The delicate art of smashing cars

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 30, 2002

GLENVILLE &045; They all come from the same town. They trade car parts and share a tire machine. They even had their own T-shirts made that say &uot;Glenville Wrecking Crew.&uot;

But when they pull their cars into the ring for a demolition derby, friendship goes out the window.

&uot;We’re not a team,&uot; said Mike Gaines, a Glenville demo derby driver who has won two of the last three derbies at the Freeborn County Fair and four of five at the Worth County Fair. &uot;People hear ‘Glenville Wrecking Crew’ and they think we don’t hit each other, but that’s not true.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

In fact, last year it was a fellow Glenville resident who delivered the fatal blow to Gaines’s car, preventing him from winning his third straight derby in Albert Lea.

When it comes to smashing cars, these guys take their sport seriously. In Glenville, even the kids put together demolition strollers, which they smash against each other in mini-derbies. And in the big-people derbies, Glenville men have won four of the last five derbies at the Freeborn County Fair.

In the Gaines family in particular, demolition derbies have become a popular pastime. Mike’s wife, Tammy, has competed in the last two Powder Puff derbies in Albert Lea, winning last year’s event.

&uot;It’s a good way to blow off steam,&uot; Mike Gaines said.

Mike, along with fellow Glenville residents like Jamie Neilon, Shawn and Kelly Ellingson, and 2001 champ John Hornberger, as well as others, have been competing in derbies for years, and over time have perfected their own ways of preparing their cars for competition.

This year, Gaines found a 1976 Chevy Impala that was sitting in somebody’s yard in Oklahoma. He replaced the engine, transmission, rear end and brakes with parts from other cars that he knew were reliable.

&uot;You get to know what happens to the cars,&uot; Gaines said, and drivers use that knowledge to tweak their cars the next time around.

After Gaines is done changing out all the vital parts of the car, he gives the engine a tune-up and works on safety features, like welding the doors shut and adding a bar behind the seat.

&uot;Then you double check to make sure everything is good,&uot; he said.

Building cars and entering the race costs money, but sponsors help with some of that. Gaines is sponsored this year by his employer, Injectech of Northwood, Iowa, and by JenSales of Manchester.

Once the cars face off and the crashes start, Gaines said he tries to heed a simple rule: Don’t lose your cool. When a driver goes after him, he’ll retaliate, but said he takes care not to lose his temper and make ill-advised hits that cause too much damage to his car.

&uot;The thing is not to go crazy during the heats and make it to the feature,&uot; Gaines said. The competition is done in several heats, with the winners advancing to the final race.

After winning the Worth County derby this year, Gaines figures he’ll be a target of other drivers who don’t want to see him win in Freeborn County.

&uot;He’s going to get his butt kicked,&uot; Tammy said.

But one thing is for sure: When he rolls onto the field tonight for the Freeborn County Fair’s derby, he’s not going to show any mercy on anybody &045; not even his friends from Glenville.

&uot;They hit me, so I’m not afraid to hit them,&uot; he said.I