Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Aug. 16, 1999

Family has a smashing, bang-up time

By Andrea Vargo

Is there anyone who has never had a fantasy about flooring the gas pedal on a car and smashing into someone else's car?

Crashing and smashing cars may just be a wonderful dream for some, but it is good, clean, family fun for Gayle and Marvin Karels of Howard Lake.

The couple has been crushing cars in demolition derbies together since they were 17 and dating.

At 16, Gayle used to hang around Marvin while he was working on a demo car, and after awhile, he started letting her do things, she said.

When she was 17, she got to run a car in a consolation heat. This was her first demo derby.

"I didn't do too well, and I was out fairly soon. There wasn't a whole lot of car left to deal with," she said.

Marvin told her she could have her own car the next year, if she liked it. Well, she did like it, and she got her own car.

In 1994, Marvin and Gayle got married, but that didn't stop either one from running the derbies.

Gayle runs one car a year in two or three derbies, while Marvin goes through six or seven cars. Some of the cars make more than one outing, she said.

The Karels pick most of the cars up at junkyards, and usually they are still in good shape, but they don't have a title, or maybe an engine or transmission.

Each contest has its own rules, said Gayle, but most will allow participants to put threaded rods down through the trunk and hood and bolted to the frame to keep them in place.

Dashes, seats, carpet, and extra wiring are removed from the car. Where the back seat would normally be is where the gas tank goes.

There is a limit of three gallons of gas to prevent a large explosion, should the tank rupture, she said.

Windows are removed, also for safety.

Gayle said they put their own shift sticks in, because having them on the column makes it easier for the linkage to be damaged.

The battery cage goes on the floor in front of the where the front seat would be, also for safety. If it were under the hood, it would be one of the first things damaged, because the object of a demo derby is to put the other cars out of commission.

Cars can back into the front of another car, but can't hit head-on, she explained.

Marvin takes about two days to get his car ready, and Gayle said he takes a lot of teasing because he usually does it the two days before a derby. Everyone else starts a long time before that, she said.

The Karels recently took first and second at the Saturday demo derby at the Wright County Fair, so waiting until the last minute seems to work for them.

As with any sport, there are always a few memorable moments, said Gayle.

She has always tried not to miss any of Marvin's demos and is usually in his pit crew, but fate has a way of intervening.

During one of her pregnancies, Gayle decided not to go to a run. But she kept having a feeling something was wrong, she said.

Well, during the demo, the antifreeze in the car blew into Marvin's face and he couldn't breathe.

He started to climb out through the windshield, but the steam coming up from under the hood obscured the view of the officials, and they did not stop the action.

A car hit him and knocked him back into the car. As the steam cleared, the officials saw he was in trouble and flagged the cars to a halt. Marvin was taken out of his car and was taken to the hospital.

By the time Gayle was notified and got to the hospital, he was already back at the derby.

Another time, the night before a Corcoran demo, Marvin was working on his car, and Gayle went into labor.

They had a baby that night, and Gayle insisted Marvin go to the demo the next day.

"He didn't feel right about it though," she said.

He was surprised when his car was announced, and the announcer told everyone about the new baby. That is how friends and relatives discovered the news.

After the derby, about 1:30 a.m., Marvin came back to the hospital and stayed with Gayle.

Fires in the cars are the scariest, said Gayle.

"I was watching from the sidelines once, and the car went in a poof of flames. His dad got on the track and got him out," she said.

She didn't know whether to cry or what, she was so scared.

The event in Howard Lake also put Marvin's car into flames, shooting around him inside the car.

He came popping out through the windshield, and emergency people put the fire out with a lot of extinguishers. The car was white all over the front half.

Marvin got back in and tried to start the car. It immediately erupted in flames, again.

That was all for the car, but it was enough to win him second place, behind Gayle.

"I definitely hope the kids do this. T.J. is almost five, and he really gets into it. He goes with Marvin's mother to almost all the demos. I hope the girls will also like it," she said.

Kerstin is two, and she is too young to go, but Kira will be four in September, and she went to her first one this summer. Gayle said she wasn't too impressed.

It may take a few years, but who could resist the chance to play dodge em' cars for real?

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