Eve of Destruction 

Why create a car just to destroy it? Because it's fun to do while drinkin' beer and bullshittin' with some of your friends.

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After that derby, K.O. solicited the Holts for advice. They have since become his mentors, drafting him a list of all the best cars, a list that -- now tattered and torn from use -- K.O. brings on all his shopping trips:

'73-'76 Chevy Wagon

'67-'72 Chrysler Imperial

'74-'76 Chrysler New Yorker

'73-'76 Impala, Caprice, Pontiac

On this day, the deal on the Imperial has fallen through. But K.O. still has leads in Atwater, Patterson, Stockton, and Delhi. He goes "shopping" about once a month, casing "shitty neighborhoods" throughout the Valley, finding LeBarons, Imperials, New Yorkers, and Galaxies pushed off to the side of fenced-off yards. Most are covered in dirt and have at least two flat tires. The owners -- if they are the owners -- often can't recall the last time the engine turned over. "They're just taking up space," says K.O., who offers to haul the problem away, no pink slip necessary. "The owners? They don't give a shit. Hell, it's a hundred bucks for them."

When K.O. strikes a deal, he returns the next day with his trailer and hitch. Then he tows the car to Turlock, where he dumps it at his brother-in-law John's business, Pork Power Farms, home to seven thousand pigs waiting for slaughter. That's where K.O. and his derby buddies -- including John, his daughter Robin, and the Holts -- build their derby cars.

The Holts work and live on the pig farm. K.O. works at the Foster Farms dairy plant in Modesto. He starts ten-hour shifts at 5 a.m., pulling levers on a machine that injects artificial flavoring into vats of ice cream. Because the foreman is an old friend from high school, K.O. gets to take days off whenever he wants to go shopping. "It's like a woman in a clothing store," says K.O., who at 42 has been engaged three times but never married. "It's what I do."

Pork Power Farms sits outside Turlock, ten miles south of Modesto, where the countryside is flat and dusty and covered with almond orchards. A gravel road leads past a one-story farmhouse where Brandon Holt, 21, lives with his brother Brian, 32, and Brian's wife and three kids. Out back is a red garage. Next to that, an oil- and paint-splattered rectangle of concrete with room for two cars.

The gravel road shoots beyond the garage and past a row of canvas-covered pigpens. In the late afternoon heat of October, most of the pigs are sleeping. They lie in huge, stinking piles, draped on top of each other, legs twitching in the filth. Only a handful are not asleep, and they are all, without exception, shitting or sniffing some other pig's shit. One occasionally jolts awake with a terrified shriek, sparking an uproar: The pigs scream hysterically and blink accusingly at each other. Then they lose interest and fall back asleep.

Beyond the last pigpen, the road ends at a dusty clearing stocked full of cars. At first glance, it appears to be some sort of automotive graveyard, with the vehicles -- twenty altogether -- parked two-deep in neat rows, like tombstones. Some have seen no action at all; they haven't even been stripped yet. Others have been shredded to pieces. They've run two, three, as many as four derbies. The trunks are gone and the front ends are smashed back so far that the bumpers somehow start behind the front tires. Three of these cars are K.O.'s; the rest belong to the Holts.

K.O. was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago, but has apparently forgotten. Brian and Brandon are in the garage, staring at a reporter, wondering who he is and what he's doing on their property. Without K.O., I feel like a trespasser, but I approach anyway, because if I don't, judging by their stares, the Holt brothers might just kick my ass.

"Hi," I say. "Uh ... are you guys the Holts?"

The shorter, squatter, and older of the two, Brian, says yes. At five-foot-four and 250 pounds, he is a powerfully built barrel of a man.

The younger brother, Brandon, says nothing. He is thinner than Brian, but still a big man at six-foot-two and 230. He has a dense helmet of black hair with coarse strands that resemble those of a wire brush. An unkempt goatee covers his chin. Grease is smeared across his forehead.

"From what I hear," I say, "you guys are the best derby drivers in the valley."

Brian smiles. "Pretty much," he says. And then -- just like that -- he starts talking. "Hell, we can't go anywhere now without people recognizing us. Last month I went to this derby all the way up in Mariposa, thinking that I could run and nobody would know who I was. But as soon as I drove in, people were coming up to my car and saying, 'The Holts! What are you doing here?' So I said, 'Shit, I'm here to win your money.'"

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