helped prepare cars for Neis and fellow derby driver Leslie Kindred, who found sponsorship in Auto Tech, where Neis works. Kindred finished first in his heat and sixth overall with the 1967 Chrysler Newport he purchased for $70.
As part of the sponsorship, Robertson gave the men use of the shop and equipment. Robertson and Jennifer Dye, who also works at Auto Tech, ran down the list of renovations necessary to transform the car. The glass and dash are removed, as is anything flammable like extra seats, leaving the lone driver's seat. The doors are welded, leaving drivers to scurry across the hood to get behind the wheel. Reinforcements are added where competition allows them, such as the driver's side door.
The gas tank is moved inside the automobile.
"It came loose, and he was trying to hold it down while driving," Robertson said, recalling Neis' competition.
Aside from the gas tank, other remnants of the car tell the story of the competition.
"You can see his paint," Neis said, examining an opponent's bright green paint on the car's bumper and back end, which now look like a crumpled piece of paper. "He got mad about something."
Dye added, "You can find green paint all around the car."
Although he wore the required helmet but opted against a neck brace, Neis said he didn't experience any whiplash from the heavy-duty version of bumper cars.
"I woke up the next morning and felt fine," he said.
Demolition derby veteran Kindred felt different.
"Your neck is kind of sore the next day," he said.
Neis' car, a gift from a customer who had Auto Tech work on his other cars, won't retire soon, if Neis can help it. He said he planned to take the car to a competition in Overbrook.
Participating in the derby requires participants to be 18 or older, have a valid drivers' license and a drive to compete.
"I've been wanting to for a long time," he said. "I had the car, and I had the time."
Dye had another theory.
"I think he got started because he worked on Leslie's car and he was, like, 'Cool,'" she said.