It is hard to imagine a Viroqua September without the Vernon County Fair, and as far back as John McClelland Jr. of Viroqua can remember, the demolition derby has been an exciting part of the fair weekend.
McClelland holds a seat on the Fair Board and for the past eight to 10 years that he has held this position that job has meant keeping the fairgrounds in shape and doing everything that needs to be done when it comes to organizing the fair. “Our job is to keep the fair successful and make sure it comes back every year,” he said.
One of the most memorable events of the weekend is the demolition derby, a Saturday night grandstand show, with adult admission at $5 and child admission at $2, and children 5 and younger free. Up until a couple of years ago the derby ran both Friday and Saturday night, but in the past four years with fewer contestants it has been limited to one night only, Saturday.
Contestants are in charge of finding and outfitting their own car, and filling out the application and gathering the $25 application fee. A full list of rules for all contestants is available on the fair website, vernoncountyfair.com, with guidelines ranging from what they can and cannot do to their car, and the different kinds of driving that is allowed.
“We usually wait to see what shows up before we make the classes,” McClelland said. “There will be minivan classes and pickup truck classes and everything in between but we wait to see what shows up before we make the classes, and there’s usually eight or nine different ones.”
Another part of making the derby happen is thinking creatively to come up with new ideas each year to add excitement and a new element. For example, last year there was a pumpkin smash, in which a Styrofoam cooler with a pumpkin on top was placed in the middle of the ring of cars and when the round began the first driver to smash the pumpkin was crowned champion, winning $50 in the process. “That was a lot of fun,” McClelland said.
Bean Voz, a teacher at Youth Initiative High School and mother from Viroqua, participated in the derby in 2014 in a Volvo station wagon, that was worked on by her and a crew at WDRT.
“We met once a week for a few months, but a few people put in many more hours on the car working with the gas tank and removing all of the innards, which was a really exciting process to be a part of,” Voz said.
She placed third out of 11 contestants, and thinks back on it as an exciting, adrenaline-filled experience. “The task was to smash others and avoid being smashed, often in one fell swoop. Adrenaline kicks in and then it’s a lot of fun. Even over the sounds of metal crashing and engines revving, I could hear people cheering in the crowds. What a great experience!”
What really sets the Vernon County Fair derby apart from other ones, is the effort to keep it completely fair (no pun intended) and safe. It is an event that many people look forward to each year and many people make it part of their annual fair experience.
“We have a good following and a lot of people that show up each year, so I really want to thank everyone for coming,” McClelland said.
This year the derby will take place in front of the grandstand, Saturday, Sept. 16, starting at 7 p.m.