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A race where crashes, popped tires and bad paint only add to the fun

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The Champlain Valley Fair in Essex Junction features a demolition derby — but for drivers who want a race, there’s the Figure 8. Video produced August 30, 2017.
APRIL MCCULLUM/FREE PRESS

ESSEX JUNCTION – The cars lined up for the figure 8 race at the Champlain Valley Fair on Wednesday night were anything but slick.

They had already crashed, failed state inspections, been left to rot in parking lots, succumbed to rust. Why not accelerate entropy by putting them through one last pummeling?

More: Champlain Valley Fair 2017 returns with more music, monster trucks, giant veggies

The prize was $100 for a win and $1,000 for a championship. The reward was the adrenaline that comes from swiping and bumping through a double figure 8 pattern until only a few cars remain running. 

More: Cookie dough and empanadas among new food at Champlain Valley Fair

“This used to be like a backwoods hillbilly thing, and now it’s just a cheaper way to get aggression out and have fun at the fair,” said Greg Racine of Essex Junction, who has raced at the fair for three years.

The man behind the show — Jay Milligan of JM Motorsports in Lakeview, New York — tries to keep a level playing field by limiting the number of modifications that drivers can make to their four-cylinder cars. That way, anyone can afford to join.

“Strip it down, chain it up and bring it to the fair,” Milligan said.

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A well-used bumper drags behind a vehicle during the Burnett Scrap Metal Double Figure 8 Race at the Champlain Valley Fair in Essex Junction on August 30, 2017. (Photo: APRIL MCCULLUM/FREE PRESS)

Still, there are advantages for those who think strategically.

“The best car in the Figure 8 has always been the Chevy Cavalier. It’s won more Figure 8s than any other car,” said Milligan, whose father started JM Motorsports in 1962. For the demolition derby, he said, look for a sturdy Chrysler New Yorker or Chevrolet Impala from the 1970s.

Drivers on Wednesday night said they found their cars in scrapyards or from people wanting to offload them after a failed inspection.  

Austin Hamlin of Burlington bought a 1989 Honda Civic Si from a man on Craigslist.

“He knew it wasn’t going to be much longer before it was done, anyway,” Hamlin said. “He was happy to know that it was going out in style.”

Milligan said his company had run 50 events this year before the Champlain Valley Fair, with no injuries. Drivers were told at a mandatory safety meeting before the event to avoid hits to the driver’s side door, and to avoid getting mixed up in crashes.

“The guys that win this thing all the time are the guys that stay out of trouble,” said Ron Cummins, addressing the drivers from the hood of a bright orange car. “That’s the key to winning the race.”

Those who wanted a bit more trouble could join a demolition derby later that night or Thursday. The losers would likely return to scrapyards. The winning cars, if they held together, might even survive long enough to endure more scrapes next year.

Contact April McCullum at 802-660-1863 or amccullum@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @April_McCullum. 
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