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Car-crashin' Utahns get their own TV show, 'Kings of Crash'

Published February 8, 2013 9:32 am

Television • Local demolition derby takes center stage in Velocity's new show.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Velocity channel is about to share a little bit of Utah subculture with America, and it's not what you might expect.

The new series "Kings of Crash" is all about folks obsessed with building and crashing cars. All about what goes into making demolition derby exciting and — believe it or not — distinctive to Utah.

"You guys are going to get a glimpse of derby, Utah-style," said TJ McPhee, a derby enthusiast and one of the stars of the show. "It's really unique to Utah. It's not like everywhere else where you've got a bunch of rednecks wrecking Grandma's car."

McPhee and his friends and competitors aren't under any illusions. They know what most people's perception of demolition derby is, and they know the series is accompanied by hillbillyish music and features a narrator with a Southern accent.

Velocity's attraction to Utah demolition derby is due to the difference from what you'll find on the East Coast and Midwest. In Utah, they put 10 cars in the arena at a time. Back East, they'll put 25 or 30, which means much less room to maneuver and much lower speeds, and heats that last an hour or two.

In Utah, drivers have to make a hit every 60-90 seconds. The heats are 10-12 minutes long; the main competitions are 7 minutes long. "We have all this space," said James "Gumby" Simko. "And when you have space, it creates havoc."

Added McPhee: "That's when you see a good show."

Not surprisingly, there's a Mormon element to this Utah-based show. Simko — aka the Stormin' Mormon — said he's "out to prove Mormons do have fun" and dispel other stereotypes.

"I don't have a bunch of wives,"said Simko, a serious driver who also serves as the show's comic relief. "Heck, I can't even seem to land one of them."

To outsiders, the derby crowd can seem a bit obsessed. More than a bit, actually. Just listen to Katy and Ryan Sweat. "The first day I got to watch Ryan drive in a derby was the day after our first child was born," said Katy Sweat, who is also a driver. "He was going to leave me at the hospital, and I didn't want to be there. We had gotten the job done, so it was time to go home."

Ryan Sweat: "I told her, 'You either have the baby before the derby, or after the derby.' "

Clearly, "derby mentality," as Simko would say.

Filmed in the summer of 2012, "Kings of Crash" follows a group of Utahns as they build their cars and compete in a series of derbies. The competitions are jaw-droppingly crazy, with collisions you can almost feel through the TV. It's not exactly safe, but it's not as dangerous as it looks, the drivers insist.

"I feel safer in that derby car than going down the freeway," said Ryan's brother, driver Mont Sweat."I honestly do. We put cages in these things. We wear seatbelts. We're padded. We put padding all over. We wear helmets, gloves. Some guys even go so far as to wear fire suits.

"But we're sore the next day," he added with a laugh. "Don't get me wrong."

The show also reveals some family drama. Ryan and Katy Sweat say they are in it together, but the time and money that go into demolition derby cause conflict in some other families.

It's more than a hobby. Competitors may spend 60-80 hours a week working on their cars, which can cost between $4,000 and $7,000. "And that's minimal build without getting too crazy," McPhee said.

The voice-over on "Kings of Crash" tells viewers that the prize money is better in Utah than in other parts of the country — as much as $5,000 for first place. But the show doesn't explain that the expense required to be competitive means derby competitions are far from money-making operations.

"Understand, you can get into a derby a lot cheaper than that," Simko said. "But if you want to be competitive — if you want to have some fun — you have to invest."

It's a measure of the competitiveness of the drivers that the Mad Dog trophy — given to the most aggressive driver — may well be more highly prized than first place, even though it pays considerably less — $750 in the first episode.

"I'd like the money, sure," Ryan Sweat said. "But winning Mad Dog is bigger to me."

"Kings of Crash" is proving to be a revelation, even to the people in it. The footage of the competition — some of it shot by cameras mounted inside the cars — is nothing short of astonishing.

"When you're in a car, you do not have a clue what your body's doing," Simko said. "But when Velocity put the cameras in our cars and we saw it for the first time, we were, like, 'Oh my gosh.'

"I thought, 'I don't want the wife to see this because she's not going to let me do it anymore.' "

spierce@sltrib.com —


"Kings of Crash" premieres Sunday, Feb. 10, at 8 and 11 p.m. on Velocity. Episodes will repeat Tuesdays at 8 and 11 p.m. In Utah, Velocity is on Channel 663 on Comcast; Channel 281 on DirecTV; and Channel 364 on Dish Network.






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