Night Crawler

Two derby officials arrive in a cloud of dust, bellowing for the first drivers of the day. Several thousand fans stand and applaud the national anthem. Children squeal and choose cars. Holland counts down.

Greenwood, driving a pink wagon unearthed by Danno Towing and sponsored by All Car & Truck, is in the first heat. The 99s' demo-car guru, Peewee, lovingly calls it "Trailer Trash"; Greenwood calls it "Headhunter." He wants a chunk of the Fat Boys. It won't be easy: Although double-teaming is a supposed no-no, FBI is operating with four No. 31 cars and four No. 55 cars, and the 99s seem awful friendly with the No. 60s. The cars line up on opposite sides of the small dirt arena, engines roaring. Holland gives the signal, and they scream toward each other in reverse, launching chunks of mud and belching smoke. The Fat Boys take out the "Englishman" within seconds, one solid rear-end rips off the header and dumps water into the distributor. He's disabled. After two motionless minutes, Greenwood is disqualified and must sit by impotently as FBI lunges at his friends in cars 99 and 60. They move in like feeding sharks, surrounding a crippled car and bashing it into the wall until the engine finally gives out. The sound of rending metal fills the air. Cars become tangles of scrap, piled on top of each other, wheels spinning madly. Amazingly, Tom Chivers in 99c is the last car moving on the track, but Doug Holt Jr. is breathing down his neck.

The second heat is more violent than the first. Clutches fail immediately; axles bend and snap; tires explode and fall off; scalding radiator water gushes onto the track; rear ends crinkle upward, blinding the drivers. Mike Hogue and Brandon Holt place first and second. In the third heat, 99 Ralph Garcia takes first and Brian Holt takes second. During the consolation round, Greenwood limps back onto the track with a blown tire. FBI's 55 lunges for him, smashing him into the wall nose-first. He loses reverse and is stuck and devastated.

By the main event, seven Holt Brothers vehicles have qualified, and three from the 99 team. There are 14 cars in all. Too many cars and too little space on the field. The 99s and FBI make small change of the other drivers. There are engine fires; steering wheels fly out windows; smoke and steam rise from knots of steel that were once motors. The vehicles are unrecognizable, and yet, with no rear end and only two operating wheels, they drag themselves forward in a desperate attempt to inflict a final, parting blow.

It's like a measureless Monty Python skit.
In the end, Mike Hogue places first, with teammates Chris Kumps and Doug Holt Jr. placing second and third. Joe Reyes comes in fourth. During the next day's competition, FBI obliterates Ralph Garcia's car, a lesson about coming in first in a heat, no doubt. Reyes complains about double-teaming. Doug Holt Jr. places first, and wins overall for the weekend -- a chip off the old block.

"We're family," says Hogue. "We know how to drive together."
"I just wanted a good crash," says Greenwood, feeling robbed.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor

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