Once they climb through the vehicle's window and put on their helmets and protective goggles, there's no way to distinguish the boys from the girls in the demolition derby.

There's no powder-puff separate class here. Though most have personal reasons, it's not testosterone that drives them.

As her painted pink and purple 2000 Taurus with yellow numeration testifies, Tonya Goucher of Schuyler Falls is supportive of efforts to help those afflicted with breast cancer, as well as efforts to end domestic violence, and shows her support for troops in harm's way. The toughness needed to bash another's vehicle is softened by Tonya's dedication to her cousin, Ida Sorrell, who is battling cancer.

"When I go out there, it is for Ida, and pretty much my whole family, who has had different kinds of cancer," said Tonya.

This past year 17-year-old Kalika Hopkins showed her prowess on the soccer and softball fields for Westport Central School, but her latest sporting venture is climbing behind the wheel to show she can also compete with the big boys. "It was awesome," Kalika said of her first endeavor bashing other vehicles. "My first hit, I didn't know what to expect. It was exhilarating. It was like nothing I ever experienced before."

Christine Harper was thrilled after garnering a trophy in her heat. "It's so great. My nieces and nephews are in the stands. I've wanted to do this for years. My kids, ages five, six, and seven, love cars so I thought I'd give them a show. They even gave me a little metal Santa Claus for good luck.

"My brother told me not to kill myself. The first hit jolted me and I thought, 'What have I got into?' But when I got up on the hood of the car, it was great."

Billie Jo Fountain of Plattsburgh thought it was only natural that she would compete in the derby. "My ex was doing it and so was my boyfriend. I first was in a derby six years ago. The most exciting thing is the adrenaline rush of that first hit. It's like anger management, but this way you can take out your anger without getting arrested." With her son Anthony sheepishly standing by the vehicle, Billie Jo confided, "This was really supposed to be my son's event. But he disrespected me, so I wanted to show him."

"I love doing this," said Michele Welch of Westport after winning the mini-van heat against about a dozen men. "I did it two years ago. It really gets you going. Everything is pumping. That first hit, it really gets your attention. You think, 'What was I thinking?' I did this for my mom and dad. My mom is in the stands with this great big smile."

As she awaited her turn, Courtney Thomas of Plattsburgh said, "I'm thinking of hitting people hard. I'm planning on using the rear end of my car. My boyfriend, Paul Burgette, is in the car in front of me. We wanted to do this together. We'll work as a team out there."

After the heat, Courtney concluded, "It was a lot harder than I expected. I took a lot of hard hits, but I enjoyed it. It was fun. I plan on doing a demo again."

Jennifer Reisigl drove up from Saratoga Springs with her family. "This is my third year of doing this. I have always been into cars and racing."

Her mother, Sherry, backed Jennifer's assertions. "She's always been interested in cars. She changes the oil and everything. Jennifer is not afraid to get her hands dirty. I think I am more nervous than she is. She's my baby, and she's up against that male testosterone."

Having made it through her first heat, Jennifer said, "I really didn't feel it when I got hit." To which her mother added with a nervous smile, "I felt it."

Unlike her younger sister, Kalika, Becky Hopkins is a veteran of four derbies. "I knew a bunch of people who were doing it and decided to do it as well. I was always around the shop (at Bill McBride Chevy) and watched the guys. I remember the first time I was very nervous, but after that you get focused, and you don't think about it."

E-mail Alvin Reiner at:

rondackrambler@yahoo.com

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