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Team Demolition Derby- The Santa Fe/Route 66 Years

Santa Fe Speedway History

article witten by 'jhrody'

.....The longest running stretch of team demo derby was operated out of Santa Fe Speedway by 91st and Wolf in Willow Springs. Each season would have eight to nine team demo events. Santa Fe ran its version of demo from 1953 until 1994. In 1995, the track was open for regular racing only, then shuttered for good. Ironically, there was a major interior fire in one of the cars the last night team demo ran here. The driver walked away after getting help out of the car by an opponent. One will never know if this was a reason that team demo didn't run the last year of Santa Fe or even had something to do with the track's demise.

The format of today's team demolition derby is eight teams total per night, each running four cars per heat against another team. The first team to complete five laps with the same car is declared the winner. At times, five laps cannot be completed by either team. If neither team can get a car moving, a 10-count will commence, and the team that has the most laps completed is declared the winner. Teams are eliminated from eight to four to two to one team each night.

In modern times, the laps are completed in a clockwise direction. Earlier at Santa Fe, the races went in a standard counterclockwise direction, but were changed in the idea of lessening exposure of the driver doors. On another note, the modern track is a muddy surface in the idea of safety. The early times of Santa Fe had a dry track.

Each team has designated "jobs" certain drivers are assigned. The most important is the "runner", which who goes for laps and has the quickest and/or smallest car most of the time. The guy that backs up the runner is the "blocker", who runs interference for him, as well as picking up laps in the process. There will be two "crushers" which are usually the biggest cars on the track whose only job is the kill the opposing runner's car and anyone else that gets in the way. Any driver can take on any task as needed, as a plan doesn't always work out.

To keep things interesting, there've been a few experiments through the years at the current venue. The 2000 season had nine teams per night with an outsider team competing just to get into the first round. There have also been consolation rounds with 3- three car teams competing for an extra point at the same time. Neither of these scenarios have happened in quite some time. The consolation round probably will not happen again due to lack of interest by the teams. A 2006 experiment was a gauntlet race with team cars versus a supermodified fair-style demo car. Even though the team demo cars are not reinforced and go without the heavy welding and extra metal that a supermod has, they stopped the supermod easily. For the start of 2008, Team 6 was in rotation with three strong teams fielding it the first three months of the season.

Teams will bring anywhere from five to fifteen cars per night depending how serious they are about winning. A big obstacle here is finding enough available trucks, trailers and tow drivers to get the cars where they need to be. Teams will use anything from simple tow dollies behind a tow car, to medium duty 4-car rollback trucks, to moving van tractor-trailers. If a team finds themselves with less than four cars for the semi-finals or finals, bartering will commence with other teams to "borrow" cars. Some teams will run with and sometimes win with only three cars in a race. In recent time, even drivers themselves have been borrowed.

Due to the horrendous shots, different styles of car are popular here, compared to a fairground derby. Most of the team cars are models that can take major-one-time hits and keep going. These same cars are not usually known for strong back ends needed in a standard derby. Where the GMs are more popular at standard derbies, Fords and Chryslers are the coveted ride in the old iron rounds here. Where the Fords are more popular at the fair derbies, the GMs are the sought out brand in the metric rounds here.
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Almost anything goes to stop an opposing car: head-ons, broadside hits, cutting across the infield, backwards, forwards, sideswipes, holding an opponent against the wall, knocking another car over the wall, driving while on fire, etc... Driver door hits do happen in the heat of battle, but are frowned up with penalties possible. Some cars are destroyed with one tremendous hit... others will keep going even after appearing to have been hit by a train. These cars are surprisingly quick on the mud with 50+ mph hits not uncommon.

Up to about 1978, any type of car was allowed, even hearses, ambulances and limos. Other notables were Imperials, Lincolns, Checkers, and Ford Thunderbirds. After that era, all these cars were outlawed in the pursuit of safety and even competition.

Up to 2002, cars of any vintage were used for all rounds. From 2003 onward, all cars used in the first round heats were now mandated to be of the "metric" variety--- also known as "80's and newer". In reality, this means fullsize GM's must be '77 or newer. Midsize GMs must be of '78 or newer. Front wheel drive GMs must be '79 and newer. Fullsize Fords/Mercs must be '79 and newer. Midsize Fords must be '80 and newer. Lincolns must be '80 and newer. Fullsize Chrysler products must be of '79 or newer. Midsize Chrysler products must be '80 and newer. For these first rounds, fullsize Cadillacs from '77-'90 seem to be gaining popularity. A promising vehicle is looking to be the bubble variety GMs from '91-'96.

For 2007, a few Lincolns Marks made an appearance over the season, with apparently no major advantages. For 2008, an official ruling was made where Lincoln Mark IV's, Lincoln Mark V's, and '72 up Ford Thunderbirds were now legal for competition. As of then, cars from any vintage were allowed for the semi-finals and finals. Some teams were still using 50's and 60's iron. The most popular cars for the last 30 years are still '72-'78 fullsize Fords and '61-'73 fullsize Mopars. Drivers and team owners will travel the country to find these cars in junkyards, backyards, and off the street, hence most teams need to be heavily sponsored.

In 2009, metric cars were mandated for the semi finals as well, while the finals would still be open to the old iron. The oldest metrics were 32 years old by then and the newest box metrics were 18 years old by then. The average age for any car at Santa Fe was far less, with some cars only 6 years old then. This change brought out more variety for the fans, in form of fullsize 'bubble' cars, midsize GM metrics, and even an import or two. In 2009-2010, the ban on certain final round cars was slowly lifted. Now legal again were the '70-'79 fullsize Lincolns, '67'71 Ford Thunderbirds, and '67-'71 Lincoln Mark IIIs. A newer concept is the 'flip flop' nights, where for one or two race dates, the first round is for old heavy iron only, and the last round is for the metrics. This helps thin out stockpiles of older cars for the weaker teams that never see a final round in a season.

You may ask "what about injuries?"... Yes, there have been a few close calls with drivers getting cut out of their cars, but this is not commonplace. There was even a rumour that a team derby driver was killed in the 70s at Santa Fe, though I never have confirmed this. Seasoned team drivers will often wear gear made for a hockey goalie or a baseball catcher,in addition to the standard racing gear. Also, these guys know how to take a hit and sometimes sit towards the middle of the car. The interiors, most of the time, are absolutely gutted with nothing flammable or bulky near the driver. The entire dashboard and sometimes even brake pedals get removed out of the cars to reduce the chance of limbs getting cut with the high speed collisions. You won't see a fair-derby style cage in team cars. However, additional interior rocker-to-frame bolts with L-channels an. This strip has since been replaced with a much more substantial channel-type door bar. No other reinforcements are allowed. Stock seatbelts are utilized by some drivers, but 4 and 5 point harnesses are becoming the norm. Some cars have old couch cushions between the seat and door, just in case. While not mandatory, fire extinguishers are within reach for the drivers who prefer to have one on board. Though usually by driver preference, sometimes big bulky bench seats from the 60s are used in a newer car, which are though to help strengthen the interior in a broadside hit.

As for the car construction rules, all glass is removed, though some years at Santa Fe windshields were required unless already damaged. Small metal fuel tanks are installed behind the driver's seat. Aftermarket ignition boxes, multiple batteries, Bobcat tires and small truck mudders are commonly used. For many years, factory fuel tanks were left in the car and filled with an aggregate to add weight over the drive wheels. This practive has since been outlawed. Extra seatbelts get recycled and put into use as hood, trunk and door tie-downs, and work surprisingly well at this task.

Engines can be modified or swapped. The preferred engine of choice is a big block Ford, even getting swapped into GMs and Chryslers, though engines of every American marque are used. Engines range from 140hp bone stock small blocks to 800+hp monsters with aluminum heads and single plane intakes. In 2008, even a stock Buick V6 was on the track. 60's Mopar Hemis and atleast two supercharged, yes supercharged, small block Chevys have found their way into cars in recent history. Some cars run a dry block with no cooling system whatsoever, while others run oversize radiators with twin electric fans.

Since 1999, team demolition derby has been seen at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet. Now operated by the Team Demo Association, which was founded by the late great Jan Gabriel, It's a side of motorsports that is a must see event. Regularly broadcast on MAV TV's "On the Edge" and various shows on CSN, it's still a "must see in person" spectacle. Some may argue that "it's not real demolition derby", but they must not have seen it live. This is like comparing the Cup Series to steet stocks--- there's no comparison. While regular demo derby has it's place, this is the big league of demo derby!

Go back to check out the Raceway Park years...

Info in this article is from first hand webmaster observations over 37+ years of team demo fandom and research.

if anyone has additional information or pics from this era, please contact me here

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