Hammond family enjoys a smashing Christmas tradition
Dirk Vrieze, 30, of Hammond, has a not-so-traditional Christmas day tradition.
For the past six years the Vrieze family has had a demolition derby on Christmas morning.
Immediately after opening presents the Vriezes and around 250 spectators head to Dirk's dad's farm land at the corner of County Road E and 200th Street for a chilly morning of crashed cars and good company.
The derby usually starts at 10 a.m. and ends around 11:15 a.m.
Vrieze said he and his dad, John, started the demolition derby as a way for the adults to "have some fun after the kids opened presents."
Dirk said preparing for the demolition derby takes time.
Dirk works to rally people to attend the derby and makes the cars as safe as possible by removing glass, tail lights, bumpers and anything else that could fly off a car as it gets demolished.
John plows the field clear for driving and makes snow banks to ensure drivers and spectators alike are safe.
The derby hasn't always drawn a huge crowd.
"It seems like it's getting a little bigger every year," Dirk said.
He said the first year of the derby was just family, seven drivers and about 50 spectators made up of family and neighbors.
"Every year since it seems like we get more spectators and more people that want to get in it. This year we had 12 people in it."
Dirk estimated they had between 250 and 300 spectators this year.
While Dirk loves seeing new and returning spectators year after year, he hopes the number of drivers in the derby stays small.
"About 12 or 13 people is about as many as we want," he said.
Dirk said keeping the number of cars to a minimum avoids the need for multiple heats, which would add more time and work to prepare for the annual event.
"We want to keep it kind of small and still have a good time," he said.
There are a few "unofficial" rules to the demolition derby.
Dirk says the family is pretty open about what types of vehicles show up for the derby, but they prefer "cars and stationwagons" for safety and fairness.
Dirk said the first year, his dad showed up in a big U-Haul-like van, demolishing everyone, taking the win.
There are a few rules all drivers must obey though.
All drivers must wear a helmet, neckbrace and mouthguard, and cannot intentionally hit the driver's side door.
Dirk said the safety precautions taken with cars and drivers has helped the derby go six years without a single serious injury.
Drivers leave with, "nothing more than sore muscles and some bruises, and usually that hits the next day. We will keep doing the derby as long as we don't have injuries," Dirk said
The Vrieze family tradition is not for the fainthearted
"It's a demolition derby, it is what it is. The last car running, that's moving, wins."
Dirk says the derby is strictly for fun, with no big jackpot for the winner, just bragging rights and the "traveling trophy made of smashed up matchbox cars and granite."
Dirk said anyone interested in attending the derby next year can "expect a lot of fun." And warns that once people come to one derby, they can't help but return year after year.
Dirk said some spectators bundle up and watch the derby outside, some sit in their cars and others take advantage of the Vrieze family viewing bus.
Dirk said the family has a bus that can hold about 10 people on the one side for people to stay warm and watch the derby from.
"My (86-year-old) grandma seems to like that the best," he said.
While many people bring their own blankets and beverages, Dirk said the Vriezes often provide hot cocoa and cider for those who show up unprepared.
Although Dirk has participated in the derby every year, he has yet to win the traveling trophy. He blames his win-less record on trying too hard to smash everybody up and forgetting to make his own car last until the end.
Dirk said 2010 was his best derby so far-- maybe he can take the trophy next year.
Since he and his siblings are too old to get presents anymore, Dirk said they've found the Christmas day derby to be a great way to enjoy the holidays together.
For Dirk, crashing up an old car is better than ripping open presents Christmas morning.
"I had great childhood Christmas memories but this is the funest time I've had in my life on any Christmas morning," he said.
Dirk said once the derby is over he usually stays at the demo spot until around noon before heading to his family's Christmas lunch where they usually watch the video of the derby.
Don't plan on seeing the Vrieze family derby switched to another time of year.
"I don't think we'll ever change the date," he said. "It's too much fun. It's my favorite day of the year."
Dirk urges anyone interested in entering the derby to call him next December and as always, the public is invited.
"It's the most awesome time you can have on Christmas morning," Dirk said.
To see video of the Sixth Annual Vrieze Family Demolition Derby, go to YouTube.com and search "Vrieze Family Demo Derby 2010."