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.

Page 5 of 7

In the shade of the garage, where Trisha Yearwood sings from an old radio, Missy organizes her tools: little cups of orange and blue paint and assorted paintbrushes. Brandon sprays on the yellow and fifteen minutes later, when the paint dries, gives Missy the okay. He then disappears under the car to adjust the driveshaft assembly. Missy starts on the driver's side door, where she paints the outline on the number. Brandon's is 13. When she's done, she stands back to survey her work, wrinkling her nose with disapproval. "It looks like little-kid writing," she says.

"That's okay, babe," comes Brandon's voice from under the Impala. "I don't care how it looks. Won't last that long, anyway."

Next come the names. Brandon's goes on the roof, above the driver's side seat. The name of the wife or girlfriend is painted above the passenger side seat. Today, Missy's name will appear there. For the past two years, though, when Brandon did not have a girlfriend, he used his dog's name: Cash (after Johnny).

Missy, who is barely five feet tall, is having difficulty getting at the roof. "How am I gonna reach the top, babe?" she asks.

Brandon sticks his head out from under the car. "What do you mean, babe?"

"I can't reach up there. I need something to stand on."

"Like what, babe?"

"I don't know. A bucket or something." Brandon climbs out from under the car and fetches Missy a bucket from the garage. "Thanks, babe," she says.

"No problem, babe," Brandon says. Then he leans in, wraps his arms around her waist, and kisses her firm on the mouth.

It takes ninety minutes for Missy to paint on the rest of the details, all of which have been carefully diagrammed by Brandon. First, she paints on the words Kemps Concrete, a fictitious company. Brandon has it painted on all of his cars, ever since a derby in Sonora when some losers alleged that he and Kemps had poured concrete into their frames, a form of cheating of which the crew at the pig farm disapproves deeply. Everyone cheats to some extent, they say, mainly by welding strips of strengthening metal to the engine block. But pouring concrete in the frame is crossing the line, and Brandon was initially incensed by the accusations. Over time, though, he came to embrace them. "Shows they respect me," he says. "I drive so well that they think I must have concrete in my frame."

Next Missy paints Holt Bros Racing on the trunk. Then, on the hood, the tag FBI, which stands for Fat Boys Incorporated. All the Holts paint FBI on their cars. Missy explains why: "They're all brothers and they're all extra-large."

As a final touch, Missy paints Cash's name on the Impala's rear fender, because while the dog has been booted from the roof he cannot be left off completely.

Brandon pulls into the pit area of the Altamont Raceway at four -- three hours before the action is set to begin. One arm on the steering wheel, the other draped around Missy, he steers the towing bed slowly past rival drivers, giving them all a good, long look at the yellow Impala.

The towing bed belongs to Bubba, Brandon's best friend. Bubba, usually part of the Holt Crew, skipped this derby because his car, a '64 Chrysler Imperial, has too many illegal modifications. "I can only bring her to 'Run What You Brung' derbies, where there are no rules," he said one night at the pig farm. "You can pour fucking concrete into the frame if you want."

Bubba didn't do that. But he did weld an unbelievable amount of metal onto the frame. Normally, one spool of wire -- weighing eighty pounds -- is enough to weld three or four derby cars, but Bubba welded no less than four spools onto the frame of his Imperial. "That car has run six derbies already!" he says with a thunderous laugh. "Run what you brung, man. People at those derbies don't give a fuck."

For this derby, the last of the year, organizers have packaged it with a second event, something called an Enduro race. According to Sonny Nabors, the chief steward at the Altamont, 63 cars will be lined up nose-to-rear on a quarter-mile oval that has been soaked in soap, water, and smashed pumpkins. Nabors, a convivial man with a golden mustache that curls up at the ends, says that the Enduro is designed to give fans what they really want: crashes, and lots of them. Every car will wipe out at least once on the slick track, he promises. And unless the drivers are in serious peril, the race will not be stopped. They'll have to sit in their cars while the remaining drivers navigate the wreckage.

The Altamont Raceway holds seven thousand spectators. The crowd tonight, as at most derbies in California, is made up largely of families, men and women of all ages with small children perched on their shoulders. This event is another sell-out -- when the gates open, the line of people waiting to get inside extends hundreds of feet into the dirt parking lot -- and Nabors is not surprised. "These derbies are getting more and more popular every year," he says, gazing across the oval as the fans file in. "Look at those stands. Boy, we're gonna be packed tonight!"

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