At the St. Chrysostome Demolition Derby, firefighters are the true heroes

On Saturday, Melani and I picked up intrepid Montreal blogger Fagstein – we usually just call him Steve – and headed for Ormstown, about 65 kilometres southwest of Montreal.

Express 57 in Ormstown, Que.
Express 57 in Ormstown, Que.

We had supper at Ormtown’s former train station, now the 1950s-styled Express 57. The diner’s menu – printed on records – is standard diner fare: bacon cheeseburgers, deliciously crispy fries, smoked meat, that sort of thing. And diners can play pinball while waiting for their food. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis stare down from every wall, even in the tiny bathroom, where a plethora of mirrors offer a 360 view of ’50s knickknacks or, if you’re not careful, of yourself on the throne.

Trevor was visiting his grandmother, who lives in Ormstown during the summer months and Benin the rest of the year. We picked him up after we’d eaten and he chattered incessantly during the 20-minute drive to St. Chrysostome.

Because that is what the day trip was all about: The St. Chrysostome Demolition Derby!

Oh yeah, baby! Smash 'im good!
Oh yeah, baby! Smash 'im good!

The event has been running in some form in St. Chrys for nearly 30 years, and all proceeds go toward Leucan. That’s nice. It makes you feel a little better for just wanting to see cars smash into each other until they catch fire (my YouTube video, now with more sparks!).

Derbies make me laugh. I mean full on, open-mouthed laughter. The smell of the motor oil, the sound of metal on metal, the smoke in the air as we yell and cheer – it’s as heady an experience as being caught in a mosh pit. I can’t tell a four-cylinder from a six-cylinder from a paddleboat in a dark alley, but I know I’m watching a good show when the bed of a pickup is suddenly in the cab’s passenger seat.

Many of the cars have sponsors, but we don’t like the splashy, impeccable paint jobs (I mistyped that as “pain jobs,” which is rather telling). We root for the car with a Teletubby stuck on the hood, or a spray-painted message on the bumper like: “Look out – you’re next” or “Pas de nourriture sans agriculture.” And no matter who we’re rooting for, we’ll cheer just as fervently for any car if it catches fire.

Powered by roadkill at the St Chys derby
Powered by roadkill at the St. Chrys derby.

We’re so used to watching firefighters grab their extinguishers and dash into the pit that midway through one of the last competitions of the night, we weren’t too concerned when they rushed to a car that had been crashed on the sidelines for some time. But when one of the firefighters climbed into the vehicle from the back window, we knew something was up. A safety officer ran toward the ambulance so quickly he tripped over his boots and rolled down the grass. The announcer said something about the driver feeling dizzy and then the emergency crews were cutting into the car. One firefighter stood on the hood and started working at the windshield with a crowbar. It seemed like it took forever to come loose.

They sawed into the doors and began peeling away the roof. The other drivers sat in their idled cars – you never get out of your car – and hung out their windows. They couldn’t see what was going on any better than we could, but you could see how worried they were. The first firefighter never left the back seat. He’d put a neck brace on the driver and stayed there talking to her.

I don’t know how long it took to get the car cut open and the driver onto a backboard and then a stretcher. Time just sort of froze up and the crowd – thinned anyway as it neared midnight – was so quiet. When the driver was taken out of the pit and wheeled toward the ambulance, everyone cheered. Forget the cars, forget the fires, forget the smoke and motor oil. The firefighters won the evening.

That’s where the story ends. I don’t know whether she’s okay. I don’t know her name, though the roof of her car said “Maude.” I do know that the race went on and that the drivers’ hearts weren’t in it, and I know that the next two competitions seemed to go very quickly and we never did quite get the adrenaline back.


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