Last night, I went to my first ever demolition derby.
For those of you who have never been or who have never heard of them, it's an event where drivers smash their cars into each other until only one operational vehicle remains. This can be a team or solo sport. Vehicles come in size heats -- compact, full size, truck, and even combine harvester. More here at Wikipedia. Nationwide rules for the sport are here.
I was prepared to hate it or to be slightly scared by watching what is effectively car accident after car accident. I expected the sounds of collapsing metal to bring back my own experiences of accidents; I was prepared to hate it, because so many of my friends have entered disability through car accidents. I was prepared to leave early because I didn't think I could watch the spectacle; I thought that I would feel bad watching people put themselves at risk. Somehow, I thought this would be much worse than watching people at Cirque du Soleil. The risk in these and other performances is both highlighted and contained by the spectacle of costumes and lights. I wasn't prepared to like it.
And I did. I had a great time.
I watched two heats: full size and compact. It was terrifying and fun at the same time. The drivers all wear helmets and the cars are reinforced, but there seemed to be no protection for necks and spines: no special seats, no special harnesses. The impacts seemed hard. Even though the drivers were prepared to move in the direction of the hit -- they often grabbed the steering wheel and steered through the momentum -- there were also multiple hits from multiple directions. The rules say that the hits have to be "aggressive" and, honestly, they were. I screamed and covered my face every time the impact looked bad, but I also watched people's bodies ripple and sway through the impacts. Several engines belched smoke; fire fighters stood by, holding extinguishers. Eventually, though, neither they nor the EMS peeps were needed. Family members said that the drivers always "felt it" the next day, but I wasn't sure what that meant.
I admired the skill of one particular driver; he played both for himself and created opportunities for others to succeed. He really used his car well; I loved the reverse shear and slide move that he pulled striking two cars at once and then, as he skidded out of it in a turn, he hit a third. The crowd cheered the drivers on -- "Hit him HARRRRRRRRD!" And these drivers played to the audience; I felt they were putting on a good show, even as they were trying to win.
Yeah, it was fun, and I cannot quite explain why.