Vienna man wins interstate demolition derby in Iowa

By Colin Willard, Advocate Staff Writer
Posted 7/3/24

VIENNA — A Vienna man recently led a team of Missouri drivers to victory in an interstate demolition derby.

Tyler Jones, 36, was the last driver standing in the Border Wars Light Weld …

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Vienna man wins interstate demolition derby in Iowa


VIENNA — A Vienna man recently led a team of Missouri drivers to victory in an interstate demolition derby.

Tyler Jones, 36, was the last driver standing in the Border Wars Light Weld Class Demo Derby held May 31 and June 1 in Adel, Iowa. The event featured 90 competitors, which Jones said is more than the usual 64 cars at national-level events.

“It was pretty hard,” he said. “I guess it was a pretty big national show.”

Jones has participated in the derby scene for about 20 years though he said his involvement really picked up about 10 years ago. At the peak of his participation, he was competing in more than 20 derbies each year. In the last few years, he has cut back to only doing a couple of derbies each year.

“Back then I was more energetic,” he said. “When I was doing it pretty seriously, I really didn’t care about the money too much. I liked to hammer down, so I had a pretty good name for myself being a wild man.”

Leading up to Border Wars, one of Jones’ friends planned to compete on the Missouri team and asked him if he would like to join.

“I hadn’t run a national show in several years,” Jones said. “It’d been quite a while, probably since 2018, so I said ‘Alright, I’ll go.’”

Border Wars invited the states surrounding Iowa to assemble teams of 18 drivers to compete in the derby. Three people from each state competed in several heats. The top three cars from each heat competed in the event’s feature showing.

Jones said the structure of the event differed from many team events. Usually, the three teammates competing in a heat would all go through to the feature if one of them was the last car standing in the heat. In Border Wars, the top three cars, regardless of what team they were on, advanced to the feature. The team aspect became relevant in the feature because the winning driver won $1,000 for each of their teammates in addition to the $8,000 grand prize.

Although Jones won the top prize, he said money is not what keeps him engaged with demolition derbies. He estimated he lost money on the trip to Iowa after considering entry fees, travel costs and the damage done to his car.

“If you figured up labor and stuff, you’d probably be at $2 an hour,” he said. “If you did win, and that’s all a big ‘if.’ My perspective has changed just to do it.”

Jones said that during a derby, most drivers go in with a plan, but the competition is determined, at least in part, by reaction.

“The more experience you get, the more you lay back, or you start to look at a different perspective,” he said. “Instead of tunnel vision, you can pick up on some different stuff. There’s a lot of mentality while I’m sitting out there thinking and watching everything take place around me.”

Jones said going into the Border Wars feature, he felt confident.

“I was in control the whole time, I felt, and I kind of went in unscathed, like they were overlooking me,” he said. “I had enough time to sit around and think while I was in the car without somebody, so I was more aware of what’s going on around me.”

Jones said he used the time to think to make a game plan for when the feature got down to only a handful of drivers. He made sure to adjust his thinking and react to the changing landscape around him as more drivers exited the competition.

“In the feature, my transmission was acting up and I kind of lost reverse,” he said. “So I went and hit some cars pretty hard there for a few minutes, and then it came back. So I slowed back down again, and it paid off with a win.”

After winning the derby, Jones credited the build of his car over any winning move he might have made.

“My car was good and theirs wasn’t,” he said. “When it got down to about four or five cars, I had a good feeling about it.

Jones’ interest in cars began when he was a kid. Over time, he picked up mechanical skills that he discovered he could use to work on derby cars.

“The first one sounded kind of fun to do,” he said. “I didn’t know nothing about nothing.”

Despite Jones’ claim that his first derby car, a 1982 Chevrolet Caprice, was “about the worst one you could choose,” he said that after that he started participating in demolition derbies, his “obsessive” personality kept him continuing to work on derby cars.

“I’ve always been the person that when something interests me, I deep dive into it,” he said.

His competitive drive and interest in learning sparked his participation in demolition derbies.

“It teaches you a lot of things,” he said. “A lot of different knowledge about cars and pressures and angles. How to make something hold up better than what you initially anticipated.”

Jones estimated he had built around 200 derby cars. His favorite cars to use in derbies are Ford Crown Victoria made between 2008 and 2011 because of their reliable structure. He has found that building derby cars can be an outlet for creativity. He said he has invented numerous things to give himself an advantage in derbies including advancements in spindles and hydraulic steering that have caught on as trends in the derby scene. However, derby rules are not always ready to deal with Jones’ developments.

“A lot of them end up getting banned,” he said. “Most people, and this is everything in life, just stick to the norm. I’m not like that. I always try to one up everything; do it better. So I spend a lot of time on stuff like that and see how I can get it better for my applications. The next thing you know, somebody would see it or I’d tell somebody this or that, and now most people across the country are doing it.”

When Jones works on a derby car, he identifies the vehicle’s strengths and needs. Sometimes cars need more height. Other times they just need a part swapped with another car.

“Everything in general takes a little part, adds a little factor to your overall,” he said.

Derby car selection depends on the rules of the event. During Border Wars, Jones used a 1976 Buick on top of a 1975 Oldsmobile frame to fit the event’s light weld class. He said the popularity of derby rules is cyclical, and every five years or so preferences will change. The state of the economy can play a role in what classes gain favor because of the high costs of heavily modified cars.

“It depends on how you build it, but it’s pretty easy nowadays to roll out there with $20,000 or $30,000 in your car if you’re competitive,” Jones said.

The lifetime of a derby car varies based on what happens to it during an event.

“I could probably fix mine to do a local one around here,” Jones said. “It wouldn’t be too good, but sometimes they get trashed in 10 seconds. You could spend six months building it and get it trashed in one hit. It just depends on how it all goes.”

Jones said things he has learned from the hobby include patience while driving in derbies and integrating different components of cars while building. He prefers building to driving because that is when he puts his focus on trying to beat other drivers.

“Most of the time it’s won in the garage,” he said. “Driving has a lot to do with it, but I also build quite a bit of a harder car than a lot of people do. I see stuff differently. I pick apart the rules. I look for gray areas.”

Jones has built derby cars for others, but he said he made a conscious decision to keep it as a hobby instead of a career to keep it from turning into a “manufacturing line.” His career has led him to do building automation at Brewer Science.