Trucks and cars line the streets surrounding the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds. Rock-and-roll blares from speakers, its muffled beat reaching neighbourhoods in the distance. An announcer enthusiastically chronicles the action for the crowds who are cheering in the stands. Dust billows from the arena as, time and time again, metal crunches metal, wheels spin in the dirt, steam hisses and sprays from mangled engines.
These are the sights and sounds of the Salmon Arm Demolition Derby which, for the past 26 years, has entertained thousands of people from Salmon Arm and throughout the Shuswap.
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This year, the arena will be silent, the streets empty. The 27th Annual Salmon Arm Demolition Derby has been cancelled, an extremely tough decision for the man responsible for creating the event more than a quarter century ago.
Wes Henry explains that this year the entries just weren’t coming in.
Although the registration deadline was July 31, as of July 27, only four trucks and five cars had entered. Entries have been dwindling every year, he says, but this year they were way too low. Even though a few more were going to enter, there weren’t going to be enough. They need at least 15 cars and 10 trucks to make a go of it.
Last year there were 18 cars, while, back in the day “we used to get 45, 46 cars for the derby.”
Henry explains that a large outlay of money is needed before the derby starts, for insurance, grounds rental, security and more.
“The last thing I want to do on the day of the derby is say it’s cancelled.”
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Henry, a dedicated community volunteer, started the derby in order to give the Salmon Arm Rescue Unit a dependable source of income.
The rescue unit responds to accidents, bringing the Jaws of Life. It’s strictly volunteers, with some funding from the Provincial Emergency Program. Before the demo derby, it was relying on fundraisers like bake sales and raffle tickets, Henry says.
Despite this year’s cancellation of the derby, he’s planning to try again next year.
“We are going to have to reevaluate and do something a little different, make it happen again next year. There is still one in Armstrong and our hope is we’ll be back next year, without a problem.”
He says the loss of funding for this year will be a big blow to the rescue unit and, if the derby doesn’t fly next year, a new source of income will have to be found.
Henry isn’t sure why the number of people entering is dropping, but he says it’s a trend throughout the province with lots of other derbies shutting down.
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One factor could be that cars are getting a little more expensive to buy and work on, he says.
And, “the older generation is starting to retire and the younger generation isn’t stepping up to build the cars. If you look at any organization out there anymore… Curling has gone down, baseball has gone down, it’s just a thing of the times, I think, unfortunately. The younger generation is busy doing what they need to do.”
The decision to cancel the derby has left Henry feeling terrible.
“We’ve been doing it for 26 years. That’s a long time to be doing something and all of a sudden you can’t do it. I feel sad for the fans; we get a lot of fans who come out and watch the derby. It’s too bad for them we can’t do it.”
The question, ‘what will you be doing this year on Aug. 26?’ makes Henry laugh.
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll go to the beach.”