By CHRIS FASOLINO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — New rules for the Demolition Derby at the Clinton County Fair are intended to make the popular event more accessible for new drivers.
Brian Criss of Dannemora, the derby’s new head official, is excited about the changes, which were worked out by the Fair Board and discussed with a group of drivers.
“This will give the average person a better chance to win,” he said.
Chrysler Imperials made between 1964 and 1973 are now banned from the event. Criss said that such cars have been called “freight trains on wheels.”
“They were very well-built and hard to beat, with super-strong frames,” he explained. “They just destroy new cars in one shot.”
As a result, derby aficionados had been traveling all over the Northeast looking for Imperials and paying as much as $2,000 for them, intending to enter the derby with an edge over less solid vehicles.
“How many ‘64 Imperials do you see in town?” Criss asked.
The travel time and the money that some competitors were putting into their search for the cars gave them an unfair advantage, he said.
“How many people can do that?”
Another change limits the use of bars around the cockpit of a derby car, so while they still provide safety to the driver, they don’t reinforce the strength of the car.
“It was becoming more of a modified derby because guys were using that to their advantage,” Criss said.
“Now, it will be back to the earlier days, to be more like a stock derby. That will make it easier for new guys trying to get in.”
Other changes in the rules are smaller, involving such regulations as limiting the number of bolts that can be used on the hood and limiting the welding that can be used on the bumpers.
At a recent public meeting held at American Legion Post 1619 in West Plattsburgh, the new rules were discussed with drivers. Members of the Fair Board were present, and Criss said that between 35 and 40 drivers attended.
“Everybody was pretty pleased with it,” he said. “It went off very well.”
Criss succeeds Vern Bruno as the derby’s head official; he noted that Bruno has many responsibilities with the Clinton County Fair and was seeking to lighten his load somewhat.
For the past few years, Criss had assisted him with the event, and for about 20 years before that, he was a regular competitor.
“I know all the ins and outs,” he said.
In fact, Criss began working on cars when he was 13 years old, and at the age of 16 — “as soon as I was old enough” — he bought his own vehicle and entered it in the Demolition Derby.
At 18, he won a heat for the first time.
“It took me two years to figure it out,” he said with a chuckle.
Criss has a first-hand understanding of the event’s popularity.
“It’s the North County — we love to watch motor sports, and we love horsepower.
“It’s an awesome adrenaline rush.”
And the new rules?
“They’re gonna make it a better derby, I believe.”
TO LEARN MORE
For a copy of the new rules for the Clinton County Fair Demolition Derby or for more information, call Brian Criss at 536-0492.