We winced at the first crunch of metal.
The engines revved again.
Whoa. That was cool.
Our first demolition derby. My boys were pumped.
Hard rock and country blasted across the arena. A construction crane was there, hoisting an enormous American flag high over the stands.
There were broken-in cowboy boots and trucker hats. There was “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the announcer asked everyone in the military, policing and first-responder communities to stand for a round of applause. Everyone proud to be an American was asked to cheer. The entire arena roared.
We were miles outside the Washington Beltway at a county fair in far western Howard County, where blue begins to give way to red on the political map and where plenty of voters backed Donald Trump.
The show started with a parade of cars — the V8 division showboats. Painted meticulously, there was a flame-covered Satan’s Toy, then a monstrous green-and-black skull-emblazoned crusher, the whimsical Love Bug with ladybug dots and a wide-bodied cow with brown spots and a tail hanging from its bumper.
Demolition cars growl, with holes cut out of their hoods so firefighters can quickly extinguish flames. Their guzzler gas tanks are removed and replaced with small tanks that hold only a couple gallons, so running out of fuel is more of a concern than bursting into a fireball.
It’s difficult to pinpoint when the idea of smashing operable cars for sport took root in this country. It’s a totally American thing, though. There are some records of demolition derbies being held as early as 1946. The English have events with cars smashing opponents — the banger derby — while racing. But no other culture seems to have so fully adopted the full contact sport of utter demolition. The arena is small enough to get a good start and ram your opponents. That’s it.
And so it began, the 4- and 6-cylinder division came in with six cars. Primer black, a touch of green, one of them was bright pink.
Vroom, crash! “Hooray!”
Grrrrrreow, smash! Hisssss! “Wooohooo!”
The husband and my sons were all in. I began to cheer too. This was getting exciting.
But weird. This was also feeling familiar. Where have I seen this before?
Americans taking something that works, runs, serves a purpose, then smashing it to smithereens and cheering wildly at the amount of destruction.
Bingo! This is Trump’s America — in the middle of a cornfield.
“Yeahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!” we all cheered, as the country music station car and the pink car were the only ones left, chasing each other in a cat-and-mouse smashathon through the graveyard of hissing, steaming dead car carcasses.
Oddly, the whole thing reminded me of Washington.
Smash — affordable health care!
Crash — a diverse military!
Crunch — relations with Mexico!
Trump’s right. There’s something inherently thrilling about watching something get demolished. Everyone loves gawking at a car wreck, whether it’s on the road or in Congress.
We’re on the edge of our seats to see if anyone gets hurt. Actually, everyone might get hurt, if the president keeps taunting North Korea.
Yet at the demolition derby, I’m cheering my head off. What’s happening to me? Like every coastal elite, twitching over my Twitter feed, waiting for the next crazy Trump tweet, ready to howl in outrage while devouring the spectacle hungrily, I couldn’t wait for the next metal-on-metal crash.
The remaining, limping cars — their engines steaming, wheels crooked and bahdump-ahdumping along — are like a metaphor for the summer of Trump.
One bursts into flames. Firefighters rush to the vehicle. The audience gasps and hushes.
“That’s a female firefighter, folks!” the announcer says. The crowd hollered and whistled. The crashing continued.
Wheels flew. Bumpers broke off. Is that an axle?
Then, the dirt and dust settled — there were only two cars left. Satan’s Toy and the Cow Car, its tail long gone.
They stalked each other around the tiny arena, big enough to get a good start, kick up some dirt and smash, crunching into concrete barriers, sideswiping the carcasses of vanquished competitors.
Satan’s Toy was limping, hissing, and that banged-up cow kept ramming and pushing and bumping.
One final hiss and Satan’s Toy settled into the dirt, dead.
“You let a girl beat you!” the announcer said.
The cow — driven by Morgan Wiley, the only female driver in the V8 division — had won it all.
In the 4- and 6-cylinder division, the other female driver emerged victorious, too.
An unadorned, simple pink car, with nothing but her No. 18 and Amber’s last name, “Goff,” smashed everyone else to rubble.
Only two female drivers, two female champions. Maybe it was another metaphor. Maybe not.
Read more Petula Dvorak: