They grab a couple of fishing poles and head off to the lake. They pull out two shotguns and go hunting. One plays a sport, the other coaches him. These are familiar ways Kansas fathers and sons bond and spend time together.
Thane Meier and his son Andrew of Hillsboro are a little different. They climb into cars and crash into each other, as they did Sunday for the demolition derby at the Marion County Fairgrounds.
“This stuff isn’t rocket science, it’s just fun,” Thane said.
Thane started competing in demolition derbies five years ago.
“I used to pit for a buddy of mine, and he got out of it. I thought if he’s getting out, I’m going to try it,” Thane said.
Andrew, who will be a senior at Hillsboro High School, worked alongside his father building and preparing the derby cars.
“I’ve worked on cars with my dad for many years, building engines for his cars, and we just finished building an engine for my truck,” Andrew said.
When the Meiers came across a cheap 1992 Chevy Caprice with a bad motor last year, Andrew decided to make the leap from pit crew to driver
“He said ‘If you want to run it, we’ll build it,’” Andrew said.
Andrew’s mother Holly knew that day was coming.
“There was no talking him out of it because he was working on Thane’s before that,” Holly said. “It was always just Thane before. It gets kind of crazy.”
Craziness ruled after the preliminary heats Sunday. Pit crews worked at a frenzied pace with cutting torches, welders, metal saws, sledge hammers, and crow bars to rehabilitate battered cars for the final. Knowing what to tackle and how in the short time available requires out-of-the-box thinking, Thane said.
“You get a knack from experience, knowing how metal is going to bend. It makes you look at things three-dimensionally. Some people have it, some people don’t,” Thane said.
Some things can’t be fixed, as Thane pointed out on Andrew’s engine.
“Look at this. He has no water pump. This engine is going out there with no water. It’s on limited time,” Thane said. “I hope he has as much fun as he can in the limited time he has.”
Nonetheless, Andrew knew he’d still have a chance to slam into his father’s car.
“There’s a chance I’ll find the old man and hit him,” Andrew said. “I’ll hit him a couple of times, for sure.”
Andrew didn’t have to look far, as the two were lined up side-by-side for the start of the final. It took only 19 seconds for Andrew to put a sideswipe hit on his father’s 1986 Lincoln Towncar.
A minute later, the Meiers became the first two casualties of the event. Thane’s car was pushed into a corner and disabled at the same time Andrew’s stalled car was repeatedly pummeled into submission.
The water pump didn’t have time to go out on Andrew’s car — he fell victim to a frustrating oversight.
“Lug nuts weren’t tightened,” Andrew grumbled after the race.
This was Andrew’s only event of the year, while Thane will run in two or three more derbies, including the Marion County Fair event in July. Whether the Meiers get another shot at each other next year on Memorial Day weekend is uncertain.
“I wish we’d have had more cars so we’d get a bigger crowd,” Marion County Fair Association board member Joe Alvarez said. “These are drivers from years past that keep coming back, and some of the guys’ kids are getting into it. We’re going to have to visit about doing it again, because it’s shrinking.”