Third time was certainly the charm for Darrin Gibson.
The Jackson resident entered the annual Placerville Police Officer’s Association Hangtown Destruction Derby the last two years. In Sunday’s 40th edition at the Placerville Speedway, Gibson entered for a third consecutive year, crashing his 1977 Dodge Monaco into the front and back of many older American cars to victory in the main event at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds. He also placed first in the second heat. Gibson represented Cal Fire in Amador County.
Gibson was one of 20 people competing in the flying mud on a day that nearly topped 100 degrees. The stands were filled to capacity for the three-hour event.
Gibson and Keith Pierce, driving his 1974 Chevrolet Impala, were the last of 14 cars competing in the final heat.
“I’ve been working on it for a few years,” said Gibson in competing in the derby.
In the final that lasted less than 10 minutes, Pierce motioned Gibson to hit his car sitting on the north end of the track. But Pierce tricked him, floored the accelerator and hit the side of Gibson’s car.
Then it was Gibson’s turn with taking the front of his Monaco into the bumper of Pierce’s Impala, which suffered significant damage in one of the heats. The damage was enough for Pierce to put up his white flag, declaring Gibson the winner.
“I thought he had me,” Gibson said. “I really thought he was going to get me. But he didn’t move again after that last hit.”
Gibson took home the grand prize of $1,000. He said he will use that money toward buying another car to compete in next summer’s derby.
Pierce, representing the Dos Palos Police Department, took second place with his Impala. He took home the second prize of $500. Pete Panofsky was third, driving his 1971 Pontiac Grand Safari and representing LaHonda Fire Brigade, and taking home $300.
In the first heat, Brian Rogers, representing the San Bruno Police Department, won with his 1978 Chrysler Cordoba. Taking second was Shawnesti Machado with her 1979 Dodge Magnum representing Merced County Sheriff’s Department and third was Jake Morgonster with a 1989 Chevy Caprice from Plymouth.
Machado was one of two women competing in the derby. Rhonda Chronis, 22, of Ione was the other and made her presence known with her 1974 Chevrolet Monte Carlo representing Ione Fire Department. This was her second race.
“It’s always a lot of fun,” Chronis said. “I’ve met some really great people and everyone helps each other out working on the cars, before, during and after the derby. Being a little sore and bruised up the next day is always worth it. Most people would agree, once you drive in one derby you’re hooked.”
Winner of Best of Show “Superman Theme” and judged hardest hitting driver was Tyson Moreland with his 1970 Chrysler Imperial representing Calaveras County Sheriff Department. That was in the final of the derby.
Winner of Best Police Car was Bryan Rathburn with his 1971 Ford Country Squire representing San Bruno Police Department. The fans voted for the Best of Show and Best Police based on the loudness of their cheers and clapping.
Ron Cannon, organizer of the derby who has competed here for many years, entered his 1991 Volvo station wagon as an experiment at the derby.
“I knew going into (the derby) it would be questionable,” Cannon said. “As it turned out it was indeed too small to run with the big iron of the early model American-made cars. However, that said I would run another Volvo in a like class derby. The Volvo performed fairly well and could have performed better had I known what I know now.”
Everyone in the stands seemed to have a good time watching cars sputter, spin, crash and in some cases, engines catching on fire — with local firefighters on the track to put out the blaze — at the derby. And battling the near 100-degree heat in which everyone on the track was drinking water faster than the water truck spraying water on the track in between heats and the final.
“The derby itself was success,” Cannon said. “This event continues to draw a spectator and participant base from all over Northern California with entries this year from as for south as Half Moon Bay to north of Chico. With the evolution of the automobile and the attrition of the older American cars I see this derby evolving to include other classes.
“One way or another the Hangtown Destruction Derby will be around for many years to come.”
Contact Mike Bush at 530-344-5079 or [email protected] Follow @MBushMtDemo on Twitter.