Demolition derby getting international attention

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Work continued last week on Slave Lake’s new demolition derby arena. A substantial section of bleachers had been built from scratch, a structure to house the announcer’s booth (or so it appeared) was going up, and a pit had several piles of clay in it. These will be spread out and packed, prior to the action commencing in the Crash For Cash event on June 14.

As advertised, it’s a three-day affair, June 14 – 16, at the brand new facility. Construction started last year, and once completed, organizers are hoping it will become an annual event.

Crash for Cash, believe it or not has made the news as far away as New Zealand. A fellow from Whanganui, a town on the west coast of the North Island of that country, is planning to attend. Bevan Johnston competed in Widewater Demolition Derby 25 years or so ago (the year it was held in Edmonton) and apparently he had so much fun he’s going to come back. Somebody must have told the local newspaper about it, because a story showed up last week in the online Whanganui Observer, all about Johnston’s participation.

Written by David Haxton, the story’s headline reads: “Crash For Cash organizers were keen for Bevan Johnston to compete, but had to find him first.”

Haxton’s story describes the efforts of Crash For Cash organizers to track Johnston down, having remembered him from his earlier visit. They put the word out on social media. It worked.

“The whole thing was out of the blue,” Johnston told The Observer.

So Johnston signed up, but he’s not coming alone. His son Ben will also crash for the cash in Slave Lake. Ben was seven years old when his dad competed in Edmonton and was along for the experience. He’s since become an avid derby competitor in his home country. Also attending will be Bevan’s four-year-old “car mad” grandson, Thomas.

“Having three generations go to Slave Lake is pretty exciting,” Bevan told The Observer.

According to Brian Persson, a third Kiwi named Clint will also be competing at the derby.

As for participation by people closer to home, Brian says he doesn’t know the numbers, but predicts “a very, very good turnout.”

“We’ve got people coming from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, B.C.,” he says. And Alberta, of course. Persson says he heard from a few Alberta competitors who were at a derby in Idaho a couple of weeks ago, who were surprised to find “everybody talking about Slave Lake” at the event.

Apparently it’s being talked about in Europe too.

“A couple of guys from Germany wanted to come,” Brian says. “But it was too short notice. We couldn’t get cars for them.”

Cars for the three New Zealand competitors are being organized, with the help of a local company, Brian says.

As of May 29, there was still a lot of work to do at the site, but Brian figures by the end of this week it will be pretty much wrapped up. Three or four guys are working through the week, he says, and on weekends more people turn out to lend a hand.

How many paying spectators will show up is another question. Brian Persson is confident about that as well. He figures the population of the town might double that weekend.

“Everybody’s sure excited about it,” he says.

Gunner Persson and Kyle McDonald work on Crash For Cash infrastructure at the new demolition derby arena near Slave Lake, on May 28.

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