Volume 12 Week 5

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(Posted 9:30 a.m., Aug. 5)
Pair of Sarsfield garages to figure prominently in Navan Fair demolition derby

By Fred Sherwin
OrléansOnline.ca

David Gravelle, who has been competing in demolition derbies for the past 17 years, will be taking part in the Navan Fair demolition derby tonight and tomorrow night. Fred Sherwin/Photo

When the cars line up for the first of two nights of demolition derby action tonight at the Navan Fair, two of the competitors will be from a pair of Sarsfield garages that have a long history in the sport -- one a grizzled veteran, and the other a relative newby.

David Gravelle has been slamming and banging in demolition derbies for the past 17 years. He's won the Navan Fair V8 derby five times, but has never won the four cylinder division which is traditionally held on the Thursday night.

Dennis Weir competed in the Navan Fair derby for the first time last year. A loose terminal post on his battery brought his night to an early end in just the first heat. This year he's hoping to make it into the final with a 1994 Honda Civic that's been prepped by retired derby veterans Allan Brennan and Roy Collier from Brennan's Automotive.

Collier has been out of the game for more than 10 years now, while Brennan will be skipping the derby for the first time in nearly 20 years under doctor's orders.

"I can't even talk about," says Brennan in a mix of exasperation, frustration and disappointment.

Despite the fact that both he and Collier are no longer competing, Brennan has plenty of advice for Weir.

"The key is patience and knowing when to take your shots. You can't go in there and just run into everything in sight," says Brennan, who is a five-time winner of the Navan Fair derby himself.

Gravelle, who has a reputation for being patient and picking his shots agrees. Having eyes in the back of your head also helps..

"You need to have your head on a swivel or else you'll get smoked," says Gravelle, who recently won a prestigious demolition derby in St-Chrysostome, Quebec in the Eastern Townships.

While at its most base the demolition derby is all about crashing and banging, it takes dozens of hours of work to properly prep a car to increase your chances of getting through the heats and into the final.

One of the biggest changes to the demolition derby circuit over the years has been the shift in the average family car from big gas guzzling V8s to gas efficient and environmentally friendly four cylinder vehicles.

Demolition derby drivers need scrap cars in order to compete. As the availability of V8 vehicles steadily declines, more drivers are getting out of the division in favour of the smaller cars because there more of them.

'Fifteen or 20 years ago you would see 50 or 60 V8s at Navan and now your down to less than a dozen. They're getting more scarce every year," says Collier.

With their more complicated fuel injection systems, electronics and on board computers, smaller four cylinder cars take a lot more time to prep. They're also a lot harder on the body.

"You can get banged up pretty good in a four cylinder because there's not as much protection. You have a lot less car around you. Some of those guys are going to climb out of their car pretty sore," says Collier.

While everyone preps their car differently, there are some basic rules that need to be followed -- the windows and mirrors all have to be removed. The fuel system needs to be moved inside the body and the doors, hood and trunk lid all have to be chained shut.

Other modifications can include swapping the original motor for one that doesn't overheat as easily and has more horsepower. Swapping the differential and rear axle for one that is less likely to snap. And reinforcing the body panels by rolling over the top and bottom to create a stronger tubular structure.

Competition in the four cylinder division will get under way tonight at 7 p.m. while a special Hyundai Sante Fe division has been added to the V8 card tomorrow night featuring SUVs sponsored by Pathway Hyundai n Orléans.

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

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