ALPENA - In the afternoon before Friday's bump and run at the Alpena County Fair, three drivers and the event promoter spoke about the appeal of the rough-and-tumble driving spectacle.
Shane Donnan drives a Transformers-themed car, he said, his third car in two years. It had been sitting in someone's back yard for some time when he bought it for $200, putting $300 more into it. After removing all the interior panels, most of the seats, headlights and taillights, he gave the car a custom paint job. In the back seat sits a large red stuffed bulldog, something he won at the fair five or six years ago.
Donnan has been competing in derbies and bump and runs for 10 years, taking a few breaks here and there, he said.
"I do it for my nephews," he said. "They like me, and like to watch me run around the track. It's something to do instead of sitting at home."
Cars in the bump and run need to have a few features added or modified, Donnan said. They can't have any windows except for a windshield, although most simply had a bar or chain to prevent another car from driving through the void. They also need to have roll cages, or something to prevent the roof from caving in. Donnan's had two pipes welded to the floor and ceiling, one right behind his seat.
Nearby, Jerry Anderson explained the number of his car: 13 1/2. It also explains how he got into racing and demolition derbies.
"My dad was doing demolition derbies, then they started doing bump and runs as a way to save cars," he said. "He was no. 13, and I was no. 13 1/2. He's since passed on, so I carried on doing it."
Anderson likes the adrenaline rush of racing, he said. Crunching into other cars can be a good stress reliever, too. He enjoys putting on a show for anyone who will come out to support racing and derbies.
"And, the garage is a good place to hide from the wife," he said with a laugh.
Rather than hide, Amanda Roznowski's husband has helped her with her own racing ambitions, and she planned to drive in the all-women's Powder Puff race if the car held up, she said. She thinks it's a good thing to have such a race, and views it as practice for when she has her own car to race with the men.
"I've watched it for years, and my husband is a racer," she said. "They all wanted me to get into Powder Puff racing, so I jumped in and went. It's addicting."
Anderson's car had a few modifications as well, including a small gas tank bolted in the back where his seat would go. He pointed out washers welded around the edge of the doors and hood, explaining how they make the car more solid. His front bumper also had extra metal welded on to brace it. While the cars themselves may be cheap junkers, the front tires are anything but, and can cost $300 and up for the pair.
Unlike other races, where ramming your opponent off the track is frowned upon, it's all part of the sport in a bump and run, promoter Bari MacNeill said. Cars have to complete so many laps, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins the heat. Opponents try to push each other off course on the figure eight-like track. After six or eight heats, the winners of each compete in the feature, with a $1,000 prize going to the champion.
"It's a good show for people," he said. "Anything dealing with motor sports at the fair is a big pull."
Crowds love coming out to experience the noise, and to satisfy the curious urge to watch the destruction, MacNeill said. The sight of crashing cars and the crunch of metal on metal adds to the excitement.
"It's a full-contact sport, but with cars," he said.