April Jeppson: The magic and addiction of a demolition derby

Published 8:24 pm Thursday, August 30, 2018

Every Little Thing by April Jeppson

April Jeppson


If you would have asked me six months ago if I enjoyed demolition derbies, I would have answered no. I probably would have given you a confused look wondering why you’d even ask me that. Exactly what in our conversations would lead you to believe something like this? I honestly didn’t even know what a demolition derby was.

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Here enters my friend Kirk. We go to church together, and recently he was put in charge of the young men ages 12 to 17. (I oversee the young women.) So through various after school activities, I’ve gotten to know him better these past few months. I’ve overheard him talking about driving in a derby and working on his car, but I just never really cared to know any more than that.

One Sunday we were discussing the week’s upcoming activity, and he mentioned how he still had all this work to do on his car. I thought, well I’ve got some free time maybe I could find a way to help. When I got to his garage, I was both impressed and confused. Like, whoa, you’ve got a lot of empty vehicles out here and that’s what you’re going to drive to your death? Like I said, I didn’t really understand what a demolition derby was.

He explained the event, what his vehicle needed, all the things he still had to do and although I was starting to tune out I noticed something I had never seen in Kirk before: a twinkle in his eyes. He was just beaming. I had worked with this guy for months with our youth and I’d seen him laugh, have fun and give spiritual lessons, but I’d never seen his face light up like this before. It was both magical and addicting. The energy was tangible. I still didn’t fully understand what he was doing out there in that garage, but I knew I needed to be a part of it.

So over the next few weeks I found myself in that garage as often as I could. The large sliding door open, music blaring, Kirk working on his car and me throwing sticks to his dog, Sweet Pea. I told myself this was a very important task because it kept her away from the welding sparks and allowed Kirk to concentrate on more important things — like building a vehicle that would keep him alive.

One night as I was watching him measure and cut metal with what I referred to as a flame-thrower, he looked at me and asked if I wanted to try. What? Obviously you don’t know me that well if you think I should be entrusted with this level of power. So of course my answer was, “Yes!” That was one of the scariest and most thrilling moments of my summer. Trying to focus on cutting a straight line and simultaneously wondering if a spark was going to start my shoe on fire.

Once we painted the car black and applied the lime green stickers, it really was a sight to be seen. Completely different from the multicolored shell of a vehicle I had seen that first night. This derby car I had zero interest in a few months ago was now something I cared about. I had scrubbed the exterior, vacuumed the interior, held the bumper while Kirk welded it on and carefully placed the hood back in place before “97” was loaded on to the trailer to be taken to the race. I was actually excited to see this beauty in action.

As my husband and I drove the hour to the demolition derby our friend was participating in, I still hadn’t fully grasped what I’d be witnessing. I was,  however, getting nervous and saying little prayers that his car would drive well, the engine would work and that he would not die. We were able to see a group of cars compete before our friend’s class started. This allowed me to watch and better understand the rules and strategy of the game. It also allowed me to see that death was not a real threat for my friend and whiplash would most likely be the worst of it.

By the time Kirk pulled his black station wagon on to the mud, I was beyond excited. The next 10 minutes consisted of me jumping up and down and alternating between cheering and covering my face with my hands. I was fully vested in that vehicle and how my friend did. It was so thrilling to see those cars smashing against each other. There was a part of me that wanted in on this game of full-sized bumper cars, until I saw Kirk bounce like a bobble head after being hit by another vehicle. Yup, I’m good in the bleachers.

He and his car did awesome and placed third. My husband and I stayed and watched the other categories compete because I was hooked on this sport. I looked at the various ways others had painted their vehicles and my mind was swimming with ideas we could use to improve and be ready for the next derby. I was smiling on the ride home thinking about how I was actually planning on helping with Kirk’s next car and hoping he would let me. Who had I become? So if you ask me today if I enjoy demolition derbies, I guarantee my eyes will light up and a smile will spread across my face when I say, “Yes.”

Albert Lean April Jeppson is a wife, mom, coach and encourager of dreams.