‘We’re gonna put on a show’: Promoters, vendors grateful for fair | TheUnion.com

‘We’re gonna put on a show’: Promoters, vendors grateful for fair

Spectators react Sunday night to the metal munching vehicular mayhem of the Nevada County Fair’s destruction derby during the last night of the 2021 fair. The arena event was sold out despite the derby having fewer contestants than previous years.
Photo: Elias Funez

The Nevada County Fair ended Sunday under a yellow half moon and starless sky.

Despite COVID-19’s resurgence and diminished air quality caused by the Dixie Fire on Sunday, attendees gorged on Job’s Daughter’s corn dogs and the Girl Scout’s slushee lemonades.

Attendance, though, was complicated.

“It’s kind of a complicated story this year, with really strong advanced sales — some of the highest we’ve seen,” said Patrick Eidman, CEO of the fairgrounds. “But as we got closer to the event we issued a cautionary statement with the Department of Public Health.”

Eidman said Wednesday and Thursday were definitely quieter than years past, but Friday and Saturday had the energy he’s seen the fair bring in past years.

“Attendance in 2019 was around 95,000 — definitely under (100,000),” Eidman said.

Eidman said his office is still working to tally this year’s total number of attendees between ticket pre-sales and roll stock admission tickets.

“I don’t think we’ll quite get there (this year),” he added. “It was hot, it was smoky and we had Public Health encouraging people to reconsider.”

But still, the crowds came for the big events.

The Destruction Derby gave the five-day affair’s last day a Mad Max flavor, with hood exit exhausts spewing smoke and radiators spitting water under a smokey sky. Between bouts of rehabilitated vehicles deliberately marring each other, teams used acetylene torches to cut off excess metal from fenders and wheel wells, sledgehammered “buffer zones“ and chained hoods to cars’ bodies.

Seven cars took hits during the derby, which sold out, for a $4,000 prize.

Michael Doyle, a driver and a mechanic in the event, said the drivers put on a good show even though the derby was relatively small.

“We drug out the heat,” Doyle said.

Eidman said the arena’s capacity was limited to 80% for the event, which was sold out Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

“We rearranged the arena for the event,” Eidman said. “We moved bleachers around Friday and Saturday, so it was around 2,200-2,300 seats, and then 2,500 for Sunday night.”

Aleta Lockwood, part of Doyle’s pit crew, said there were five other derbies that same weekend, including in Dixon and Woodland, as well as Salt Lake City.

Lockwood described the event — sold out crowd and all — as “weirdly small.”

Moon Mullins made the trip from Modesto to promote the derby.

Destruction derby participants use oxy-acetylene torches to cut away fenders from their vehicles in between heats of the 2021 Nevada County Fair destruction derby.
Photo: Elias Funez

Mullins said the derby’s emcee did a great job maintaining the audience’s interest for a small show.

“For the amount of cars, the guy talking did a great job,” Mullins said. “He could sell snow to Eskimos.”

Mullins said he was grateful for the opportunity to work.

“Taking a year off kind of hurt,” Mullins said.

Mullins said he was grateful to pull together the seven cars in the short notice — three months — he was given for the Nevada County Fair.

Destruction derby participants chase each other down in the fair’s arena Sunday night at the Nevada County Fair.
Photo: Elias Funez

Eidman said none of the fair’s organizers or administrators deigned to plan the event before COVID-19-related restrictions were lifted on June 15.

“Even after that we had to navigate the guidelines which pushed our contract date much, much later in the year,” Eidman said. “Building a derby car takes time, so they like to hear February-March what the rules are gonna be, but we really couldn’t move forward until late June.”

Efrain Fernandez, a Woodland native working on a car emblazoned with “Good Times” on the side, said destruction teams turn out even with a small number of cars.

“We’re gonna put on a show,” Fernandez said. “We’re derby guys.”


The “show up” mentality extended outside the arena, where vendors promoted business and organizations – mostly maskless.

Jerome Hromiak began his Mad Hatter Doughnuts project this year. Hromiak lives in Grass Valley, but spent his quarantine period of the pandemic in his mother’s home in North Carolina, where the original Krispy Kreme is located.

Hromiak said his fresh fried doughnut cart was supposed to be at “For the Funk of It,” a funk music festival in Belden, Plumas County. Hromiak said although the music festival was canceled due to the increased risk of coronavirus, the same risk is what made it possible for him to coordinate with Nevada County fair organizers last minute.

“They said because of COVID-19 we definitely have a space for you,” Hromiak said.

Destruction derby drivers show off their vehicles in the fair arena prior to smashing them up against each other for a shot at the $4,000 prize.
Photo: Elias Funez

In spite of the unknown, Hromiak said he was happy for the opportunity to share the recipe he finessed over the last year — a sourdough — with people in his community.

“Seeing people’s faces is refreshing and galvanizing,” Hromiak said.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

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