The Vernon County Fair is filled with sound – music coming from the Bob Fredrick Free Stage, people laughing and screaming as they take a spin on the Tilt-A-Whirl, roosters crowing in the Levendoski Poultry Building and Andy Sherry announcing the demo derby from the grandstand.
Sherry, 73, has been the voice of the derby for about 30 years.
Sherry, who spends a quarter of the year in Viroqua and three-fourths of the year near Phillips, was approached by the late Bob Fredrick and asked if he would announce the demo derby.
“He did the demo derby and for some reason had a fair meeting and he got a hold of me,” Sherry said. “I would sit behind him (when he announced). I knew him when he was the 4-H agent.”
“I went up there that first night and stumbled all over, but I got going,” Sherry said. “When he got back from his meeting, he said, ‘I hear you did well. You can come back next year.’ I came back the next year, the third year. The fourth year I didn’t get a call… Bud Solverson didn’t call me.”
Sherry said his wife, Lonnie, suggested they go to Minnesota to visit one of their children, since he didn’t have to announce at the demo derby.
Solverson, a longtime fair board member who passed away in 2000, knocked on Sherry’s door after the fair.
“He said, ‘I almost got run out of town’,” Sherry said. “I said, ‘You didn’t call me.’ He said, ‘Here’s the deal, you show up at the demo derby until we tell you not to.’”
Sherry said announcing the demo derby has been fun.
“It’s gotten smaller; we used to have two nights,” he said. “We get a pretty good crowd.”
In addition to announcing at the demo derby Saturday night, he announces at the antiques/farm modified truck and tractor pull Thursday night and the tractor pull Friday night.
“The antique tractors go 3 mph. Saturday night is the smoke and fire-breathing tractors,” Sherry said.
When he announces, he does have a script of sorts, which notes who is in the derby or who is pulling. Before the derby and the pulls, Sherry goes into the pit area, asking participants for information about upcoming pulls or other events to fill in any lulls in the action.
“The drivers know I like information, so they give me information on other events,” Sherry said. “Most times I ad lib it. I know the drivers, especially the older ones. I wing it and know what’s going on and watch the crowd.”
Sometimes drivers give Sherry names of people in the audience celebrating birthdays and he’ll announce that. Sometimes the commentary is in memory of someone.
“Last year Jim Hatlan died,” Sherry said. “He was in the demo derby many years… Friends got his regular driving car and drove it on the track. They parked it in the middle and hit it with the wreck’em-up cars. His friends said, ‘Jim would want it that way.’”
Sherry has many memories of his time as announcer. One year a man in the audience had a heart attack; Sherry stopped the action and announced an ambulance was needed.
“If it happened in the parking area, he wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “I give credit to the ambulance crew.”
An ambulance crew is onsite for the derby, as is the Viroqua Fire Department.
“We’ve never used the ambulance for (derby drivers); it’s always been for spectators. They (the drivers) all know the safety measures.”
Along with the memories, Sherry has many stories.
“I have a lot of stories and a lot of good memories,” he said.
Sherry would call Henry Olson “The Old Man,” because at 70 years old he was still doing demo derbies. “I would say, ‘Here’s Henry Olson ‘The Old Man.’; the crowd would really root for him.”
Sherry has numerous other announcing gigs throughout the year. He is also the voice of the Tri-State Pullers event held on the fairgrounds in July, the Wild West Days parade in August and the Twinklefest parade in November.