After several decades as one of Woodstock Old Home Week’s most popular events, COVID-19 crashed into the annual Demo Derby, and entire Old Home Week celebration, forcing a cancellation in 2020.
While the virus thwarted the total return of WOHW in 2021, the historical derby made a smashing return on Saturday, Aug. 28, with a fresh start and new name honouring the memory of a man who played a central role in the derby for decades.
The inaugural Richard Sharpe Memorial Demolition Derby and Tuff Truck Event kicked off a successful day with a large contingent of Sharpe family members, including Richard’s widow Pauline, on hand to celebrate his legacy.
Before the anticipated crashing and banging began in front of approximately 3,000 spectators, organizer Emily Atherton and event announcer David Wilson presented Pauline with a plaque marking the special occasion. Richard’s grandchildren, Sadie and Blake Sharpe, children of Larry and Naomi Sharpe, joyfully waved the green flags to officially start the day’s first heat.
Atherton said 79 drivers took part in three derby classes — front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and minivan SUV — and the Tuff Truck competition on the day.
She said the massive undertaking which requires a score of volunteers could not happen without support on several levels.
“I’d simply say a thank you to the sponsors, drivers and their crews, and the volunteers who worked so hard to put on a great show,” Atherton said. “One of the best parts about yesterday, (Saturday) after the past year and a half, was the overwhelming sense of normalcy that just seemed to embrace the event; seeing people laughing and enjoying the event with their families and friends was the true measure of success.”
As the vast crowd watched from the Connell Park Raceway grandstand and the sidehill behind the AYR Motor Centre, Wilson introduced drivers, provided play-by-play updates and shared memories of the event’s rich history and people. Those memories included Richard Sharpe, (1944-2019) whose Sharpes Towing & Auto Salvage provided, over several decades, staff, equipment, drivers and sponsorship. The company remains a central part of the successful event.
Wilson, whose involvement in the derby dates back to when rear-wheel-drive vehicles made up almost 100 per cent of the market, said the derby changed with the times by adding classes.
He said he’s amazed derby participants can still find rear-wheel-drive cars to keep that class going. It remains one of the three derby categories with the more available front-wheel-drive cars and recently added mini-SUV class.
While derby competitors seek to wreck each other in the racetrack infield to be the last vehicle moving, Tuff-Truck competitors risk destroying their own vehicles by speeding over the jumps and through the water hazard in the specially designed obstacle course in front of the grandstand.
In the end, the top-three in each derby class and the fastest trucks to survive multiple runs through the obstacle course took home cash prizes and trophies, as did the owners of the prettiest car and the most aggressive driver.
Trophy winners included:
Prettiest Car: Bradley Adams
Most Aggressive Driver: Bobby Clark
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun