Thirty-one cars were entered in the Demolition Derby at the Arcadia Fire Company carnival grounds last weekend, but one stood out from the rest.
It was an old Plymouth station wagon with a #43 painted on it to resemble Richard Petty's car. On the back, the letters "Warning Lady Driver" were painted in bright red.
It was a warning the other drivers should have heeded, because the only female driver entered -- Ruth Akers of Westminster -- turned out to be one of the finalists in her derby debut.
Akers was asked if she wanted to enter the derby by Steve Pollard, the 39-year-old minister at the Westminster Church of the Nazarene. Pollard had been in two demolition derbies and had a good time. When the first one rolled around this year, he felt it would be nice to give someone else a chance.
Akers agreed to participate, and the car turned out to be a church project.
Akers didn't have any demolition derby experience, but had watched Pollard in the last one. Before the big day arrived, everyone pitched in to make the car ready.
The neighborhood kids tore out the headlining. Pollard's two daughters, Sabrina and Amanda, worked on the car after school, removing the lights and chrome. Young members of the church painted the car with messages.
Getting the car ready was a community and church project.
"It kept me busy keeping track of my tools," said Pollard.
Akers, 34, works two jobs -- as a chemical lab technician in Columbia and a veterinarian assistant in the evening. Born in Washington, a short walk from the Capitol, she didn't see her first farm animal until she attended college. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in dairy science.
Akers and her husband, Tom, are also active at church. She teaches Sunday school, and the couple enjoys Saturday night out with other church members. Last Saturday night, they came to see her in the derby.
Her busy schedule didn't give her much time to think about her new adventure. Earlier in the day she participated in a walk-a-thon, then had to excuse herself from a mother-and-daughter banquet to get to the carnival grounds.
It wasn't until she drove the car into the area that it hit her what she was doing.
"I have been so busy I hadn't had time to think about this," she said. "When I got in the car I said to myself, 'the Lord's going to be with me, I'll be OK.' "
The purpose of a demolition derby is to ram the other cars until they can't run any longer. The last car running and still able to move is declared the winner.
Akers listened well and did everything that Pollard told her. She slammed the cars with the back of her car and stayed out of trouble. It paid off and she won her heat with hardly a scratch on the car.
"I saw the guy coming out with a checkered flag and he gave it to me," said Akers after the heat. "I didn't know that I had won. He then told me I had to wave the checkered flag."
When the heat was over, both Pollard and her husband ran to her side.
"I was kind of worried at first," said Tom. "I saw her take a couple of hard smacks, but when I got there I knew she was OK. The first thing she said was, 'That was fun.' "
The winner of the heats returned for the feature. Akers was even more aggressive the second time out.
She appeared headed to a good finish when her front tire went flat. Still she kept the car going until she backed over a bumper that had fallen from another car. The bumper lodged between her rear wheel and fender and ended her run for the championship.
"It was fun to bang up a car. It was like being in an accident, only you know it is coming. I didn't go to win, I wanted to see what it was like."
Even though Akers did not make it to the end, the car had little damage. "We brought the car home, and it is sitting in my garage," said Pollard. "The hood doesn't shut like it used to, but all we have to do is put a little gas in it and it will be ready to go play bumping cars again."