Megan Langan always wanted to compete in a demolition derby.
Saturday night at the Baker County Fairgrounds, the 32-year-old Baker City woman finally got her chance.
Langan was able to enter the Haines Stampede Demolition Derby when a family friend let her use a 1986 Ford LTD.
Every night for two weeks she and her husband, Justin, worked on the car, welding it to get it ready.
“It’s a great way to get anger out,” Megan Langan said.
The goal of the demolition derby is to be the last car moving. Drivers crash into other cars in an attempt to get their opponents’ vehicles to stop working.
There were a few rules that tried to control the chaos in the two heats and the main event.
Any hit on the driver’s side door (from the back of the front tire to the front of the back tire) was illegal. The cars also could not engage in head-to-head collisions.
If the car is unable to move, the driver hangs a flag outside of their window.
A thunderstorm with torrential rain and hail hit the Fairgrounds just before the derby started.
Langan competed in the first heat, which consisted of eight cars. As soon as it began the sounds of roaring engines and crunching steel filled the rodeo arena at the Fairgrounds. Cars slammed into one another left and right as tires threw mud and engine smoke blanketed the drivers.
Langan started out driving around in a circle, trying to find a legal side of a car to hit. She crashed into a few, and few a crashed into her. Trying to follow requires focus. Until everything stops and the dust settles, it’s difficult to tell who won. Langan placed fourth in the heat.
“She wasn’t afraid to hit, and she wasn’t afraid of getting hit,” said her father-in-law, Vern Langan.
“It was awesome!” Megan said of introduction to demolition derby.
After the first heat, her car was towed back to the pit so that her crew could fix it before the main event. Her crew consisted of her husband Justin, 33, Vern, 51, and her longtime friend, Rick Langton, 65.
Langan Family Racing history of automobile racing stretches back four generations. In the 1960s, John Langan competed in NASCAR for two years, and won at the Eugene Speedway seven times. Currently the family is competing the Iron Giant stock car series.
“Racing is something we take very seriously,” Vern said.
The passenger side of the front end of Megan’s LTD was curled upwards, making the car look a bit like an Elvis Presley impersonator. The back end was almost entirely smashed inwards, so that the car looked like it started with the front bumper and ended with the cabin.
Megan’s crew began triage on her car. It was losing fluids. The power steering cap had come off in the first heat, and the radiator had a few holes in it. The seatbelt wasn’t ratcheting. The front passenger wheel was smashed.
Still, her car was better off than some of the others. The pit crew next to them had taken a torch and a sledgehammer to the rear driver’s side wheel to make room for a replacement tire. They then wrapped a chain around the front driver’s side tire, attached the other end of the chain to a truck, and propped their car against another derby car while the truck pulled forward to straighten out the tire.
Megan’s pit crew moved like surgeons except they were smoking cigars while they were operating. They took turns trying to fix the car, holding a light, and running to get water.
“Wreck the car and then you fix it, and then you go out and wreck it again,” Vern said.
He was the first to try and fix the radiator. He took a set of needle nose pliers, raked them across the hole in the radiator, hoping to straighten out the tubes. It didn’t work. The car was still leaking water. They poured stop leak in hoping to plug up the holes. It didn’t work. Once the car heated up, it started spitting the water out like a garden sprinkler.
Justin zip-tied a cut-up piece of a truck’s mud flap on the front end to give the radiator something softer to crash into when Megan rammed another car, the idea being that would save the radiator from further punctures.
Langton poured automatic transmission fluid into the power steering pump. The power steering system and the transmission system are both hydraulic systems, he said and the automatic transmission fluid could be used as a substitute.
The seatbelt also needed fixing. It wasn’t ratcheting tight — when the car is repeatedly getting slammed, a seatbelt is kind of important. Langton took a couple of screws and punctured the belt and fastened it so that it would at least remain tight around Megan’s body.
“This is not a NASCAR-sanctioned repair,” Langton joked, but for the demolition derby it would do.
The radiator still leaked water. The backside of the radiator also needed to be fixed, but because the hood was welded shut, Langton had to maneuver the pliers through little holes cut into the hood, again pinching and raking in an attempt to straighten the tubes. They poured more stop leak into the radiator. This time it worked.
The main event consisted of 16 vehicles — twice as much chaos as the two heats. Langan got hit in the back and her helmet got stuck between the headrest and the roof of the car. She was unable to move her head and could only look downwards towards the crowd. Her car was still operational but she was worried about getting hit again and damaging her neck so she scrambled to put out her flag.
After the dust (and mud) had settled, Mike Patterson, the returning champion from Pendleton, won first place.
Langan plans on returning to the derby next year. She said her father-in-law has a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado waiting for her.