"I've been knocked out, I've been rolled over and I've been caught on fire," Chet Hartman told The Kansan, chuckling. "I've never had to go to the hospital, I wouldn't let them take me when I got knocked out... but it's not a gentle situation."
Contrary to how that might sound, Hartman, who spoke with The Kansan on his 86th birthday, does not fist-fight man-eating tigers or do professional movie stunts.
Since 1964 Hartman has had a passion for demolition derbies. While he enjoys the challenge of building vehicles to withstand the full brute of imminent destruction, he believes that not everybody understands the truer craft behind winning – or the overall purpose behind derbies.
When he first started, Hartman said all one had to do to make a derby car was to take out a car's back seat, take the glass out, chain the door shut and remove the radiator or leave it where it was. Previously, one also did not have to relocate the gas tank to the inside of the car (which is required now).
"It [also] only used to take from maybe an hour to an hour and a half to get a car ready. You've got to work on them for over a month now," Hartman said.
Its not easy to build one of these cars. Not only does someone have to know about cars, but Hartman said there's a craft behind building a car within the rules that can survive. For that reason, simply taking a car to the track without considering how it will take damage will not result well.
"It takes a lot of work a lot of ingenuity," Hartman said. "The guys who do it best do everything they can think of to keep that car running."
Recently, Hartman said the rules of derbies have become a bit more loose. In the past, cars could not have any additional metal or padding welded into them.
In the past, Hartman said he utilized tricks to make his car last longer. Nonetheless, cars need to be destructible, and the final winning cars in the upcoming derby will be thoroughly inspected afterward.
As advice for new car builders, Hartman suggests a station wagon will do better than other types of cars. He also suggests rear wheel drive. Front wheel drive cars, while easier to find will not work as well.
Hartman said it can be merciless in the derby. In one derby, his car stalled, but one of his friends and fellow competitors violently careened into him anyway.
"I've got a lot of guys that are after me all the time out there," Hartman said, claiming some of his good friends focus on taking him out.
Throughout his many derbies, Hartman claims he has destroyed 135 vehicles, as well as two vehicles that survived one derby to be destroyed in another.
As the oldest derby driver in the area, Hartman said a lot of people know him and engage him in friendly competition. With this Sunday's demolition derby at the Harvey County Fair approaching, he has been asked whether he will attend by quite a few.
Having driven a car marked with his age since the age of 50, Hartman said he recently had some batteries put into his pace maker. For that reason, he will not be driving a car this year. Nonetheless, he intends to work on the Martinez pit crew this time around and plans to drive again next year.
Hartman said he has won first place three times and second place a number of times. Altogether, he used to have 17 trophies, but he has recently moved into a new house and does not have access to or the ability to keep track of all his awards.
At one point Hartman said he made a car for his daughter and let her paint it, but his wife would not let her drive it. He said he has additionally built 12 cars for one grandson and three for another.
Over the years, Hartman said he has been sponsored by ENV Motors, Midway Motors, Fair Chiropractic, Meridian Market and Halstead Bank.