By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
10, 9, 8 . . .
Slick focuses his video camera . . . 4, 3, 2, 1! The crowd shouts, and suddenly it sounds like a swarm of bees as cars shimmy across the arena to make contact.
After a few soft hits and maneuvers, Suhr breaks away from the pack and skates quickly around the dusty arena looking for his targets. But before he can do much damage, the action is stopped.
A devastating hit has knocked the hood of a black sedan straight through to the passenger's compartment. The driver is pinned underneath and safety personnel can't tell if he's conscious or decapitated.
The firefighters slide the hood back to where it belongs, the driver climbs gingerly out of the window, apparently unharmed, and jogs out of the arena. The crowd applauds and begs for more. The green flag waves again and Suhr and Horn work both ends of the Mercury for a while before Horn gets spun around and moves toward the cop car.
Suhr is enraged, though, and begins a series of devastating hits on the Mercury that push it closer and closer to the concrete barriers at one corner of the arena. The crowd cheers, dogs bark. "Boom! Boom!" yells a toddler, laughing. Slick, one eye glued to the camcorder, says softly, "Right on target."
The Mercury is pinned in the corner and can neither avoid Suhr's pummeling nor inflict any real damage of its own. Suhr backs up and flies forward at him one last time, shoving the Mercury up and over the concrete barrier where he high-centers.
Although the Mercury flounders, paralyzed, Suhr backs up and pounds him again. The Mercury driver reaches out angrily and rips the flag from his window, disqualifying himself.
Suhr wheels around quickly and looks for Horn. Horn, however, is dead in the water. Red flags wave again and the heat is over. Suhr drives out of the arena, but not Horn. His steering column is useless, and as a tractor drags him to the pits, he shrugs and spins the steering wheel like a top.
"I gotta do something fancy here," says Horn after reviewing the problem. He jacks the car up, changes a shredded tire in seconds, and goes to work on the steering with friends gathering around to offer advice.
Meanwhile, Murdell is sent out alone in the second heat. Although he is known as an easy target, most of the older drivers have chosen a different sacrificial lamb, Shoeless Jim.
They move in on him like orcas on a seal, tossing him to and fro hard enough that he bounces off every surface of what's left of his car. He's obviously out of commission, but the feeding frenzy continues until Shoeless manages to stick one arm out through his windshield and raise a middle finger. He breaks off his flag with the other. His face is dripping with blood.
In the third heat, DePoy is virtually untouched, protected by his horde.
Murdell, Horn and Suhr prepare for the main event, eyeing DePoy every now and again. Horn has pounded, twisted and finally blowtorched his way around the steering problem. He fires up his twisted ride with a relieved smile. "God, I love that sound right there, it makes me feel all tingly!"
DePoy stands tall in his pit, unflinching, pokerfaced. "I can only worry about myself," he says. "I can't control the other cars. There are teams, you know. Justin and them . . . and us. I'm only saying I'm going to try not to hit my friends."
DePoy glances over at what is left of Suhr's and Horn's cars. "They're very competitive when they have fresh cars, but they're kind of beat up tonight," he says dismissively.
The organizers draw out the suspense between the third heat and the finale, running lawn mower races for an hour as drivers prepare, and wait. Finally they are summoned back to the arena.
Murdell straps on his helmet and waves goodbye to his 9-year-old brother Jordan. "Jolee, watch out," the boy says, gripping his mother's hand. "I will, Jordan, I will," Murdell vows.
When the melee begins, Suhr homes in on DePoy and slaps him with a hit on the rear driver's-side door. DePoy's buddies move in to block Suhr, but he spins around and nails him in the back end hard enough to make the crowd gasp.
Horn moves in to protect Suhr, blocking a potentially devastating hit from DePoy's friend Glenn Grim. DePoy's out of reach now, so Suhr moves to the Mercury he picked on in the first heat, slamming it once, then backing into it again, ripping into its side with his rear end that has been bent and twisted into a battering ram.
Horn chases down DePoy and aims for a radiator shot that just misses. DePoy's friends come to his rescue, and now there are four of them on Suhr at once, delivering blows from all four sides, crunching him for a good three minutes until he manages to break free.
Horn and Suhr resume their abuse of DePoy, making him the meat in their sandwich as they slam him from both sides.
DePoy is hobbling now, but so is Suhr. He's giving as good as he's getting, but a rear end to the grille sends a geyser of steam shooting into the air. "That's Justin losing his water," Slick narrates for the camcorder. There are just over a dozen cars left when Horn also runs into trouble. He's trying to extricate himself from a pile-up when the competitor lying on his hood is black-flagged. Horn can't move. Murdell is in a similar heap at the far end of the arena with a busted transmission.